Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Coal seam gas expert scientific committee legislation introduced

Media release
22 March 2012

Environment Minister Tony Burke today introduced legislation to the House of Representatives to establish an Independent Expert Scientific Committee to provide advice on coal seam gas and large coal mining.

The legislation will amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to allow for the establishment of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development as a statutory body.

The Independent Expert Scientific Committee is part of a science-based framework to provide more certainty for regional communities on coal seam gas and large coal mining developments, jobs and investment and the protection of water resources.

An interim committee was put in place pending formal establishment of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee. The interim committee will continue until it hands over to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee from 1 July, 2012.

The establishment of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee as a statutory committee delivers on the commitment made by the Prime Minister on 21 November 2011 on this issue and fulfils one of the Commonwealth's key obligations under the National Partnership Agreement being negotiated between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments.

New South Wales and Queensland have signed the agreement. Negotiations with other states are continuing.

"Independent expert scientific advice to provide quality recommendations for the protection of water resources has formed part of approvals where they have been given under national environmental law," Mr Burke said.

"To date, this quality independent advice has been limited to the extent of environmental powers in relation to matters of national environmental significance set out under the EPBC Act.

"The establishment of the committee is about ensuring that robust, independent scientific evidence is available to all governments when they consider applications which potentially have direct or indirect impacts on water resources.

"Under the agreement, signatory governments to the National Partnership Agreement are required to seek the committee's advice when considering approvals for coal seam gas and large coal mining developments which are likely to have direct or indirect impacts on water resources."

The first five regions where the interim committee will undertake further detailed assessment to provide better information for decision-makers to ensure protection of water resources are:

  • Queensland - Lake Eyre Basin, which is underlain by the Galilee, Cooper and Pedirka coal bearing basins;
  • New South Wales and Queensland - Northern Inland Catchments, incorporating the Namoi, Border Rivers-Gwydir, Maranoa-Balonne and Macquarie-Castlereagh coal bearing basins. This area is underlain by the Gunnedah and Surat basins;
  • New South Wales - Northern Sydney Basin and the Gloucester Basin, encompassing the Hunter Central Rivers and Hawkesbury-Nepean natural resource management regions;
  • New South Wales - Southern Sydney Basin, encompassing the Southern Rivers, Sydney Metro and Hawkesbury-Nepean natural resource management regions; and
  • Queensland - Clarence-Moreton Basin, encompassing the South East Queensland and Northern Rivers natural resource management regions.

The interim committee will provide further information together with state governments that have signed the National Partnership Agreement on how these bioregional assessments will be undertaken.

Further bioregional assessments will be determined following advice from the interim committee and relevant state governments.

Mr Burke also announced $9.2 million for 23 natural resource management regions in New South Wales and Queensland to undertake an analysis of their local environment and potential impact on water resources from coal seam gas and coal mining developments.

While the 23 regions include areas broader than the five areas announced today, the work undertaken by the natural resource management bodies will be a valuable input to bioregional assessments once a further list of regions has been identified.

It is anticipated that bioregional assessments will commence in at least three of these regions before the end of June 2012, with the remainder commencing early in the 2012-13 financial year.