Unconventional gas development: why a regional community said no

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Luke, H, Lloyd, D, Boyd, WE & denExter, K 2014, 'Unconventional gas development: why a regional community said no', Geographical Research, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 263-279.

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Public concern resulting from unconventional coal seam gas (CSG) exploration and production has become a contentious planning issue in regional Australia, with public concern drawing attention to government planning obligations. To assist Lismore City Council (Northern New South Wales) in its deliberations on the topic, a referendum-style poll on the issue of CSG industry development was held in conjunction with the local government elections of September 2012. The poll question, ‘Do you support CSG exploration and production in the Lismore City Council area?’, elicited a poll response rate of 97% of eligible voters, of which 87% voted ‘no’. This paper reports the results of an exit poll survey using the Theory of Planned Behaviour to frame motivations behind the poll result, and examines the role of the poll and exit poll survey in providing a process of deliberative democracy in the context of the CSG debate. Key details highlighted by the results were that non-supporters of CSG exploration were primarily concerned about water quality, while supporters saw the primary benefit being regional employment. Emerging themes of this study are the need for more independent research on potential risks and benefits of CSG developments, increase in institutional transparency, and the development of renewable alternatives. The study concludes that the principles of deliberative democracy involved in the Lismore City Council poll and subsequent exit poll survey have provided an opportunity for a more open discussion and genuine discourse within the CSG debate.