Forging a positive legacy: Measuring, managing and mitigating the social impact of renewable hydrogen in Gladstone

8 February 2024

A Social Impact Assessment is underway for Queensland’s largest proposed renewable hydrogen project, to ensure it brings long-term benefits to communities in the Gladstone region.

Stanwell, a Queensland Government-owned corporation, is working with domestic and international partners from across the hydrogen supply chain – including Japan’s Iwatani Corporation, Kansai Electric Power Company and Marubeni Corporation, and Singapore’s Keppel Infrastructure – to develop the Central Queensland Hydrogen (CQ-H2) Project in the Gladstone region. 

The CQ-H2 Project includes the development of a large-scale renewable hydrogen production facility at Aldoga, as well as a hydrogen transport facility (pipeline), and a liquefaction and shipping facility at the Port of Gladstone. The project will also supply renewable hydrogen to an ammonia production facility. 

Commercial operations are planned to commence from 2029. Once operational, the project aims to deliver renewable hydrogen to Japan and Singapore, as well as supplying industrial customers in Central Queensland. Over its 30-year life, the project is expected to deliver $17.2 billion in hydrogen exports and add $12.4 billion to Queensland’s Gross State Product. 

At its peak, the CQ-H2 Project will support more than 8,900 new jobs. 

A feasibility study for the project was successfully completed in 2022, and a Front End Engineering Design (FEED) study is now underway. The FEED study represents the largest investment in an Australian renewable hydrogen project of its kind to date, with a commitment of $117 million from government and consortium partners. This included $15 million from the Queensland Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Jobs Fund, and $20 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. 

The purpose of the FEED study is to develop the project towards a Final Investment Decision. As well as developing the technical and commercial elements required to support that decision, the FEED study is developing the social elements of the project.

A Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is currently being undertaken as part of the FEED study – because ultimately, the success of the CQ-H2 Project will be partly measured by the legacy it leaves for the Gladstone region. 

What is a Social Impact Assessment? 

An SIA is a process for identifying, analysing, assessing, managing and monitoring the social impacts of a project – both positive and negative. 

An SIA must address both direct and indirect impacts of the project that are likely to affect communities at all stages of the project lifecycle. These include, but are not limited to: 

  • Community and stakeholder engagement 
  • Workforce management 
  • Housing and accommodation 
  • Local business and industry procurement 
  • Health and community well-being 

The outcomes of an SIA are documented in a report, which will be released for public comment. The Coordinator-General – a position that sits within the Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, responsible for coordinating large-scale projects across Queensland and ensuring their impacts are properly managed – uses this report to inform their evaluation of a project’s social impacts, and the decision as to whether or not the project will proceed.

A successful SIA must be: 

  • Lifecycle-focused, considering the full lifecycle of the project. 
  • Reasonable, and proportionate with the scale of the project and the likely scope and significance of its impacts. 
  • Participatory, with engagement tailored to the needs of potentially impacted individuals and groups. 
  • Rigorous, based on an objective and comprehensive analysis and incorporating the most up-to-date information available. 
  • Effective, with social management measures that enhance potential benefits and mitigate potential negative impacts. 
  • Adaptive, allowing for regular monitoring, reviewing and adjusting of management measures to ensure their ongoing effectiveness. 

Understanding the socio-economic context 

The first step in preparing a SIA is to determine the scope of the project – in this case, the Gladstone Local Government Area (LGA) – and to prepare a social baseline report that profiles the socioeconomic and cultural characteristics of the study area. 

A social baseline report contributes to the development of mitigation and management measures for identified social impacts. Crucially, it also provides a benchmark that social impacts can be monitored against over time. 

Two baseline reports have been completed as part of the SIA for the CQ-H2 Project. The first, completed by Worley Consulting during the pre-feasibility stage of the Project, drew on 2016 Census data, and feedback from key stakeholders and the community. 

As the Project continued to evolve, and the 2021 Census was released, it became necessary to prepare an updated social baseline report, reflecting the current context and drawing on the most recent data available. 

That social baseline report has now been completed during the FEED stage of the Project, and includes analysis around: 

  • Population and demographics, including age and gender structure, and culture and ethnicity of the local population as well as the non-resident participation. 
  • Employment, including labour force participation, occupation types and income levels. 
  • Education and training, including existing facilities, education levels and attainment, fields of study, and attendance rates. 
  • Local economy and existing industry, including tourism and fishing and other small- to medium-sized businesses. 
  • Housing and accommodation, including dwelling types and tenure, as well as residential sales and rental prices. 
  • Community health, safety, and wellbeing, including details of existing social infrastructure and relevant crime statistics. 

Engaging with the community 

The socio-economic data in the social baseline report helps to identify the social conditions and trends within the study area. But community and stakeholder engagement is critical for verifying that data, and understanding community needs, priorities and perceptions.  

The first round of community and stakeholder engagement for the CQ-H2 Project took place during the pre-feasibility stage, to help inform the social baseline report and SIA. Those engagement activities were focused on: 

  • Availability, capacity and future development plans of local social services and facilities, including current and foreseeable constraints 
  • Scope and scale of community and wellbeing issues in the region 
  • Industry development constraints and opportunities 
  • Local supply chain experiences, barriers, and opportunities 
  • Key environmental issues of interest and concern 
  • Key issues of interest and concern to Traditional Owners and First Nations people 
  • Potential impacts of industry and workforce on services and the local community 

As part of the FEED study, a wider range of stakeholder engagement activities are being undertaken. These activities have been divided into two rounds – the first round, to inform the SIA, occurred in November 2023. 

This engagement took the form of focus group sessions with representatives from key stakeholder groups, including: 

  • Education, training and employment 
  • Health and emergency services 
  • Housing and accommodation 
  • Regional and economic development 
  • Early childhood and youth services 
  • Community services 
  • Infrastructure and development 
  • Environment and natural resource management  

These sessions, facilitated by Worley Consulting, provided us with an opportunity to present our plans for the CQ-H2 Project to the community; to hear their views on its potential social impacts and opportunities; and to better understand community interests, needs, priorities, values and aspirations.

This engagement also helped us to better understand community perceptions around hydrogen; the housing and accommodation options available to the project, and the current and future cumulative impacts of other projects across the region.

But engagement isn’t just about bringing stakeholders to us – it’s also about being present in the community. As the Project moves closer to becoming a reality, we’re steadily increasing our visibility, by attending community forums and sponsoring grassroots events that give us a chance to engage with locals and take on board their feedback. These interactions also inform the SIA. 

The engagement to date has been positive, as the community is enthusiastic about the clean energy transformation and the opportunities it can present for the Gladstone LGA. 

At the same time, the community has made its priorities clear – particularly with regards to housing and accommodation; education and childcare; and health and community well-being – and has expressed its desire for the CQ-H2 Project to leave positive, lasting legacies that contribute to the long-term prosperity of the Gladstone region. 

Making an impact 

The social baseline reports and stakeholder engagement activities that have been completed to date are now being used to inform a thorough analysis and evaluation of the CQ-H2 Project’s potential impacts on society. 

This analysis is being conducted by Worley Consulting, and will quantify: 

  • Changes to community values and / or the way the community functions 
  • Impacts on how people live, work, play, and interact with one another on a daily basis
  • Impacts on culture, history, and ability to access cultural resources 
  • Impact on physical safety, exposure to hazards or risks, and access to and control over resources 
  • Impacts on quality of life, including liveability and aesthetics, as well as the condition of their environment (e.g. air quality, noise levels, and access to water) 
  • Impacts on access to, and quality of, infrastructure, services and facilities 
  • Impacts on physical and mental health and well-being, as well as social, cultural and economic well-being 
  • Changes to livelihoods (i.e. whether peoples’ jobs, properties or businesses are likely to be affected, and whether they’ll experience advantage or disadvantage as a result). 

Once these impacts have been identified and quantified, the SIA will outline management strategies to avoid, manage and or mitigate any adverse socio-economic impacts, along with strategies designed to enhance the benefits and opportunities of the Project. These measures – which must be outcomes-focused, reasonable, relevant, transparent and monitorable – will also be detailed within the SIA report. 

All potentially impacted stakeholders and communities will then have the opportunity to comment on the SIA during the public consultation period. Based on that feedback, the Coordinator-General may request changes to the SIA. The Coordinator-General can also conditionally approve projects to require the management of social impacts. 

The cost of the management and mitigation required will also inform the Final Investment Decision (FID). 

What’s next? 

The management measures identified through the SIA process will be documented in a Social Impact Management Plan (SIMP), which will provide a practical basis for their implementation. 

The SIMP will include detail on the proposed management measures; timeframes for their implementation; defined outcomes and performance indicators; and specific roles and responsibilities, stakeholders, and potential partnerships. 

The next round of community and stakeholder engagement will inform the SIMP. This round of engagement will focus on validating the findings of the SIA; gaining stakeholder input into the development of the SIMP; refining the proposed mitigation measures; and building collaborative partnerships with stakeholders to support SIMP implementation. 

The SIMP will be included in the SIA for public consultation, but it’s a living document, and will continue to be developed in consultation with the government, key stakeholders and the community over time. 

Importantly, the SIMP will include monitoring and reporting frameworks for the proposed management measures. The purpose of monitoring these measures is to: 

  • Track the progress and assess the appropriateness and effectiveness of the management measures 
  • Monitor the actual project impacts against the potential impacts and social indicators identified in the SIA 
  • Capture information to advise potentially impacted communities and government on progress and achievements 
  • Facilitate ongoing engagement, consultation and collaboration with stakeholders and the community. 

Supporting long-term benefits for the Central Queensland region 

We are committed to working with the Gladstone community to ensure the project creates long-term benefits for the region, and will continue stakeholder and community engagement activities in Gladstone during the FEED stage.