Conservation banking is a market-based method designed to offset adverse environmental impacts. Conservation banks provide the opportunity for a proponent to offset the environmental impacts of their project by purchasing conservation credits. These credits are investments such as permanently protected parcels of land that preserve at-risk species and their habitat. Investment through credits allows the pooling of multiple smaller offsets into larger projects that have greater benefits because of their scale. This concept is the backbone of the US’s Endangered Species Act 1973.
In Australia, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 Environmental Offsets Policy allows a proponent (like a developer) to offset their environmental impacts as long as there is an overall conservation outcome that improves or maintains the viability of the aspect of the environment that is protected by national environment law and affected by the proposed action. The step must be additional to what is already required under the law or planning regulations. Finally, it must be efficient, effective, timely, transparent, scientifically robust and reasonable. Various Australian State laws allow for similar schemes at a state level.
An article in the Australian online publication The Conversation explained that companies such as mining firms obtain approval to develop resources and can even boost their corporate responsibility, gain social licence and prevent ethically-minded investors from defecting. The article cites the example of Rio Tinto offsetting their Madagascan titanium dioxide mine by protecting an area of forest four times as large in another area.
For some reason there appears to be a linkage between fishing productivity and oil and gas presence. The fishing industry enjoys the oil and gas industry’s product and wants to be a good neighbour. As a good neighbour SETFIA enjoys excellent relationships with oil and gas companies in the region. It completes reviews of changes within the fishing industry that might change the risk that fishing vessels present to oil and gas infrastructure. It also undertakes reports for oil and gas companies that detail the catches, seasonality, species and sectors where oil and gas proponents are considering undertaking work on wellheads, pipelines or even seismic surveys. SETFIA maintains SMS distribution lists that allow it to warn fishing vessels of oil and gas works in the area that they fish. This work allows fishers to plan to be elsewhere and helps minimise effects on the fishing industry.
But the oil and gas does have real effects on the fishing industry. Seismic surveys are now proven to have negative impacts on crayfish and scallops, fishing vessels need to move aside for oil and gas works and there is a strong perception within the fishing industry that fish leave areas subjected to seismic surveys leaving these areas unproductive.
To date SETFIA has depended on Commonwealth Government funding for conservation projects. It has enjoyed significant success in improving reporting, reducing seabird interactions and ensuring that fishers don’t fish in marine parks.
Oil and gas companies have the opportunity to invest and work with SETFIA as a partner in conservation projects., These projects would offset the disruption the oil and gas industry causes. More importantly the investment would improve the marine environment and gain social licence. The Association is eager to engage with an interested oil and gas company on this opportunity.