Windsor plans new coal seam gas rules to protect water

Sydney Morning Herald - 6.12.2010 Lenore Taylor

Companies seeking to exploit the lucrative NSW coal seam gas reserves are likely to face a new federal regulatory barrier as the independent MP Tony Windsor prepares to use his balance-of-power position to require region-wide water assessments before new mining proceeds.

Mr Windsor told the Herald he wanted to force miners to conduct ”bio-regional assessments” of the cumulative impact of their controversial projects on surface and groundwater, preferably before exploration licences were issued, but if necessary before mining proceeded.

He said he would implement the plan either by amending the Water Act, which covers the Murray-Darling Basin region, or the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act, which would mean the new rules applied nationwide.

Farmers and environmental groups have called for a mining moratorium until fears about groundwater contamination are resolved.
On Friday the national water commissioner, Chloe Munro, said the coal seam gas industry needed to be better managed because it could have a ”significant” impact on surface and groundwater. ”The commission acknowledges that the coal seam gas industry represents a significant economic opportunity for Australia,” she said, releasing a position statement on it.

”However, we also recognise that if not adequately managed and regulated, the industry risks significant, long-term and adverse impacts on surface and groundwater systems.”
She said the commission believed coal seam gas developers should operate under the same rules as other water users.

Last month the Water Minister, Tony Burke, approved $35 billion worth of coal seam gas projects in Queensland, but documents released later showed his department had ”significant concerns” about it and said the gas extraction could have implications for the Murray-Darling Basin.

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