Many coal seam gas (CSG) projects have found it difficult to find viable uses for coal seam gas water (otherwise known as ‘associated water’) given the treatment technology and costs required to convert it to a quality which is suitable for commercial purposes. Against this backdrop, the Queensland Government has passed new laws in relation to the management of associated water under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld).

The South-East Queensland Water (Distribution and Retail Restructuring) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2010 (Qld) (Act) was passed by the Queensland Parliament on 19 May, amending provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) in relation to the management of coal seam gas water (CSG Water).

The amendments are expected to come into force on 5 July 2010.

Key points

  • Construction of an evaporation dam under an existing CSG environmental authority (EA) will be unlawful unless construction has substantially commenced before the amendments come into force.
  • The use of evaporation dams to manage CSG Water will be prohibited unless an evaluation shows there is no feasible alternative having regard to best practice CSG Water and alternative management options.
  • Environmental Management Plans (EMPs) for CSG EAs must provide detailed information about proposed CSG Water management.

New requirements for EMPs and annual returns

A number of additional matters must now be addressed in environmental management plans (EMPs) for:

  1. a CSG EA, or
  2. an application to amend a CSG EA.

These matters are:

  • the quantity of CSG Water the applicant expects will be generated
  • the flow rate at which the CSG Water will be generated
  • the quality of the CSG Water, including changes in the quality
  • the proposed management of the CSG Water including the use, treatment, storage or disposal of the water
  • the measurable criteria against which CSG Water management will be monitored and assessed for quantity and quality, protection of the environmental values and the disposal of waste (together termed ‘the management criteria’), and
  • the action that will be taken if any of the management criteria are not satisfied.

Where a CSG EA holder is required to lodge an annual return it must include an evaluation of the effectiveness of the management of CSG Water under these same criteria.

Evaporation dams

The new laws will also prohibit the use of evaporation dams to manage CSG Water unless the EMP includes an evaluation of best practice management of CSG Water and alternative management options, and the evaluation shows there is no feasible alternative to an evaporation dam.

DERM Guidelines

DERM also released guidelines in the last month which contain a CSG Water management hierarchy, as follows:

  • injection (where a detrimental impact is unlikely)
  • holding of untreated water in an aggregation dam prior to use (if use is possible)
  • holding of untreated water in an aggregation dam prior to treatment, and then use or storage of the treated water and safe disposal or storage of the brine/salt, and
  • disposal of the untreated or treated water to a water supply dam in accordance with an agreement with the dam service provider.

Evaporation dams, injection where a detrimental impact is likely, and disposal to surface waters or land are now ‘non-preferred’.