The National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Mining Development
In February 2012, Queensland signed the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Mining Development (NPA). The purpose of this agreement is to create a more consistent national approach to strengthen the regulation of coal seam gas (CSG) and large coal mining development by ensuring that future decisions are informed by substantially improved science and independent expert advice.
The agreement does this by establishing an Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) which will give the Queensland and Australian governments expert scientific advice on significant CSG and large coal mining development proposals likely to have a significant effect on water resources.
In accordance with the terms of the NPA the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) has published a protocol which specifies how the Queensland Government will decide which project applications should be referred to the IESC for advice.
The Queensland Government does not intend the referrals process to extend project assessment or approvals timelines. Exceptions to this are expected to be rare and will be determined by Queensland Government officers, in consultation with the IESC and the proponent.
Currently, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia are signed parties to the NPA.
The Independent Expert Scientific Committee
The IESC will advise on the direct and cumulative impacts of proposed resource developments across the states allowing a more comprehensive review of potential impacts to basins, particularly those that cross state boundaries.
This IESC will be an open committee, providing regular public updates of its work, publishing its advice and the outcomes of bioregional assessments and commissioned research on the IESC website.
The function of the IESC under the NPA is to improve the identification and scientific understanding of both potential and actual impacts on water resources.
The IESC will conduct water assessments and produce an evidence-based scientific report, outlining any possible threat to the water resource from the project with consideration of the cumulative impacts from previously approved projects. EHP will review this report as part of the environmental authority application.
The IESC response will be made publicly available on the interim IESC’s website only after it has been received by the government who made the request and after the associated decision has been made. The response will detail the title of the project, a summary of the request, and the interim IESC’s advice in response to the request.
The report is only advisory; however, it will also provide advice for future decisions regarding CSG proposals and allow those decisions to be informed by substantially improved and independent scientific information.
While a permanent IESC is not yet established, the interim IESC has been formed as a temporary measure, pending formal establishment of the IESC under legislation. The interim IESC will continue until it hands over to the permanent IESC when the legislation has been passed through Parliament. Members of the interim IESC were appointed on the basis of their strong scientific expertise and credentials in understanding the potential impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining on water resources.
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