QER general manager Chris Anderson showcases the company's first bottle of oil from a demonstration plant near Fishermans Lane, Gladstone, in 2011.
QER general manager Chris Anderson showcases the company's first bottle of oil from a demonstration plant near Fishermans Lane, Gladstone, in 2011. Chris Chan

Oil shale company keen to earn its stripes with residents

OIL SHALE. Those two words mean a lot in Gladstone.

Those words, for some people, conjure memories of one of the region's most controversial episodes - a failed project that damaged the traditional bond between industry and the community.

For other people, those two words represent an exciting future, a new technology and an extra industrial diversity for the region.

Most people in Gladstone know that QER has built a demonstration plant on the site of the failed Southern Pacific Petroleum project.

That project consistently broke down and sent a repugnant smell into the air for residents in nearby Targinnie.

QER has arrived at the same site with a radically different technology - one it is determined to practise on a small scale, for a decade if necessary, before progressing to commercial production.

We have worked hard to let the community understand and see our operation for themselves and make their own judgments

To put it simply, QER wants to earn its stripes and make sure the community is comfortable with its technology.

The project, which has produced small amounts of fuel for about 18 months, has so far received zero complaints to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, whereas the old SPP plant led to about 1000 complaints.

Non-believers say most of the complainants have moved out since the SPP project, although there are still a handful left.

A QER spokesperson told The Observer the project would persevere with its message.

"We think there is already reasonably high recognition in Gladstone that the current operation is quite different to the previous operation and does not have the same issues as the old plant, notably (in terms of) noise, dust or odour," he said.

"We have worked hard to let the community understand and see our operation for themselves and make their own judgments.

"That's the main reason we built the demonstration plant, at a cost exceeding $100m, and a state-of-the-art visitor centre at our site which we keep open seven days a week."

Queensland Energy Resources operations manager Chris Anderson, Environment Minister Andrew Powell, Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps and QER operations superintendent Ray Pascoe at QER's demonstration plant.
Queensland Energy Resources operations manager Chris Anderson, Environment Minister Andrew Powell, Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps and QER operations superintendent Ray Pascoe at QER's demonstration plant.

A Greenpeace spokesperson said investing in oil shale would simply be holding back development of renewable energy sources.

"Investment in new fossil fuel ventures is risky, unnecessary and will further contribute to climate change," she said.

"We should be investing in safe clean renewable energy projects like wind and solar that can provide jobs now and into the future."

QER says oil shale will help the nation's fuel security.

"QER's Paraho II process is particularly suited to the production of diesel and aviation fuel, and increasingly Australia is relying on imports of these fuels to meet demand," the spokesperson said.

"These fuels are also key for our defence forces and essential services as we've seen in the floods when supply lines have been disrupted and supermarket shelves in places like Gladstone have quickly emptied."



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