Current Considerations of Key Policy, Regulatory and Community Issues
The Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee (GABCC) recognises community concerns for the water and pressure resources of the GAB and the risks posed from rapidly increasing extractive industry activities. This includes Coal Seam Gas (CSG) extraction that may involve the use of fracturing chemicals.
Under its operating arrangements, the GABCC has a whole-of-basin responsibility to advise relevant national, state and territory government Ministers on the sustainable management of the GAB water and pressure resources and to coordinate activity between stakeholders. GABCC membership ensures direct input into the extractive industry debate across the full spectrum of stakeholders.
The rapidly developing CSG industry, with its proliferation of bores and attendant extraction of co-produced GAB water, has been a major focus of consideration by the GABCC since 2008 and the subject of extensive correspondence with relevant Ministers.
The GABCC has been consistently monitoring a range of issues around CSG extraction and considering a range of significant policy and regulatory documents in relation to extractive industries more generally in the GAB, including:
- the National Water Initiative Draft Guidelines as they relate to extractive industry development in the GAB;
- the Queensland Government's recent amendments to the Water Act 2000 which introduced a new regulatory framework to manage impacts of extraction of groundwater by petroleum tenure holders, including CSG activities;
- the Queensland and Australian Governments' extensive approval conditions attached to three major CSG projects within the Surat Basin (which lies within the GAB); and
- the National Water Commission Position Statement-The Coal Seam Gas and Water Challenge.
The GABCC has received a range of technical briefings from a broad range of sources on CSG extraction technology and related hydrogeology, as well as associated policy and regulatory issues. The GABCC also closely monitors technical papers and journals around CSG and extractive industry development more generally in the GAB. It also monitors print and electronic media, including newspapers, radio and TV. Importantly, the GABCC has a strong, on-going commitment to listen to, reflect on and advise Ministers about concerns held by communities across the GAB in relation to CSG and other extractive industry developments.
While the policy and regulatory frameworks for CSG extraction continue to evolve, the GABCC notes substantive progress is being made in terms of the comprehensiveness of approval conditions being imposed on CSG developments by the Australian and Queensland Governments. These conditions include requirements to:
- prevent any significant impacts on discharge springs and their dependent communities;
- maintain acceptable pressure levels in aquifers adjacent to the coal seams, including through aquifer re-injection where necessary;
- make good the impacts on water users resulting from CSG extraction activities;
- prepare, implement and report on comprehensive CSG water monitoring and management plans; and
- provide details of chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing, including their toxicity and assessments as to how much of these chemicals may be left behind in coal measures.
The GABCC positively recognises that the comprehensive requirements now being imposed do reflect a conservative, adaptive management approach. However, given the risks posed and the potential rapid expansion of CSG extraction across the landscape, there is a critical requirement for all levels of government to ensure policy and regulatory development and implementation evolve to match the scale and pace of the CSG industry. In that context, the GABCC will continue to monitor and advise Ministers on this industry and highlight key issues requiring more concerted attention, including:
- achieving a better alignment of the development approval, water management and environmental protection processes across the GAB;
- more transparent and comprehensive accounting of co-produced water from both exploration and production bores;
- ongoing application of best science and best practice as critical foundations for effective adaptive management, including the use of chemicals in fracturing operations;
- effective monitoring of compliance to the range of regulations under which industry operates;
- more comprehensive and concerted factual communication with the GAB communities; and
- continual strong recognition that the GAB is the principal source of water for many landholders and communities, as well as water-dependent ecosystems.
Importantly, the GABCC will continue to highlight that strong recognition must continue to be given to the considerable investment made by national, state and territory governments and landholders in securing GAB water and pressure resources through the bore capping and piping programs under the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI), as well as pre-GABSI programs.
Over the 15-year timeframe of GABSI, government / landholder investment is estimated at $450m. This major whole-of-basin initiative, together with earlier programs, has made significant progress in renewing / refurbishing artesian bores and replacing bore drains with piped water across the landscape. The benefits of this concerted effort are now starting to be seen, with increased artesian pressures being recorded in many parts of the GAB. Extractive industry development, including CSG extraction within the GAB, must not put these gains at risk.
The vision of the GABCC remains unchanged - the coordinated management of the GAB as a natural resource of national significance to optimise the values of a sustainable and productive artesian groundwater resource for present and future generations.
The GABCC will continue to welcome new and updated information from any sector in the interests of furthering on-going rational deliberations and helping to achieve balanced outcomes.