The government has a framework of legislation that companies must comply with to ensure the protection of Queensland’s environment, land and water resources.
Companies are licensed under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act), through an environmental authority.
When applying for an environmental authority, operators of petroleum activities must include an assessment of the likely impact of each relevant activity on the environmental values. The guideline, Application requirements for petroleum activities—ESR/2016/2357 (formerly EM705) assists applicants in identifying impacts on environmental values, and then in turn proposing environmental protection commitments to help the administering authority decide the conditions of the environmental authority.
There are further requirements in the EP Act for site-specific applications for CSG activities regarding CSG water production and management criteria.
Other requirements for companies under the EP Act include:
- the compulsory notification to the department and affected owners and occupiers of land when:
- an activity has or may cause environmental harm
- the water quality of an aquifer has been negatively affected
- hydraulic fraccing activities have caused the connection of two or more aquifers.
Under conditions prescribed in environmental authorities companies are also required to:
- carry out a risk assessment and provide detailed information to the department about any chemicals that are proposed to be used in hydraulic fraccing activities. The use of BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylene) in stimulation fluids (including hydraulic fraccing fluids) is strictly regulated during these activities
- progressively rehabilitate land over the life of a petroleum project, as part of the conditions of the environmental authority. A company will not be able to surrender its environmental authority until the government is satisfied that all rehabilitation requirements have been met.
Compliance with conditions is mandatory under the EP Act. There are heavy penalties for non-compliance. To support the environmental regulatory framework a suite of guidelines and factsheets are available.
Chapter 3 of the Water Act 2000, administered by the department:
- requires that petroleum producers undertake a baseline assessment of landowners’ water bores
- requires the development of underground water impact reports that include a water monitoring strategy and a spring impact management strategy
- establishes clear legal obligations for petroleum producers to make good impacts on bores capacity to supply water for its authorised use and purpose
- outlines the amount of groundwater decline that triggers the requirement for make good obligations (called trigger thresholds).
- provides for the declaring and regulating of cumulative management areas (CMAs) where the impacts of different CSG producers overlap
- requires the independent management and monitoring of CMAs.
The clearing of native vegetation communities in Queensland is regulated by the Vegetation Management Act 1999. This Act sets down the rules and regulations that guide what clearing can be done, and how it must be done to meet the requirements of the law.
Petroleum and mining companies do not require permits under this Act because vegetation clearing is regulated through the Environmental Authority under the EP Act (see Petroleum project requirements).
The government assesses impacts and requires operators to minimise any impacts to vegetation by avoiding clearing, minimising their footprint and locating their infrastructure in areas of existing clearing. In some cases, activities in environmentally sensitive areas (like endangered vegetation) are limited. Where impacts cannot be avoided or minimised, the government can require vegetation to be offset under the Queensland Environmental Offsets Framework.
Plants and animals
The Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NC Act) regulates the environmental impacts of the petroleum industry on plants and animals through the protected plants framework and species management program requirements.
The NC Act was amended in 2014 to create a new risk-based approach to regulate the clearing of protected plants. As a result of this amendment only high risk clearing requires assessment and clearing permits are only required for clearing threatened or near threatened plants and their supporting habitat. Specific provisions have been made to reduce the regulatory burden for the petroleum and gas sector.
Where petroleum activities involve tampering with native animal breeding places, the tampering may be authorised by application to the department for approval of a species management program outlining management actions that will avoid or minimise the impact of the activity on the species.
In conducting petroleum activities, reasonable effort must also be made to avoid the incidental take of any protected animals.
The Forestry Act 1959 (Forestry Act) is the regulatory framework that ensures the use of State-owned quarry materials are appropriate and that payment of royalty for the quarry materials is received.
Petroleum activities that are carried out in State Forests must comply with requirements of the Forestry Act about matters including occupying the land and the liability to pay stumpage to the State for any timber cut or interfered with.