Australian Government to Assess Coalseam Gas Projects’ Impact on Water
Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke plans to introduce amendments to national environmental law requiring federal government assessment and approval of coalseam gas developments that have significant impact on water resources.
The move, which drew criticism from local gas producers, comes in response to concerns raised by communities around Australia about the impact of coalseam gas on ground water and surface water resources, Burke said Tuesday.
“The proposed amendments will ensure that coalseam gas and large coal mining developments must be assessed and approved under national environment law, if they are likely to have a significant impact on a water resource,” the minister said in a statement.
“The community expectation has always been that we would take this into account. But up until now, we have only been able to take account of water to the extent there has been an impact on issues such as threatened species or a Ramsar wetland,” he added.
“Realistically, whenever I have made a decision on coalseam gas, the Australian public would expect that we are taking into account all the impacts on our precious water resources. This change gives me as Australia’s environment minister the capacity to do just that.”
Although developers would now be required to provide more information, the government was not seeking to needlessly delay projects, according to Burke.
“The additional information required in many instances will involve data that has already been collected in the state approval process,” he said.
The change also means projects will come under the scrutiny of the federal government’s Independent Expert Scientific Committee.
“The federal plan to introduce an industry-specific trigger in its environmental regulation is a text-book example of how to increase costs to industry while delivering absolutely no environmental benefit,” Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Chief Executive David Byers said in response to Burke’s announcement. “Eastern Australia needs more gas, not more regulation,” he added.
“The coalseam gas industry provides a third of eastern Australia’s natural gas, and is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country due to existing state government processes,” Byers said. “Today’s intervention by the federal government adds duplication and inefficiency at a time when clarity and investor certainty are what is required.”
APPEA said the oil and gas industry supported “stable, predictable, robust regulation of its activities based on sound scientific principles and assessment.” But the government’s move had “little to do with science or fact and more to do with politics,” the association added.
“Burying the gas industry in unnecessary regulation has real consequences and will inhibit the industry’s ability to do what is so important to so many: produce the natural gas needed by thousands of Australian households and businesses,” Byers said.
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