OPPONENTS of coal seam gas are winning the war of public opinion online, finding power not just on Facebook and Twitter but also through scores of blogs, forums and viral creations.
The power of protest group Lock the Gate was put in the crosshairs by two public relations experts during a conference run by Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association - the national peak body for the CSG industry - in Brisbane this week.
This online presence was guiding policy against the industry and translating to offline offensives, including the 7000-strong protest held in the New South Wales town of Lismore earlier this year.
The group has also found wide-ranging support in Queensland, particularly in the Surat Basin in the south-west which is on the cusp of major CSG development.
Kim Amos, of Bold Communications, stood alongside Bang The Table's Tracey Gobey, both referencing a report describing CSG's reputation challenge as "a wicked problem".
"In May 2012, 7000 protestors took to the streets in Lismore," Ms Amos said.
"Lismore (council) had already put a moratorium on CSG mining and urged the state and other councils to follow suit."
This power was translating to more regulation, project delays and increasing costs.
The spin doctors prescribed a charm offensive armed with credible scientific information to calm the attacks on the industry.
In referring to the growing number of individuals and groups forming in opposition to the industry, Ms Amos said although many had started as a loud minority, they were now dominating the discussions online.
"Because you, as an industry, have not filled the space with your information, it was filled by anti-CSG sentiment," she said.
"As someone who is a citizen in Queensland and who has an interest in CSG, I found it really hard to find balanced information.
"These perceptions are becoming the new reality."
Ms Gobey said the key to pushing back against the onslaught was to be transparent and social, not necessarily through Facebook or Twitter, but by stimulating discussion and answering questions.
Ms Amos said it could be time to create a new forum.
"You want to create somewhere where landholders can come on their own to have their questions answer."
ONLINE LOCKED UP
- Anti-CSG group Lock the Gate is dominating the gas debate online.
- In past month month, there were 40,000 global searches for "coal seam gas".
- Once searched, they find five anti-mining sites, one government inquiry, two negative news articles and two CSG company fact sheets.
- A search for "CSG mining" delivers 100% anti-CSG information.
- "Lock the gate" had 49,000 global searches this month alone.
- The group has 11 Facebook pages with thousands of followers and 167 online affiliate groups.
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