THE State Government has announced tough new reforms to further safeguard the interests of communities, the environment and food production in the exploration for coal seam gas.
Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan said that alternative sources of natural gas presented potential economic benefits and new jobs for Gippsland communities, but the government would not allow new industries to threaten local liveability, the environment or food production.
The reforms which come into effect immediately are:
- A hold on the issuing of all new exploration licences for coal seam gas until the upcoming national framework proposals have been considered;
- A hold on all approvals to undertake hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) as part of onshore gas exploration;
- A ban on the use of BTEX chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene) in any mineral exploration activities in Victoria.
According to Mr Ryan, the government will also:
- Seek to strengthen resource policy and legislation to ensure better consideration of mixed land use issues during the application process for coal seam gas exploration activity;
- Use impact statements at the exploration stage in circumstances where there will be a significant material impact on the environment, to better manage mixed land use issues for all minerals exploration, including brown coal and coal seam gas.
“Impact statements and more work on policy and legislation will further safeguard areas of agricultural significance and address mixed land use issues in food production regions such as Gippsland,” said Mr Ryan.
He said the new reforms would be reviewed once ongoing work by the States and Commonwealth on a national framework for coal seam gas was completed.
“The national framework process is looking at the best methods for the regulation of the coal seam gas industry, including water management and monitoring, well design and integrity, hydraulic fracturing chemical use and industry and community engagement.
“In anticipation of the new national standards the Coalition is toughening already stringent laws to ensure Victoria continues to have the toughest safeguards in Australia.
“These reforms follow the announcement in June 2012 that Victoria had signed a National Partnership Agreement with the Commonwealth on coal seam gas and large coal mining development.
“Under the National Agreement, the newly established Independent Expert Scientific Committee will commence a Gippsland regional scale study into water and water dependent eco-systems.
“This study will provide a firm scientific basis to enable the Government to better regulate for future coal seam gas exploration and production to ensure there is no long term risks to ground water aquifers.”
Mr Ryan said that the new reforms are in addition to Victoria’s already tough regulatory framework that includes Victoria’s Environmental Protection Policy under the Environment Protection Act 1970 which does not allow discharge (from exploration and mining activities) that will pollute groundwater.
“Exploration for coal seam gas in Victoria is at a very early stage. There is currently no coal seam gas production in Victoria. While the location of Victoria’s coal existing resources is well known, the amount of any associated gas and the feasibility of extraction are very much unknown,” Mr Ryan said.
He said the extraction of natural gas, both onshore and offshore, had been safely regulated by the Victorian Government for more than 40 years, protecting both local communities and the environment while providing an affordable source of energy for households and business.
“By shielding communities and the environment from potential negative affects Victoria can open the way for opportunities to provide long term supply of cheap energy, create new local jobs and deliver more economic activity for local communities.
“The community doesn’t want new sources of gas and energy at any price. That’s why the Government will ensure that any future development of Victoria’s resources is carried out in a responsible and sustainable manner.”
The Opposition was quick to respond. Labor Member for Eastern Victoria Region Matt Viney issued a release claiming that the Baillieu Government was bowing to pressure from the community in announcing a partial moratorium on coal seam gas exploration.
He said he welcomed the move but said it didn’t actually address the concerns of the community. He called for a parliamentary inquiry into unconventional gas explorations, including coal seam gas, and a state-wide moratorium on further exploration for 12 months.