Illustration: Michael Mucci

Illustration: Michael Mucci

Rural communities riven in dissent, angry blockades, a grazier chained to a drill rig, farmers arm-in-arm at the barricades with greenies, the conservative Sydney talk show host Alan Jones allied with liberal Fairfax Media types.

These are strange times. For industry to ramp up its coal seam gas projects - in the face of the attacks by environmentalists and errant farmers hell-bent on poisoning the green shoots of economic activity - it has to step up its campaign.

Get those independent experts on the blower. Come out with new findings. For it is an immutable law of expert reports that the thicker the pile of paper, the lower the risk that anybody will read it. The big number on the front page is what counts.

This is the official industry line: ''The natural gas industry was responsible for an estimated 100,000 Australian jobs last year.''

Never mind that total additional jobs in Australia last year was 173,537 (in other words, 58 per cent of all job creation must have been related to gas). And never mind that total employment growth in oil and gas was just 9372 (23,200 jobs all up), they still managed to get to 100,000.

It's a round number, it's a good number, but it's just not big enough. Expand the methodology: make it Australasia, not just Australia. Make it part-time jobs, too. Introduce a measure of new jobs, say ''putative jobs'', which estimates the number of people who might have accepted a job had the pay and conditions been suitable to their tastes.

Mind you, they did give it a shot. Try this one from Santos last year: ''[CSG miners] secure the more than 15,000 industrial jobs which are dependent on gas supply as a feed-stock, and the future of 2.5 million people in NSW who are employed by those companies who use natural gas for power.''

Nice number. It seems Santos got there by including anybody who had a gas heater in the office. The figure was barely questioned, except for an Australia Institute paper that had the cheek to point out that the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics showed 91 per cent of gas consumed by businesses in Australia was consumed by miners and manufacturers. Data from the Bureau of Statistics moreover showed these sectors employed 300,000 workers in NSW.

So, of the 2.5 million jobs the gas industry claims to support in NSW, 2.2 million are employed in businesses that use gas for running the hot water taps in the bathroom.

Let's not forget Allen Consulting, whose interesting modelling found Santos' CSG expansion in North West NSW would generate 2900 indirect jobs from just 200 jobs and boost the state economy by $470 million per year. These 200 actual jobs would also create 570 public sector jobs, it claimed.

Not a bad effort from Allen, but they could have used stronger language. Their work on auto subsidies was crowned by this: ''The economies of Adelaide and Melbourne would be devastated.'' The word ''devastated'' got a big run in the media. Job done.

Zeros tolerance

The hour has come for the gas industry to embrace the services of the Hunter Valley Research Foundation. Putting those consultants from the Big Smoke to the sword, the HVRF found - in a study supporting Rio Tinto's Warkworth coalmine application - that 45,000 jobs would be created. Not bad for an extension to a mine with 1300 workers.

In the appendix to the report, HVRF had included no fewer than 29 industry sectors that stood to benefit from job creation, including ''rock lobster and prawn fishing, fin-fish trawling and squid jiggling'' as well as ''tobacco, cigarettes, cigars and snuff''.

Snuff might sound a bit old-fashioned, but tattoos are back in vogue so why rule out growth in snuff employment? ''Shipbuilding and aircraft manufacturing'', ''toiletries wholesaling'', even ''psychiatric hospitals'' were there too … with snuff. The Australia Institute also questioned the modelling on this one. Still, Rio got its approval.

We ought to given an honourable mention, too, to Gillespie Economics, which did the study for the T4 coal export terminal at Newcastle. In its 322-page humdinger, which also deployed the HVRF's ''Input-Output'' model, Gillespie estimated the net present value of the project at $60 billion.

It contained a cutting-edge measure of ''14,650 job years''. Better than just jobs. A worker might have to have the same job every year, thereby eliminating the opportunity to break out years of employment as separate jobs.

Another source of inspiration can be found in Acil Tasman's modelling for the Australian Beverages Council, which was used to claim a container deposit scheme would cost households $300 a year, assuming you never cashed in your cans.

The gas industry has done a superlative job of convincing politicians of the urgent need for CSG - with the exception of Victoria, where a moratorium remains in place. Indeed, there has already been strong job creation in the ''relations'' sector, that is, media relations, government relations and community relations.

Sometimes they slip up, though. At a town hall meeting for AGL's Gloucester project, for instance, a spokesman was asked how many local jobs would arise. Unwittingly, he broke the cardinal rule of the relations sector and told the truth. Stage one of the project would give rise to 11 or 12 jobs. He forgot to add the zeros.

@MichaelWestBiz