The Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) announced that as of 1 July 2013, all Annual Environmental Reports (AERs) will be submitted to the DMP online. Voluntary submission of AERs through the Environmental Assessment and Regulatory System (EARS) has been available since December 2012. As of 1 July, use of the online system is compulsory and the DMP will automatically reject any AERs submitted in hardcopy form.

A key objective of the submitting AERs through EARS is to improve data consistency, efficiency and transparency across the department’s services. For example, the DMP has stated that information submitted online in an AER can then also be used for other submissions, such as future AERs, programmes of work or mining rehabilitation fund assessments.

The DMP will make a summary of each AER publicly available on its website. The publication of a summary of AERs is aimed at increasing transparency in the industry by providing members of the public with easily accessible information regarding how companies are managing their environmental responsibilities.

Other publicly available documents

The online publication of AERs forms part of a broader trend of making environmental compliance documents publicly available. For example, the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) has indicated in policy documents that it will publish Annual Audit Compliance Reports (AACRs) required pursuant to Part V Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA) (EP Act) approvals.

There is no clear authority in the EP Act permitting the online publication of these documents; however there is also no prohibition.

Both the DEC and DMP have systems in place to ensure confidential information is not made publicly available.  In situations where a company considers information to be commercially confidential, that information should be submitted to the regulator in a separate document which includes a justification as to the reasons for the confidentiality.

What it means for you

Online publication of AERs, AACRs and other compliance documents will bring environmental performance and compliance into sharp focus. Information provided by companies will be more accessible to regulators and also interested third parties. This may result in increased monitoring and closer scrutiny of projects with compliance concerns.

We recommend that companies carefully review and vet AERs prior to submitting them to the DMP. Where non-compliances are identified, the corrective actions that have been or will be implemented to address the issue should be identified. To the extent possible, we recommend actions are taken with immediacy and compliance issues are resolved before submission of the AER. Where non-compliances are a result of outdated or inapplicable tenement conditions, we recommend companies take a proactive approach and seek their removal or amendment.