Background

The Queensland Government today released a Report into the future management of Queensland’s Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper Creek catchments (Western Rivers). If implemented, the Report’s recommendations will have an impact on mining and petroleum exploration and production activities in the Cooper and Georgina/Diamantina Basins.

The stated purpose of the Report is to assist the Government to develop an alternative framework for the protection of the Western Rivers, replacing the current Wild River declarations. The Western Rivers Advisory Panel (WRAP) was established to seek community input into the development of “alternative strategies”. However, the Government does not propose to withdraw any current Wild River declarations until an alternative framework is ready to be implemented.

Key WRAP recommendations

The Minister is now considering a range of recommendations in the WRAP’s Report. The recommendations do not necessarily carry the full endorsement of every WRAP member or group. For example, the resources sector (represented on the WRAP) disagreed with several of the recommendations.

Some of the key recommendations of the Report are outlined below, including responses by the resources sector representative in a supplementary report.

In relation to mining activities

  1. Mining should be prohibited in floodplains, major rivers, major tributaries and lakes.

The resources sector argued there is an existing system of impact assessment and conditioning that should determine the limits of operations and how they are to be conducted, rather than imposing blanket provisions.

  1. Open cut mining should be prohibited in “key sensitive areas” with stronger requirements applicable to other areas.

Again, the resources sector argued that the existing system of assessment is appropriate.

  1. The State Coordinator-General should not have powers to override any alternative strategies for the protection of the natural assets and values of the Lake Eyre Basin.

The resources sector disagreed on the basis that this would restrict the capacity of future generations to make decisions about development or conservation outcomes.

  1. The Great Artesian Basin recharge areas should be protected from the cumulative effects of mining.
  2. Mining activity should not be authorised if it has the potential to reduce or interfere with natural flows.
  3. Mining requirements must include no interference of flows to major rivers, major tributaries and floodplains.

The resource sector disagreed and argued that mining of floodplains should still occur where there was no impact. The resources sector also argued that this was too broad a recommendation and depended on the definition of “interference”.

In relation to petroleum and gas activities

  1. The use of a “risk based approach” instead of the current “adaptive management approach” being used to manage petroleum and gas operations.

The resources sector argued that both approaches should be preserved, rather than picking one over the other.

  1. The natural flows must not be impacted by petroleum and gas operations.
  2. That petroleum and gas development requirements must include no pollution of the river systems and no contamination of the groundwater systems.
  3. That Coal Seam Gas (CSG) water monitoring requirements must be standardised and transparent.

The resources sector argued that this is already the case.

The majority of WRAP members also supported a moratorium being placed on petroleum and gas development where there is insufficient understanding of industry impact and the imposition of a minimum two kilometre buffer zone around rivers and floodplains. Both these views were rejected by the resources sector.

How the alternative framework is proposed to be implemented

One of the recommendations of the WRAP was that the Government consider either introducing an amendment to the Water Act 2000 or the Environmental Protection Act 1994, or introduce an entirely new law complementary to and consistent with the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement.

The resource sector strongly opposed the development of a new law as it was argued that this simply trades one Wild Rivers Act for another, however named.

Conclusion

The Minister is now expected to consider the Report’s recommendations and develop an alternative strategy for protecting and managing the Western Rivers. This has the potential to greatly impact any current or planned mining or petroleum activities within those catchments.

A copy of the WRAP Report (including the resources sector supplementary report) is available at: www.dnrm.qld.gov.au.