Water Trigger for Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development
Water has long been managed by the coal industry under a comprehensive environmental approvals regime at the State level, for water access, use and the environment more generally. Commonwealth Government approval has also been required where there exists a specific connection to an existing Matter of National Environmental Significance (mNES), which may include a listed threatened species, habitat or Ramsar wetlands.
In 2013, a new mNES under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was established for “a water resource, in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development”.
The so-called “water trigger” applies only to possible impacts arising from the coal and coal seam gas industries, and requires the Commonwealth Government to account for a very broad range of possible impacts. A unique aspect of the water trigger is a clause which prohibits the Commonwealth from entering into an agreement which would allow for State Governments to approve and condition projects for this specific mNES (called an approval bilateral agreement).
The requirement for approval under the water trigger represents an additional and unnecessary requirement on the coal industry. It is also the first mNES that focuses on a specific industry and not the impact on a particular environmental feature.
In addition to environmental approvals, in many areas of Australia, coal companies are required to purchase water from existing water markets, or manage water in line with regional water planning requirements.
On impacts to water quality, the water discharge from mining operations is closely monitored and strictly regulated by State Authorities. Furthermore, the coal industry participates in a range of regional water quality initiatives including the world class Hunter Valley Salinity Trading Scheme.
Minerals Council of Australia member companies are committed to the responsible management of Australia’s water resources. A link to the MCA water stewardship policy can be can be found here.
MCA media release on the water trigger: www.minerals.org.au/news/minerals_industry_acknowledges_further_action_on_project_approvals
Hunter Valley Salinity Trading Scheme: www.environment.nsw.gov.au