What are the recent reforms under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill (the Bill)?

Under the Bill water resources are to be a national matter of environmental significance. Where a coal mining or coal seam gas project has a significant impact on water the “water trigger” will be set off. Such projects will require federal ministerial approval.

The minister is encouraged to take advice from an independent expert scientific committee on the impact on a water resource. Predictably (for something so politically charged), the evidence will not dictate the outcome and the minister retains the “discretion” to approve.

The Greens failed in their proposed amendment to the Bill that it also apply to shale and tight gas. They argued that shale gas mining extraction had similar potential impacts on water and all unconventional gas resources should be on a level playing field. The fat lady hasn’t sung on this one and there will be a lot of further debate.

The reforms could be a game changer for future coal seam gas and coal projects. Companies involved in such projects need to get prepared for the trigger being pulled as early as the exploration phase.