By Pat Pepper
NCWQ Environment Adviser
The Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Bill 2014: The Queensland Government (QG)aims to slash red tape for the resources sector and to improve land access protection for the landholder by developing a single, common resources Act for the mining, petroleum and gas, greenhouse gas storage and geothermal energy sectors. The Mineral and Energy Resources Bill introduced to Parliament on 5 June 2014 begins this process and also aims to implement the Land Access Implementation Committee’s recommendations that require legislative changes. These include expanding the Land Court’s jurisdiction to hear conduct matters when considering conduct and compensation agreements; requiring that conduct and compensation agreements be noted on the relevant property title; and allowing two willing parties to opt out of entering a formal conduct and compensation agreement. http://mines.industry.qld.gov.au/mining/modernising-qld-resource-acts-program.htm; MinEnergyResCPB14E.pdf; http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2014/6/5/major-reforms-to-boost-resources-and-protect-landholders. However the Environmental Defenders Office, EDO Qld, has raised serious concerns. Public notification and the community right to object to the Queensland Land Court for in effect 90% of proposed mines (coal, bauxite, gold, uranium, etc) will be removed. Only the Local Council and landholders within the proposed mining lease area can object to the granting of a mining lease. This does not include neighbours. Only ‘high risk’ mines will be publicly notified for objection on environmental grounds (predicted to be only 10% of mines in Queensland). http://www.edo.org.au/edoqld/news/the-proposed-removal-of-community-rights-to-object-to-mines/This does not bode well, given the Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Developments found 14 of 17 environmental assessments reviewed were deficient because they did not take proper account of the cumulative impacts the project would have on water, and 12 were also deficient in analysing how interference with ground and surface water would affect swamps, wetlands, ecological communities and threatened species. http://www.environment.gov.au/coal-seam-gas-mining/interim-committee/project-advice.htmlhttps://theconversation.com/coal-and-gas-fail-the-test-when-it-comes-to-environmental-impact-13746 26 April 2013
Other worrying aspects of the Mineral and Energy Resources Bill are the changes of definition of restricted land and the alterations to landholder’s rights. Restricted land no longer applies to principal stockyards, bores, artesian wells, dams and other artificial water storages connected to a water supply.(P34MinEnergyResCPB14E.pdf;)It is doubtful if the conduct and compensation agreement framework will provide the landholder with adequate protection.
Consent provisions currently in place for restricted land will be totally removed where the mine is open cut.http://www.edo.org.au/edoqld/news/the-proposed-removal-of-community-rights-to-object-to-mines/
Impacts of coal seam gas extraction on groundwater resources: As Dr Catherine Moore, Senior Research Scientist CSIRO Land and Water, notes questions remain about how the removal of groundwater during coal seam gas extraction will affect regional groundwater, quality and quantity over short and long time scales; and what effect may re-injection of treated coal seam gas water have on existing groundwater quality? http://www.gisera.org.au/research/transcript_water.html Scientists at Gas Industry Social & Environmental Research Alliance, GISERA, are conducting baseline groundwater quality measurements; water transport modelling (reservoir to regional scale) to predict cumulative impacts of re‑injection on groundwater and modelling short and long term changes to groundwater quality in Surat and Bowen Basins. www.gisera.org.au snapshot-gisera-research.pdf
As Dr Matthew Currell, Lecturer in Hydrogeology, School of Environmental Engineering at RMIT University, advises a long period of data collection and hydrogeological investigation is needed to make confident predictions with groundwater models. The models are characterised by uncertainty. For example, how much or how quickly one aquifer may register changes in water pressures in response to de-watering somewhere else can’t be determined exactly. Rather, a range of possible outcomes, with a certain level of confidence could realistically be provided. Similarly, how quickly pollution will move through an aquifer, and whether or when it might ultimately reach a wetland or stream is difficult to predict exactly. Many proposed mines will affect groundwater; in many cases from aquifers already used by people and important ecosystems. http://theconversation.com/coal-and-gas-projects-cant-be-rushed-heres-why-18739 9 October 2013 The importance of having the water trigger legislation and assessments by the IESC is shown by their track record http://www.environment.gov.au/coal-seam-gas-mining/interim-committee/project-advice.htmlhttps://theconversation.com/coal-and-gas-fail-the-test-when-it-comes-to-environmental-impact-13746 26 April 2013 Given that water resources are such an essential resource to the economy and the environment would it not be prudent to slow the pace of CSG development until the science is done and to keep safeguards in place?
A recent GISERA study exploded farmers’ perceptions of issues arising from large scale land use change due to the expansion of the CSG industry. Impacts on ground and surface waters are a primary concern. Issues regarding atmospheric pollution (dust, light, noise) and increased traffic have a significant impact on many aspects of farmers’ lives.Culture differences between farmers and CSG staff have led to severe impacts on mental health and wellbeing. Huth N.I., Cocks B., Dalgliesh N., Poulton, P., Marinoni O., Navarro J. (2014) Farmers’ perceptions of coexistence between agriculture and a large scale coal seam gas development: working paper, June 2014, CSIRO, Australia. http://www.gisera.org.au/publications/tech_reports_papers/ag-proj-2-farmer-perception-workingpaper.pdf
Effect of Coal Projects on Water Resources in the Galilee Basin: Landholders anxious about future water supplybrought one of nine mega mines proposed for the Galilee Basin before the Land Court. NCWQ Environmental Adviser Report Oct13. The Land Court has recommended that the mine proposal either be rejected by the State government, or else only be allowed to proceed with extra conditions to protect groundwater. It was found that there were assumptions in the groundwater models that were not based on conclusive field evidence, in particular the location and rates of groundwater recharge, the geological structure and its control on groundwater flow, and the scale of off-site impacts of the mine on neighbouring areas. http://theconversation.com/alpha-coal-ruling-breaks-new-ground-for-protecting-water-25426 10 April 2014
Since the many of the proposed mines are in close proximity, their cumulative effect is of major concern.https://theconversation.com/coals-damage-is-cumulative-lets-assess-it-that-way-16956
Underground coal gasification (UCG): An independent scientific panel investigating two UCG pilot trials recommended:-
- the two companies be permitted to continue their current pilot trials with the sole, focused aim of examining in a comprehensive manner the assertion that the self-cleaning cavity approach advocated for decommissioning is environmentally safe;
- a planning and action process be established to demonstrate successful ‘decommissioning’ of the underground cavities used as part of the UCG process;
- until decommissioning can be demonstrated, no commercial UCG facility be commenced.
http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2013/7/8/report-recommends-way-ahead-for-ucg-industryhttp://mines.industry.qld.gov.au/mining/underground-coal-gasification.htmNCWQ Environmental Adviser Report Jul13
One company has been fined for causing groundwater contamination http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2013/9/24/the other has had charges filed against them for serious environmental harm. Both trials are now entering a decommissioning phase. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2014/4/11/
Great Barrier Reef (GBR): At the 38th Session of UNESCO’S World Heritage Committee (WHC) in Doha, Qatar from 15 – 25 June 2014, the WHCwelcomed the progress being made with the Strategic Assessment and reiterated its request for this work to be completed in order to ensure that the Long-Term Plan for Sustainable Development (LTPSD) results in concrete and consistent management measures that are sufficiently robust, effectively governed and adequately financed, to ensure the overall long-term conservation of the GBR and its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), including in view of addressing cumulative impacts and increasing reef resilience.
Progress made with regard to water quality was welcomed, in particular the endorsement of the 2013 Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, the release of the Scientific Consensus Statement and the progress toward the Reef Plan targets as stated in the most recent Reef Plan Report Card. These efforts and their funding were encouraged to be sustained and where necessary expanded to achieve the ultimate goal of no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the reef.
The focussing of port development to the Priority Port Development Areas (PPDAs), the confirmation that these will exclude the Fitzroy Delta, Keppel Bay, and north Curtis Island, and the commitment to “protect greenfield areas from the impacts of port development” was welcomed. The WHC urged that the finalized Queensland Ports Strategy ensures that the above mentioned commitments are fully integrated and are consistent with the LTPSD, and that no port developments or associated port infrastructure be permitted outside the existing and long-established major port areas within or adjoining the GBR.
The full completion of the independent review of the institutional and management arrangements for the GBR, as recommended by the 2012 reactive monitoring mission, as a key input to the LTPSD, was requested. The transfer of decision-making power from Federal to State levels, before the vision, framework with desired outcomes and targets, and governance requirements to deliver the LTPSD have been adopted, was considered to be premature, and should be postponed to allow further consideration.
The WHC expressed concern at recent approvals for coastal developments in the absence of a completed Strategic Assessment and resulting LTPSD, and regretted that the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredge material inside the GBR had been approved prior to a comprehensive assessment of alternative and potentially less impacting development and disposal options being undertaken. The WHC requested the Government ensure that the option selected does not impact OUV, and is the least damaging option available.
The WHC also noted with concern that the provisions of the Queensland Ports Strategy cannot be applied retroactively, and therefore strongly urged the Government:
a) ensure rigorously that proposed development outside PPDAs is not permitted and that developments within PPDAs do not impact individually or cumulatively the OUV of the GBR;
b) ensure that plans to be developed for each PPDA exclude from development areas identified as of conservation significance under the 2003 Great Barrier Reef Zoning plan.
The WHC requested the submission of an updated report on the state of conservation of the GBR to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2015. This should include the implementation of actions outlined above as well as on the other points raised in the 2012 reactive monitoring mission report, and the documents relevant to the WHC’s past decisions. These with the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment and resulting LTPSD, as well as the findings of the second Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report would be examined by the WHC at its 39th session in 2015, with a view to considering, in the case of confirmation of the ascertained or potential danger to its OUV, the possible inscription of the GBR on the List of World Heritage in Danger.http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2014/whc14-38com-16en.pdf.While the progress made is acknowledged, the premature approvals and transfer of decision making power from Federal to State are very concerning as are the other concerns raised by the WHC.