Proposed EPBC Amendment to include Water Resources as a Matter of National Environmental Significance in Relation to CSG Activities

The Commonwealth government announced in March 2013 that it proposes to make an amendment to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act (1999) to include ‘Water Resources’ as a Matter of National Environmental Significance (MNES) in relation to large coal mining developments and coal seam gas (CSG) developments.

Should the amendment be passed, it would introduce a new ‘water trigger’ into the EPBC Act for CSG development or large coal mining development. Such proposed development would then require approval from the Minister if the action will have, or is likely to have, a significant impact on a ‘water resource’.

Although firm guidance on what constitutes significant impact to water resources is not defined in the Bill, the National Partnership Agreement (NPA – a partnership of the Australian Government, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victorian governments to strengthen CSG and large coal mining operations) has defined a ‘significant impact‘ on water resources as one caused by a single action or the cumulative impact of multiple actions that would directly or indirectly:

  • change the quantity, quality or availability of surface or ground water;
  • alter ground water pressure and/ or water table levels;
  • alter the ecological character of a wetland;
  • divert or impound rivers or creeks, or substantially alter drainage patterns;
  • reduce biological diversity or change species composition;
  • alter coastal processes, including sediment movement or accretion, or water circulation patterns;
  • result in persistent organic chemicals, heavy metals, or other potentially harmful chemicals accumulating in the environment such that biodiversity, ecological integrity, human health or other community and economic use may be substantially adversely affected; and/or
  • substantially increase demand for, or reduce the availability of, water for human consumption.

On 14^th May 2013, the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee released its report setting out its findings of the enquiry into the EPBC Bill, concluding that the Bill is necessary and recommending that it be passed by the Senate.

How EHS Support can help navigate this potential new requirement

EHS Support has been working with CSG companies to help develop their water impact assessments and water monitoring and management strategies and plans. In direct response to this potential requirement, EHS Support is currently working on projects with the following goals:

  • Design a regional groundwater monitoring network that focuses on using a combination of existing and purpose-built groundwater monitoring bores to monitor long-term groundwater quality and pressure data near key receptors and groundwater supply areas.
  • Develop a database of private bore construction information within CSG development areas and a ranking of those bores that may be most at risk of exhibiting potential impacts from CSG activities and why.
  • Evaluate existing conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells within CSG development areas to provide a risk ranking of wells with high potential for failure and to identify (using well construction information) the zones within the wells that are most prone to failure.

EHS Support staff have experienced hydrogeologists, groundwater modellers, engineers and environmental approval specialists with years of experience supporting CSG project developments in Australia. We are a collaborative team who work with our clients to meet their project delivery needs.

Where can my company obtain more information?

For more information, contact Chris Smitt at chris.smitt@ehs-support.com or Tom Silverman at tom.silverman@ehs-support.com

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