The extraction of underground water by resource tenure holders can result in a lowering of water levels in adjacent aquifers. This may impact upon water bores and natural springs in the surrounding area, as well as other environmental values. The level of impact will vary depending on the:
- aquifer that each water bore is tapping
- degree of interconnection between the aquifers, the target petroleum and gas formation and springs
- distance from the resource activity, and
- time since the start of resource extraction.
Resource operators have the right to take associated water under the Minerals Resource Act 1989, Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 and the Petroleum Act 1923 as a necessary activity in the process of extracting the resource. This is because water is a by-product and is not used directly in the resource extraction process.
With their rights, resource operators have an obligation to comply with the underground water management framework under the Water Act 2000 (Water Act).
A Quick Guide — Make Good Obligations — ESR/2016/2681 has been prepared to explain how impacts on landholder bores are identified and addressed. It also contains information about make good measures and the process for resolving complaints and disputes.
Underground water management framework
The Water Act underground water management framework:
- requires resource tenure holders to undertake baseline assessments of water bores
- requires resource tenure holders to prepare baseline assessment plans (BAPs)
- requires resource tenure holders to prepare underground water impact reports (UWIRs)
- provides for the chief executive to declare cumulative management areas (CMAs)
- establishes make good obligations for resource tenure holders—including the requirement to undertake bore assessments and enter into make good agreements
- establishes the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment (OGIA) to oversee the groundwater impacts of the resource industry.
The Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014, which commenced on 6 December 2016, expanded the underground water management framework in the Water Act to the mining sector, as well as the petroleum and gas industry.
On 9 November 2016, parliament passed the Water Legislation Amendment Act 2016 and the Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2016 (EPOLA Act). These two pieces of legislation amended the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 to align it with government election commitments and policy. These pieces of legislation in turn amended the underground water management framework in the Water Act 2000 and the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act). These amendments also commenced on 6 December 2016.
Read more about the recent legislative amendments to the management of underground water impacts from the resource sector.
A baseline assessment is an assessment of a water bore undertaken by a resource tenure holder to obtain information about the bore, including:
- the level and quality of water in the bore
- historical water use
- how the bore is constructed
- the type of infrastructure used to pump water from the bore.
Baseline assessments of water bores are required in areas where production testing, production or mining has started. They are intended to help with any potential ‘make good’ agreements and are a key step in managing the underground water impacts of resource operators.
The guideline Baseline assessments—ESR/2016/1999 (formerly EM1088) provides both resource operators and bore owners with more information.
A revision of this guideline was completed in March 2017 to reflect recent legislative changes, which expanded the underground water management framework to the mining sector. The Consultation report summarises the results of consultation on the guideline.
Baseline assessment plans
A baseline assessment plan (BAP) is prepared by resource tenure holders to plan the undertaking of baseline assessments. A BAP must be submitted before production testing or production first starts. A BAP must include a baseline assessment timetable which outlines dates for completing all baseline assessments.
The guideline Baseline Assessment Plans ESR/2016/2004 provides resource tenure holders with more information on how to prepare a BAP.
Underground Water Impact Report
An Underground Water Impact Report (UWIR) is prepared to model, make predictions and manage the impacts of extraction of underground water by resource tenure holders.
An UWIR assigns responsibility to resource tenure holders and ensures measures and programs are in place to respond to impacts on underground water.
The key elements of an UWIR are:
- projections of potential future water level impacts
- a comprehensive water monitoring strategy
- an evaluation of impacts to environmental values due to the exercise of underground water rights
- a spring impact management strategy
Before submitting an UWIR to the department for assessment and approval, public consultation must be undertaken on the draft UWIR. This involves publishing a notice about the proposed UWIR, and giving a copy to each bore owner located within the area to which the UWIR relates.
The guideline Underground Water Impact Reports and Final Reports—ESR/2016/2000 (formerly EM1089) provides both petroleum and gas operators and bore owners with more information.
This guideline was updated in December 2016. The revised guideline reflects recent legislative changes which expanded the underground water management framework to the mining sector, and also provides additional guidance on the requirement for tenure holders to detail impacts to environmental values.
You can view the UWIRs which have been approved by the chief executive under section 385 of the Water Act.
Cumulative management areas (CMAs)
A cumulative management area (CMA) may be declared in an area that is likely to experience an impact on underground water, due to the exercise of underground water rights by two or more resource tenure holders.
Declaring a CMA enables the assessment of future impacts using a regional modelling approach and the development of management responses that are relevant to the potential cumulative impacts.
Under Chapter 3 of the Water Act the chief executive declared a cumulative management area (CMA) for the Surat and Southern Bowen Basin areas, including the alluvium of the Condamine River, in March 2011.
In January 2020, the Surat CMA was amended to include coal mining tenures located within the Surat and Clarence Moreton basins.
Read more about cumulative management areas.
A bore assessment is undertaken by a resource tenure holder to establish whether a bore has, or is likely to have, an impaired capacity due to the extraction of underground water associated with resource operations.
Bore assessments can be required by the chief executive or through an obligation in an UWIR.
The guideline Bore assessments—ESR/2016/2005 (formerly EM1178) provides responsible tenure holders and bore owners with details about the minimum requirements for undertaking bore assessments. Responsible tenure holders must comply with this guideline when undertaking a bore assessment.
The bore assessment guideline provides responsible tenure holders and landholders with details about the minimum requirements for undertaking bore assessments. Responsible tenure holders must comply with this guideline.
A revision of this guideline was completed in March 2017 to reflect recent legislative changes, which expanded the underground water management framework to the mining sector. The consultation report – Consultation Report Bore Assessment summarises the results of consultation on the guideline.
Make good agreements
A make good agreement is an arrangement between a resource holder and water bore owner.
If it is determined through the bore assessment that a bore has, or is likely to have, an ‘impaired capacity’ the make good agreement must provide details on the make good measures to be undertaken by the resource tenure holder to ‘make good’ the impact.
If there is a disagreement about a make good agreement, either party may seek a conference or independent alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to negotiate a resolution of the dispute. To seek a conference or ADR, the requesting party must complete an election notice—ESR/2016/2066 and provide a copy to the Department of Resources' Engagement and Compliance Unit at email@example.com and the other party.
The Quick Guide—Make Good Obligations—ESR/2016/2681 explains the purpose of a bore assessment and make good agreement. It also contains information about make good measures and the process for resolving complaints and disputes.
The Frequently Asked Questions—Make Good Obligations also includes information about bore assessments and make good agreements.
Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment
The Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment (OGIA) is an independent entity, established under Chapter 3A of the Water Act, and is responsible for managing groundwater impacts in CMAs.
When a CMA has been declared, the OGIA becomes responsible for preparing an UWIR for the CMA. The UWIR for the CMA will assign responsibilities to relevant resource tenure holders.