Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke has recently announced the membership of the new Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (the Committee). The Committee is established under recent amendments to the Environment Protection andBiodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).

The Committee, which is made up of members with expertise in hydrogeology, hydrology, ecology, geology, ecotoxicology and natural resource management, is expected to play an important role in reviewing coal seam gas proposals and large coal mining developments and their potential impact on water resources when referred by the Commonwealth and State regulators.

The Committee will also advise Minister Burke on research priorities and knowledge gaps with respect to the actual and potential water related impacts associated with coal seam gas and large coal mining activities as well as what research is needed to reduce these knowledge gaps.

Minister Burke also announced that a further $50 million has been provided for a new National Partnership Agreement (the Agreement) with the states through the Council of Australian Governments. Under the Agreement, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria have committed to:

  • ask the Committee for advice during the approvals process for a coal seam gas or large coal mining development that is likely to have a significant impact on water resources;
  • undertake that decision-makers will evaluate the Committee's advice in a transparent manner; and
  • contribute to the Committee's research agenda, including on the Committee's advice on priority areas for bioregional assessment.

Under the Agreement, State Governments are also establishing protocols that identify the criteria for projects on which they will seek the Committee's advice. Queensland and Victoria have already finalised their protocols, which are available here