The interplay between overlapping coal and coal seam gas tenements has been the subject of ongoing debate in Queensland for a number of years. Aimed at maximising the utilisation of Queensland’s resources, the Queensland Resources Council facilitated the preparation of a joint industry ‘White Paper’ in 2012. The White Paper presents a range of proposed reforms to the overlapping tenement regime in Queensland, developed through industry working groups.

Many aspects of the White Paper proposals form part of the Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Act 2014 (Qld) and the ongoing amendments towards a Common Resources Act in Queensland.

However, at the heart of all overlapping tenement considerations is safety. With two industries working the same acreage, it is imperative that matters affecting safety are identified and dealt with appropriately.

Now, some of the concepts and principles developed by the working group have been translated into draft amendments to the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) (CMSH Act) and its Regulation and the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 (Qld) and its Regulation through the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Qld) (Bill).

In addition, the Bill propses changes to the qualifications required for appointment to the role of the Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health.

Joint Interaction Management Plans

If the Bill is passed in its current form, new safety and health overlapping tenure provisions would require joint interaction management plans and provide an alternative dispute resolution process for independent arbitration. These amendments are aimed at achieving cooperation on safety issues between Queensland’s coal and coal seam gas industries whilst they work together to achieve the best commercial outcomes for both industries and for Queensland.

The proposed overlapping tenure requirements for joint interaction management plans would also apply to existing overlapping tenures through transitional arrangements.

When is a joint interaction management plan required?

Under the Bill, a joint interaction management plan will be required before activities may be carried out on a mining tenement (for example a mining lease) granted after the corresponding petroleum tenement (for example a petroleum lease).

How is a joint interaction management plan made?

The Bill places a proposed onus on the Site Senior Executive (SSE) to make reasonable attempts to consult with the gas party to jointly identify, analyse and assess risks and hazards in the overlapping area, and have regard to their views.

The gas operator would also be required to consult with all operators of any other operating plant working within the petroleum authority in the overlap area and coordinate their input into the joint interaction management plan for the petroleum and gas activities. The SSE must then either reach agreement with each gas operator or apply for arbitration of the plan if agreement cannot be reached.

Some certainty is provided in that the SSE is taken to have made reasonable attempts to consult with the gas operator if the SSE has given the gas operator a copy of the plan and the operator has not made any proposal to the SSE about it within 20 days. The Bill also sets a three month window in which negotiations may be held before the SSE must apply for arbitration.  It is proposed however that either party can apply for arbitration of the dispute at any time.

What are the content requirements of a joint interaction management plan?

Some of the relevant requirements of a joint interaction management plan, as currently proposed in the Bill, are that it must:

  • be stored and kept together with the other components of the safety and health management system for the mine
  • be documented in a way that makes it capable of being audited
  • identify the relevant components of the overlapping area (initial and rolling mine areas and simultaneous operating zones)
  • identify hazards and risks to be controlled and triggers or material changes which must be monitored and which require the plan to be reviewed
  • identify interactions between the coal and gas parties and the names of key site personnel, and
  • incorporate a review mechanism for the plan.

The joint interaction management plan must also be notified to the chief inspector and made available for review by the overlapping operators.

Qualifications for appointment as Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health

The Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health performs the following functions for the purposes of the CMSH Act and the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld):

  • advise the Minister on mine safety and health matters generally
  • act as chairperson of the coal mining safety and health advisory committee and chairperson of the mining safety and health advisory committee
  • monitor and report to the Minister and to Parliament on the administration of provisions about safety and health under the Acts and other mining legislation, and
  • perform the functions given to the Commissioner under the legislation.

The Commissioner is appointed by the Governor in Council by gazette notice.

Since the inception of the role in 2009, the Commissioner has needed a science or engineering qualification relevant to the mining industry and professional experience in mine safety.

The Bill proposes to alter the current mandatory qualifications necessary for appointment of the Commissioner on the basis that existing requirements are overly restrictive having regard to the scope of the role.  Qualifications in the law and professional experience in the law relating to mine safety or 10 years professional experience in senior positions relating to operational mine safety management would, on commencement of the Bill, also be recognised as appropriate qualifications.

When will the Bill be passed?

The Bill is unlikely to progress further until 17 November 2014, being the date by which the Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee is due to report back to Parliament about the Bill.