By Andrew Hobbs, Group Editor

ENCOURAGING industry collaboration is a difficult task at the best of times – with new innovations often costing many millions of dollars to develop, and with only a few being successful.

Yet it is sure to be the subject of many speeches as a series of industry leaders descend on Perth for the 18th International Conference and Exhibition on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG 18) later this month.

From an Australian perspective, the event will be an opportunity to showcase the nation’s future role as a world leader in liquefied natural gas and for the capital of Western Australia, Perth, to exhibit itself as a key city for the industry.

As LNG 18 steering committee chairman, and Total senior vice president corporate Jérôme Ferrier says, Australia has demonstrated its capacity to react and adapt to new conditions of fast-evolving markets.

“There is a need for innovations in producing, financing and marketing of gas projects and Australia shows it can muster the skills and the high level of technology and manpower to meet future demands in terms of project developments,” he said.

“The main feature of the gas business is that it looks on the very long term. The normal duration of a gas purchase agreement is over 25 years. We have to see and anticipate well in advance.”

National Energy Resources Australia (NERA), one of six industry growth centres established by the Australian government, was launched in this spirit at the Australasian Oil & Gas Conference & Exhibition in late February.

Speaking with Oil & Gas Australia’s Sarah Byrne on the sidelines of the conference, NERA chair Ken Fitzpatrick said that with many major companies having taken writedowns over the course of the year, the time was ripe to foster new partnerships.

“Why don’t we look at how to share some services and how we can share best practice so that we are all more successful?” he asked.

Along with its sister agencies, with focuses on manufacturing, cyber security, agribusiness, medical technologies and mining equipment, NERA aims to facilitate a deeper engagement between industry groups and Australia’s research agencies.

But it is worth noting that these institutions are being established at the same time as the federal government cut both funding and research staff at the CSIRO – the nation’s leading scientific research agency.

It is understood that many of these cuts will be made to the CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere and Land and Water divisions – areas that support the development of oil and gas projects while mitigating their environmental impact.

This news follow finding cuts to other research bodies like the Australian Research Council, the university-based Sustainable Research Excellence initiative, Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology.

The Bureau last month announced it would axe staff from regional stations across Australia, with the exception of Cairns, over the next five years – with observational duties to be automated in future.

But it came as the Bureau of Meteorology’s partnership with Chevron, INPEX, Shell and Woodside in developing an improved cyclone prediction model was singled out for praise at AOG – being the subject of a 20 minute presentation by representatives of Shell.

The Access TCX cyclone prediction system is a prime example of companies and government agencies working together to create an outcome that will have benefits for both the companies involved and the wider Australian populace.

There is an unpleasant irony in the Federal Government allocating funding to committees designed to encourage industry-led collaboration and innovation while at the same time cutting funding to the government agencies those companies will partner with.

This news comes as Woodside announces it will not proceed with activity on the Browse joint venture project offshore Australia in the short term, citing cost pressures.

There is little doubt that Woodside and its partners will look to develop the Browse resources at a later date – once oil prices make the project more commercially attractive.

But the news must come as another blow to the companies that have invested in Broome and neighbouring centres in the Kimberley, following as it does the rejection of a land-based development option in 2013.

Woodside and its partners in Browse now have the opportunity to wait for the startup of the Prelude floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facility, now expected in 2017, to see what lessons can be taken from the project.

If Australia is to lead the way in FLNG, work to support Prelude and future FLNG facilities must continue, and the companies involved will need all the support they can get from government and industry peers alike.