Energy minister Angus Taylor has appointed a founding chair of a major gas and oil producer to Australia’s clean energy regulator.

Katherine Vidgen’s extensive job history includes heading up Quadrant Energy, described as a “a large independent oil and gas producer and explorer in West Australia”, as well as serving as the global head of energy principle at Macquarie Capital.

In that role, Vidgen oversees the financial giant’s energy investments. Quadrant Energy was described as “the most significant oil and gas asset in Macquarie’s portfolio and was sold in November 2018 to Santos Limited for US$2.1bn”.

Vidgen appeared in the government directory in her new energy regulator role on 4 June, with an appointment date of 21 May. The clean energy regulator welcomed the selection in a statement published on its website on 28 June, but Taylor’s office did not make the official announcement until 13 July.

The clean energy regulator is charged with administering legislation aimed at “measuring, managing, reducing or offsetting Australia’s carbon emissions” – meaning its direction is set by the government of the day.

Pre-empting criticism of appointing someone with a background of investing in oil and gas projects to the body designed to help cut back Australia’s emissions, Taylor highlighted Vidgen’s investment banking credentials. He described her experience in that role as overseeing “both conventional and new energy investments”, with a focus “on helping traditional industries decarbonise their operations”.

“Ms Vidgen’s appointment will further strengthen the high level of skills and experience of the Clean Energy Regulator’s Board and ensures the schemes the regulator administers continue to support Australia’s emissions reduction goals while strengthening existing industries and driving job creation,” he said in his statement.

Vidgen has been appointed for a three-year term.

The Morrison government has made no secret of its desire to make gas – a fossil fuel – the cornerstone of its future energy policy, promoting what it calls the nation’s “gas-led recovery”, despite criticism from international allies Australia is not doing enough to meet emissions reduction targets.

Most recently, Taylor’s attempt to change the remit of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena) to allow it to invest in carbon capture and storage was scuttled by the Senate, after One Nation missed the vote.

If the legislative instrument which set out the change had been allowed to stand, Arena could have invested in carbon capture and storage; “clean” hydrogen made using gas; heavy transport; low-emission cars; industrial energy efficiency; and micro-grid pilot programs.

More recently, the Coalition awarded three grants for fracking in the Beetaloo Basin to a political donor and Liberal-linked company. Imperial Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of Empire Energy, received $21m in grants through the $50m Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program.

The three grants are the first to be awarded through the program and will fund the drilling of three wells in the basin’s east, which the Coalition wants to open up for gas exploration as another part of its “gas-led recovery” plan.



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