The NSW Government has created a new “Strategic release framework” for new coal and gas exploration licences. They are seeking comment till 23 October. This is your chance to tell them to create no go zones to protect water resources, farmland and threatened bushland. Act now!
Please make your views known by making a submission on the Strategic release framework for new coal and gas exploration licences and have asked for comment before 5pm on 6 November.
Before we've even had a chance to make our views known about their plans for releasing new areas for coal and gas mining around the State, the Government has introduced five pieces of new legislation that make substantial changes in part to the release and renewal process for exploration licences without including the process they're asking us to comment on this week.
They say they're introducing a triple bottom line assessment, and including public consultation and land use and other environmental and social issues assessment prior to the release of new areas for exploration for coal and gas, but have failed to include any of that in the changes they're making to the law. It won't have any statutory power and seems unlikely that the Minister will clearly be able to refuse to grant new exploration licences because of competing land use, environmental constraints, or broader public interest considerations.
The NSW Government has so far squandered the opportunity to deliver the deep reform to the management of coal and gas across the landscape in New South Wales that we need, despite intensifying conflict in the regions being targeted for expanded coal and gas mining. With this new framework, they have, once again, failed to deliver no go zones to set important parts of the state aside as off-limits to mining.
Can you make a submission to this proposed new framework making clear that New South Wales needs firm no-go zones for coal and gas mining to protect rural industries, water resources, bushland and local communities?
Email your submission to: firstname.lastname@example.org by 5pm on 6 November
Here are some things you might like to say:
- I support triple bottom line assessment, consistence in the treatment of coal and gas, and the inclusion of community consultation in the release of new areas for mining exploration… but why has none of this been included in the series of Bills amending the mining and petroleum Acts that were introduced into parliament on 15 October? The triple bottom line assessment must be part of the statutory process, and must clearly outline the environmental and social constraints that are grounds for refusal of mining and petroleum authorities.
- The Government still hasn’t made any areas clearly off limits to mining. This is crucial reform, long promised and overdue for delivery.
- The “strategic release framework” and the Mining and Petroleum (Onshore) amendment Bills need to build environmental and social constraints into coal and gas mining processes at the earliest phase, prior to exploration licences and leases being issued, to stop years of conflict and agony for rural communities trying to protect water resources, villages, farmland or important bushland from mining.
- The discussion paper released in December mentioned constraints, but this framework is just another layer of gruelling assessment with no certainty and no protections, no statutory basis and no clear public interest test for mining authorities that affect farmland, water, bushland and rural communities.
- The Government must deliver no-go areas for mining in this process and before the end of the year.
- This means creating hard exclusions for coal and gas exploration and mining: within 2km all critical industry clusters and strategic agricultural land, in the special areas of the drinking water catchments for Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle, within 2km of all homes and schools, in critically endangered ecological communities, in alluvial aquifers, in recharge areas for the Great Artesian Basin and within 2km of rivers.
- We do not have faith that the “advisory body” comprised of executives from Department of Premier and Cabinet, NSW Treasury, the Department of Planning and Environment, and the Division of Resources and Energy will prioritise the protection of NSW’s farmland, bushland and water resources without unequivocal hard constraints being imposed.
- The government has long promised a “harmonised” framework for the release of new areas for coal and gas exploration.
- In 2013 the ICAC recommended a “triple bottom line” assessment process be introduced as part of the exploration licence granting process, and last year, a Steering Committee was established that was intended to achieve this.
- In September 2014, the Chief Scientist recommended that the NSW Government, “use its planning powers and capability to designate those areas of the State in which CSG activity is permitted to occur.” The community reasonably expected this would mean inappropriate areas would be protected from further gas activity.
- In November 2014, the Government convened a Coal Exploration Steering Group, which released a Discussion Paper and conducted consultation on how to implement a more rigourous exploration release process, including a triple bottom line assessment. The Government committed to preparing a framework for a whole-of-government assessment of where, when, and how coal resources are to be released for exploration. But the new guidelines and assessment documents released by the Government last year fails to deliver this promise.
- Once this new system is in place, the Government will unfreeze applications for new petroleum exploration licences across the State. Coal exploration licences were never frozen, but the new framework will apply to both coal and gas, once it’s in place. This program was released the day after the PEL buyback program was wrapped up.
- The framework will be overseen by an “advisory body” comprised of executives from Department of Premier and Cabinet, NSW Treasury, the Department of Planning and Environment, and the Division of Resources and Energy.
- Prior to release and prior to recommendation, the Department of Planning will conduct a “Preliminary Issues Assessment” to identify environmental and social risks present in the area being considered for mining exploration.
- This assessment does not provide any clear direction that drinking water catchments, productive aquifers, critically endangered bushland, productive agricultural land or any other hard constraint will apply.
What's in these new Bills, then?
- On 15 October, the NSW government introduced several piece of legislation to parliament. Three amend the Mining Act and Petroleum (Onshore) Act, and one the Protection of the Environment Operations Act. These Bills do not appear to include the triple bottom line assessment provisions being promised in the Strategic release framework. The Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Grant of Coal and Petroleum Prospecting Titles) Bill 2015 introduces a new system for competitive tendering for new areas for exploration for both coal and gas, as per the ICAC's recommendation, but does not make public consultation on this mandatory, nor does it mention the triple bottom line assessment the ICAC said was necessary. The Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Harmonisation) Bill 2015 introduces standard clauses for mining exploration for coal and gas, including "broader and more flexible powers to impose and vary conditions" but actually removed some considerations that are currently in the mining act and fails to include the "regional issues assessment" which they're currently asking us for feedback about... so it will not have statuory power as a grounds for refusing or cancelling licences. The Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Land Access Arbitration) Bill 2015 introduces some parts of the recommendations of the Walker review into arbitration, it specifies that compensation is payable to each landholder and creates a definition for compensable loss (look for s107A if you want to check it out). The Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Enforcement of Gas and Other Petroleum Legislation) Bill 2015 makes the EPA the "lead" regulator for enforcement and compliance of conditions on petroleum (not coal)
titles and development consents for petroleum (not coal) exploration and mining activities, except for workplace health and safety.