The Voice – Tor McCaul, Comet Ridge

17 April 2019

Tor McCaul, Managing Director, Comet Ridge

Queensland gas industry has made an enormous contribution to the state, but public perceptions often don’t reflect that. What does industry need to do to boost our standing in the community?

Natural gas was reticulated around Roma in western Queensland, for street lighting, more than 100 years ago.  The Roma-Brisbane pipeline was the first transmission line in the country and celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year.  I would argue that our standing in the community varies, depending on which “community” we refer to.  In my experience, people out in the rural areas of Queensland, where we have had gas production for decades, are generally very supportive of our industry, as they have seen first hand how the gas industry and the agricultural industry fit well together, with many families actively involved in both.  A town like Roma would never be what it is now without both industries. 

Parts, particularly vocal parts, of the city based “community” are often more negative on our industry.  What these people often ignore is how integral gas is to their everyday lives. They are often happy to fire up their gas fired BBQ’s or turn on their Smeg gas fired wok burners whilst denying the many positive impacts that natural gas has throughout the economy – from cooking and heating hot water to making plastics and natural gas fertiliser and the many other hundreds of products that come from natural gas.  These groups are often the loudest advocates on climate change without acknowledging that gas is a cleaner form of instant energy and is critical as the energy mix transitions towards renewables. 

Each of us who works in our industry needs to take the time to better articulate all the positive impacts that natural gas has on our rural communities, our lives and our economy in general.

As a mid-cap explorer in Australia, what are the key challenges you face at present?

Developing natural gas fields is not easy – There is considerable expertise and capital required to convert potential gas in the ground into a deliverable product. Every gas explorer (or producer) in East Coast Australia understands that one of the key challenges we face is how to supply affordable gas molecules to support our two key market segments – the domestic/industrial gas market and also the export LNG industry.  Both of these are very important to the national economy whereby natural gas is a key input for our local manufacturing industry and LNG, providing export dollars.

Within this landscape, gas explorers are heavily influenced by the regulatory regime that we deal with at both a state and federal level. It’s important that there is an appropriate level of regulation in place whereby companies can explore safely and efficiently whilst giving the community confidence in what we are doing. There is often a clear disconnect to the operations of an onshore gas explorer and the perceptions of people in inner cities.  This in part has led to a limit or ban on prospective acreage in onshore Australia and further regulation. Subsequently I think it is in everyone’s interest to not let a vocal minority, try to over-regulate natural gas to the point where it becomes too expensive to produce.

With the APPEA Conference back in your home town of Brisbane, what do you think the event excels at above its competitors?

I went to my first APPEA conference as a graduate back in 1988 on the Gold Coast (looking back, I am not sure why they let new graduates go to an APPEA conference, but my boss was doing a paper so maybe it was just to make sure there was an audience!).   If there was only enough money in the budget for one conference a year, then for me,  it would be APPEA.  It’s a great chance to get a real feel for the latest technology and latest happenings around our industry and to catch up with many people that I haven’t seen for a long time.  I always feel that each conference has a slightly different mood or feel to it.  Some conferences are very upbeat, some are a bit more circumspect and some give the sense of being cautiously optimistic.   So it’s a great way to hear from some very good speakers, to meet a number of people you haven’t seen for a long time and also to get a sense of what the industry is feeling at the moment, and where it might be heading. Given the timing of the election, there will be a real focus of carbon and energy policy, the need for a stable and competitive tax regime, resisting calls for interventions in the gas market and reducing regulatory costs. So APPEA 2019 will be a crucial event to hear the discussion, debate and information that will project from the industry and its stakeholders.

Tor McCaul, with a team from Comet Ridge will join 2000 industry representatives at APPEA 2019 in Brisbane, May 27-30.

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