The Government today moved to ensure that all future decisions about coal seam gas projects and large coal mining developments are based on the most rigorous scientific evidence available.
Coal seam gas and coal can bring huge opportunities – but to do so must maintain community confidence, especially in regard to impact on water.
This can only be achieved by ensuring all environmental approvals and licensing decisions are made on the basis of transparent, objective scientific evidence.
The new science-based framework being introduced by the Government will provide certainty for regional communities around coal seam gas and large coal mining developments, jobs and investment, as well as protection of water resources.
The Government has listened to community concerns, and will:
These arrangements will provide all Australians with greater confidence that projects will be subject to rigorous and objective scientific assessment.
Independent assessment will help build greater trust and help build community confidence in coal seam gas and coal mining development in sensitive areas.
Under these arrangements, the states will remain the primary regulators. The framework will apply to future licenses.
Businesses will not be required to change the way they apply for a licence – the framework is not designed to add extra work or increase the regulatory burden for upcoming projects.
It does mean, however, that their applications will be subject to rigorous and independent scientific assessment by the Committee before states grant an approval for a relevant activity.
This is a good outcome as it will inform better environmental regulation of coal seam gas and large coal mine developments' impacts on ground water across Australia without imposing additional Commonwealth regulation.
It leaves the administration in the hands of the states, which have the local knowledge and local relationships, while avoiding duplicated regulatory systems, with the added costs and uncertainty that brings.
Independent expert scientific advice to provide quality recommendations for the protection of underground water has formed part of federal approvals when they have been given.
But to date, this quality independent advice has been limited to the extent of environmental powers set out under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
With this new Independent Expert Scientific Committee, the level of scientific rigour will be applied to consider the impact on underground water more generally.
This is an important development with Australia set to benefit from a strong coal mining and coal seam gas industry for years to come.
21 November 2011