In response to concerns raised by the agricultural sector and landholders, the Queensland Government implemented a new land access regime for mineral and resource exploration and development activities in October 2010. These new laws represent a change in accountability and obligations for mineral and resource companies whose operations are increasingly covering large tracts of land throughout rural areas of Queensland and New South Wales.
Negotiating various types of agreements with landholders for access and construction activities within the industry is largely carried out by land access consultants, sometimes referred to as land agents. These consultants act as an interface between gas companies and landholders and in many instances represent the ‘face’ of a project.
Up until relatively recent times, a land access consultant’s expertise and qualifications were undefined. However, recent exponential growth in the coal gas seam gas (CSG) sector has increased the significance of land access consultants across the board, and their role in major infrastructure projects has risen to the top of the pile in importance.
The public perception of gas companies being deceptive or heavy-handed is an increasing concern for the industry and is creating angst in some areas. The role of the land access consultant is to avoid confusion and ensure all stakeholders’ rights are upheld, building a relationship between landholders and gas companies based upon a foundation of trust, honesty and integrity.Article continues below…
As the 40,000 potential wells to be drilled across Queensland all require gathering systems and transmission pipelines to transport the gas, land access consultants are now in demand. The explosion of activity has required an increase in the number of consultants in the field to negotiate with the thousands of landholders who are likely to be affected.
Therefore, the role of today’s land access consultant is critical to the overall success of many major projects and there is an increasing need for them to be highly skilled and professional in their approach.
A need for defined qualification
Interestingly, despite the increased importance of land access, there are no formal qualifications or accreditations required to become or act as a land access consultant. While many of the jobs involved with major infrastructure projects require professionals with formal qualifications, land access consultants do not even require an accreditation, and their skills have not advanced as rapidly as the industry despite their growing importance.
An accreditation would establish a degree of reassurance for communities and may help to enhance the sometimes strained relationships between landholders and gas companies. The days of ‘cowboy’ land access consultants are well behind us and the days of professional, diligent and intelligent land access consultants have arrived.
However, accreditation is not something that has been discussed industry wide. High-quality individuals need to be attracted to the sector so that the industry continues to be perceived in a positive light to landholders and communities alike. The new land access laws require some training, which is a step in the right direction, yet there is still a long way to go to ensure that land access consultants provide a service that is in keeping with the high integrity that the pipeline industry has established over many years.
Developing a qualification or accreditation structure would enable greater accountability and the development of a more professional industry. Gas companies employ land access consultants to provide a service. If consultants are to bridge the divide and improve relations between landholders and gas companies, consultants must be more professional and accountable.
Working toward accreditation
Maloney Field Services provides high-quality land access consultants to work on its many projects across Australia, and has a team of 30–40 land access consultants negotiating with landholders and representing its clients across Australia at any one time.
Maloney Field Services is moving toward an internal accreditation for its team of land access consultants. While the company provides training and induction programs and employs experienced people, there is a need to continue to push toward even higher standards. Employees must be equipped with the proper skills and training in all facets of communication and negotiation together with a thorough understanding of the industry and the environment in which they are operating.
Maloney Field Services’ aim is to develop a comprehensive internal accreditation beyond its normal training so that its clients are comfortable in the knowledge that they are being represented in the community to the standard they desire.