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Big league stakes: gambling on a sport legend to sell coal seam gas

Darren Lockyer knows a thing or two about conversions, having banged hundreds between the posts and over the crossbar during his rugby league career. He retired on a high in 2011, having captained the…

Can on-field adulation translate to off-field trustworthiness? AAP Image/Dean Lewins

Darren Lockyer knows a thing or two about conversions, having banged hundreds between the posts and over the crossbar during his rugby league career.

He retired on a high in 2011, having captained the Australian team to victory in the Four Nations tournament, set up the winning play in his final Queensland State of Origin series, and rewritten all-time records in the NRL with the Brisbane Broncos.

But Lockyer’s new conversion from being a bloke worried about coal seam gas (CSG) extraction, to becoming the public face of a slick new gas advertising campaign could leave a longer-lasting legacy than his on-field exploits.

Journey with a star

Late last week, big ads in The Australian and Courier-Mail newspapers invited Queenslanders to “Follow Darren’s journey”, directing them to a website to watch the first in a weekly series of videos about Lockyer’s quest to understand more about the gas industry.

Lockyer has told Fairfax Media he used to have concerns about the coal seam gas industry because of what he’d seen in the news - although he also knew from his league career that “the media can often just focus on the negatives and not look at the positives”.

“But now that I’ve gone on this journey and spoken to a lot of the experts and landowners, I’m a lot more positive about [coal seam gas].”

Kicking goals for sponsors

Sporting heroes plugging just about any product in advertisements is so common, it’s become white noise.

In Australia, we’ve watched cricket spin king Shane Warne say “Yeah yeah” to hair plugs, seen ex-North Melbourne footballer Sam Kekovich become a lamb-assador, and had everyone from Tour de France champion Cadel Evans to former tennis World number ones Leyton Hewitt and Evonne Goolagong Cawley tell us to take our vitamins.

Good enough to be bronzed. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

Globally, sports stars' endorsements can command huge prices, as highlighted during this year’s Olympics by ABC TV’s Gruen Sweat, when they debated whether the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt was worth A$20 million a year in endorsements.

But seeing a sports star - especially someone with Lockyer’s high-profile - becoming the face of something as controversial as coal seam gas is another thing altogether.

To call Lockyer popular in Queensland doesn’t begin to cover it: when he retired, the state government announced that part of a major highway west of Brisbane would be renamed Darren Lockyer Way, while a newspaper ran a successful petition to “put Locky in bronze”, with a 2 metre statue of Lockyer unveiled last year in the forecourt of Brisbane’s Lang Park.

Divided opinions

That’s why it’s so surprising that in such a football-mad nation, there has been surprisingly little media coverage of Lockyer’s new work on behalf of the Australia Pacific Liquid Natural Gas Project, a joint venture between major energy companies Origin, ConocoPhillips and Sinopec.

The new Queensland advertising campaign comes at a time when coal seam gas companies are grappling with strong community protests and increasing federal government scrutiny.

This week, AGL Energy put its application to develop 66 coal seam gas wells in western Sydney on hold, telling the Australian Stock Exchange: “AGL understands that there are some members of the community who are concerned about the current proposal and we believe that this suspension will allow us to consider those community concerns.”

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that AGL’s plans could have resulted in drilling beneath thousands of western Sydney homes and was opposed by many local politicians, including some Coalition MPs.

Battle for hearts and minds

There are no details of how much Lockyer is being paid for his promotional role, although it’s been reported that last year he signed a three-year contract, worth an undisclosed amount, to be a safety ambassador for the $23 billion APLNG project under construction at Gladstone.

But as a former rugby league reporter, I can confidently say that whatever Lockyer is being paid for the educational experience afforded him by Origin to help address his previous CSG concerns, it is money well spent.

Lockyer’s playing career was almost entirely controversy free, and nothing has changed since his retirement. He has a young family and seems to offer absolutely zero danger in terms of reputational risk for the company.

He has fostered a significant media presence in Queensland beyond his commentary work, and when it comes around to the football season his face is all over the Courier-Mail’s public participation competitions.

All of which makes him a terrific choice. Adding the all-consuming parochialism of Queenslanders is what makes Lockyer a bargain at almost any price.

When Lockyer speaks, his gravelly voice is heard. If Locky sounds like he thinks this CSG thing is no drama, and it’s the bloody media and greenies beating it up, then that will be good enough for a large number of Queenslanders.

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38 Comments sorted by

  1. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    Of course because it's only the bloody media the loony Greens and a buch of grumpy farmers beating it up, we have nothing to worry about. If that's the case, why would the industry spend considerable amounts of dollars to persuade people that CSG is perfectly OK. Unless it's not

    One of the most common ways of mining coal seam gas is hydraulic fracturing, known as 'fracking'.
    Fracking involves pumping huge quantities of water – frequently laced with toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene…

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    1. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to John Newton

      John, it is precisely beecause of the alarmist and shrill manner in which you, and other like minded folk, deliver their views on csg that people like Lockyer are employed in this role.

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    2. Ian Donald Lowe

      Seeker of Truth

      In reply to John Phillip

      If you think John Newton's comments are "alarmist and shrill", that is your reading of them and the shrillness is inside your own head. It is not alarmist to state the facts of the issue. Could it possibly be, Mr. Phillip, that you are also in the employ of the gas industry? Is it your job to troll anyone who may speak out against the practice of fracking, or are you just naturally obtuse?

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    3. Peter Blackwell

      Supply Chain Consultant - realist

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      Ahh Ian, I concur with Mr Phillip and challenge your assertion that Mr Newton is 'stating the facts'. A dab hand at Google does not an expert make.
      This issue requires a balanced view, with all interested parties able to access information regarding pros and cons, in order to jointly and cooperatively make an informed decision on a case by case basis.
      CSG can be a safe, viable source of fuel in many locations. Blindly disagreeing with it is not an option.
      I respect Dareen Lockyer, and hope that he remains in touch with all parties, holding his employer to account when/if he feels it necessary.

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    4. Brent Hoare

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Newton

      John perfectly sums up the ludicrous nature of this latest turn in the pro CSG propaganda blitz. If anyone needs a reminder of the experience to date in the Pilliga, please pop over to http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/pillaging-the-pilliga/447/ for an explanation of the impacts of the CSG industry.

      I hope Mr Lockyer has sufficient interest in what people are saying here to read this article too, and to ask himself some questions about whether his decision to become a paid CSG industry shill…

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    5. Peter Boyd Lane

      geologist

      In reply to Peter Blackwell

      Lockyer does not tell any fibs but neither does he tell the whole truth. He has been used and it shows. Regardless of the integrtiy and knowledge of the hydrogeology, the probability of casing and cement failure in a considereable number of the 40,000 wells likely to be drilled is assured ... and this will lead to aquifer and surface water contamination, just one of the problems. And the hydrogeology of the Surat Basin of SE Qld is anything but simple and is not understood (ref Qld Water Comm Draft Underground Water Impact Report, Surat Cumulative Management Area, May 2012) .... the impact of CSG in this region will very likley range from bad to catastrophic.

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  2. John Newlands

    tree changer

    Lockyer is going to feel compromised if he meets farmers and rugby fans who have been made worse off by CSG drilling. For example if water supplies for cattle are contaminated by drilling fluids.

    There's an odd parallel between CSG in Australia and shale gas which is so far mostly in the US. This is the so called 'Red Queen' effect whereby drilling effort has to get more frantic to maintain the gas flow. The best sites were probably the first to be drilled now depletion and landholder resistance is setting in.

    Since we need decades of gas for peaking power and heat applications perhaps LNG export from Gladstone is ill considered.

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  3. John Cokley

    Associate Professor in Journalism at Swinburne University of Technology

    There's a good opportunity for journalists here, especially those with ongoing relationships with Lockyer. And that's to stay in touch with him, introduce him to farmers and Greens opposed to CSG mining, and see what happens then ... and report on it. i'm a little disappointed that some reporters are willing merely to observe what's going on (Lockie turns to PR?) and take everything at face value instead of exploring issues behind the scenes and challenging the status quo. I reckon Lockie the footballer would *want* people to challenge his new role and at least to scratch the surface.

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    1. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to John Cokley

      I'm sorry, John, but anyone who uses the term "mining" in the context of CSG should maybe remove any reference to journalism from their CV? Applies also to John Newton. Shows ignorance.

      CSG is not mined. Easy to find this out. Even doing a cursory wikipedia search (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalbed_methane if you struggle with that). Surely journalists can/should do that?

      Why is that important? CSG also usually isn't fracked. So all the "fracking is bad" commentary is usually irrelevant to CSG.

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    2. Peter Brennan

      Academic Director

      In reply to Andy Saunders

      Sorry Andy but with all due respect you are the one showing your ignorance. My Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary defines mining as "making a hole or passage underground." If you don't think the Coal Seam Gas miners are making a passage under the ground then you really need to come out here and see for yourself. May I respectfully suggest you educate yourself before accusing others of ignorance.

      The other way you show your ignorance is by trying to distract the conversation from the real issues.

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    3. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to Peter Brennan

      Peter;

      I don't regard the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary as the last word in coal-seam gas terminology. It's a general reference book compiled by many well-meaning authors, but I doubt any with significant experience in CSG and/or mining.

      No-one in the CSG industry calls it mining. I'm letting the "ignorance" comment slide as I'm sure you don't know me or my knowledge.

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    4. Peter Blackwell

      Supply Chain Consultant - realist

      In reply to John Cokley

      Excellent point John - I would be hopeful Darren is able to put principle above payment and hold his clinet to account if he feels it necessary.

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  4. Mike Swinbourne

    logged in via Facebook

    Yeah, because when I want to know about the environmental and societal impacts of an industry like coal seam gas, I always ask a footballer.

    Why bother with scientists?

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    1. Grant Burfield

      Dr

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Why bother with scientists?

      Indeed. Why don't the anti-CSG folks get some celebrities to put their case?

      A couple of prats standing in front of a long closed Battersea power station should do the trick.

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  5. Anthony Nolan

    Ruminant

    Employing Lockyer as a PR front for the insidious CSG industry proves beyond doubt that those employing him think that Queenslanders are stupid. Maybe they're right.

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  6. Drew Morris

    Environment Officer

    I was pretty surprised to see these ads in the paper.

    While lockyer would be a 'bargain at any price' for APLNG - and unlikely to negatively impact on their reputation, the author makes no real mention of the potential impact of this business relationship on Lockyer's reputation.

    As a Roma boy, surely he's got a LOT to lose in this deal, and a lot of the risk (in a public relations context) is now on Darren's shoulders (for example, when the next Roma farmer wants to lock his gate to a CSG…

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  7. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. In reply to Drew Morris

      Comment removed by moderator.

  8. Peter Brennan

    Academic Director

    I will take some notice of what Darren Lockyer says about CSG when he takes his wife and young kids and moves from their palatial Brisbane home to take up residence in the middle of a coal seam gas field. After he has lived there with his kids for a few years then come and talk to me. The same goes for Andy Saunders and his ilk who want to impose a filthy, polluting and toxic industry on my family and other residents of these areas but who aren't prepared to live there themselves. You have zero credibility. I will take my lead from unbiased scientists (not those working for or funded by the industry) and not from the industry and its mouthpieces.

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    1. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to Peter Brennan

      Dear Peter

      I don't recall wanting to impose a filthy, polluting and toxic industry on your family etc. Please moderate your words.

      Perhaps you disagree with me - that's fine (although I'm not quite sure exactly what you disagree with...). But I doubt you know me well enough to say I have zero credibility.

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    2. Peter Blackwell

      Supply Chain Consultant - realist

      In reply to Peter Brennan

      Nothing like balance and cooperation ! Very emotive terms - "filthy", "polluting', "toxic" - any wonder the Industry feels it needs a spokesperson to neutralise such ignorant comments.

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    3. Peter Brennan

      Academic Director

      In reply to Peter Blackwell

      Peter
      these terms may bring out emotions in you but they are simply factual. If you don't believe me, maybe you will believe the senior Queensland State Government employees tasked with doing the environmental impact assessment on CSG projects.

      http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/public-servants-tasked-with-approving-to-massive-csg-projects-were-blindsided-by-demands-to-approve-two-in-two-weeks/story-e6freon6-1226574952587

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    4. Grant Burfield

      Dr

      In reply to Peter Brennan

      "These terms may bring out emotions in you but they are simply factual". I read the Courier Mail article you linked and couldn't find any reference to "filthy", "polluting" or "toxic".

      Factual? Really? Please quote the sentences in which these words are contained lest we are all left with the impression that your post is the apotheosis of an unsubstantiated rant.

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    5. Peter Brennan

      Academic Director

      In reply to Grant Burfield

      Dear Dr Grant
      You must have missed this passage:

      'the public servant in charge of drafting the environmental response from the government's Co-ordinator-General, Simone Marsh, wrote..."It is clear the project's activities will lead to widespread, serious environmental harm and material environmental harm, as defined by the Environmental Protection Act, both during and following the removal, transportation and processing of coal seam gas," '

      Do I really need to spell out for you that the foreseen "widespread, serious environmental harm" is a result of pollution? If you think that this senior public servant thought that the widespread and serious environmental harm was going to stem from something other than pollution, perhaps you could inform us as to these other avenues by which CSG mining harms the environment.

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    6. Grant Burfield

      Dr

      In reply to Peter Brennan

      Dear Peter,

      I was merely pointing out your "filthy, polluting and toxic" post did not contain any of those words and was therefore far from being "simply factual". But if you wish to publish non-factual comments please go ahead. Fill your boots.

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    7. Peter Blackwell

      Supply Chain Consultant - realist

      In reply to Grant Burfield

      Thanks Grant - it is so easy for the loudest rant to rise above reason and even handedness in the minds of many. This forum should be the voice of common sense and reasonableness from both sides of any arguement. Mr Brennan does himself and his side of the arguement a disservice with his unsubstantiated inciteful words.

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  9. John Clark

    Manager

    So Darren has been converted. He has moved from being paid to play football, to being paid to endorse a process that is seriously questioned by many of those affected. Presumably, if not CSG, it would have been some other product. One of the major criticisms of CSG is that it is to be exported, with little or no provision for the domestic market. Such allocations will be charged to consumers at the export rate. The application of the gas to lowering our carbon emissions is to be denied.

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  10. Michael Croft

    logged in via LinkedIn

    There is a direct connection between this article and the many recent articles on corruption in sport. In short - some professional sports people will say and do anything if the price is right.

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    1. Paul Cm

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Michael Croft

      A 'direct connection' Michael? I think you're accusations of corruption (without evidence) are quite unfair.

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    2. Michael Croft

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Paul Cm

      Paul,
      Please study confirmation bias, and then read what I have written above with yours in mind.
      All the best, Michael

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    3. Paul Cm

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Michael Croft

      Michael, do you have any evidence for your following statement or not?

      "There is a direct connection between this article and the many recent articles on corruption in sport"

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    4. Michael Croft

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Paul Cm

      Paul, I can see I will have to spell it out for you. The direct connection, for which evidence abounds, is money - 'the price is right'. It was your confirmation bias that lead you to assume that corruption was the link and so jump to the defence of someone who is being paid money (via an undisclosed sum in a 3 year contract) for his "conversion" experience. But hey, some people believe 'cash for comment' is a corruption, in fact I am pretty sure that was proved by the appropriate authorities, so perhaps your reaction is appropriate......

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  11. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    People talk about CSG "mining" because in some states at least it's regulated under the Mining and minerals legislation.

    EX sports stars do all sorts of jobs when they retire - it's up to them , but Lockyer's explanation seems a bit wet behind the ears.. Of course the CSG companies would love to " convert" a high profile previous opponent to push their case.

    Let's hope Tony Windsor's proposed amendment to the commonwealth environment act so that it includes water as well as endangered species gets bipartisan support - if Abbott and the pro- extractive-industries MP's allow it. It would get passed without them of course but as others have noted opponents of CSG include farmers and some Liberal politicians.

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    1. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to wilma western

      So are those oil mines, I guess. And the sand mines where those barges are pumping sand. And the gravel pits where the dozers scrape up the surface deposits.

      (irony...)

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  12. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    Why would the opinion of a sports person, unless it was about something that was used in their sport, influence anybody, one way or the other?

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  13. Gold Coaster

    logged in via Facebook

    I was very suprised to Darren Lockyer (Rugby League Star) is the face of Coal Seam Gas in QLD.

    It looks like its going to happen no matter what problems CSG causes to humans or the environment. The 20 year moratorium which was placed on a major shale gas deposit near Gladstone is going to be lifted by the Government!

    The moratorium was placed in 2008 to last for 20 years, lasted a total of 5.

    http://www.goldcoaster.com.au/2013/02/12/coal-seam-gas-queensland

    When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, all the fish remove from the oceans, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will they discover you cannot eat money.

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