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Client Update: Further wide-ranging reforms of groundwater extraction regulation in Queensland

19 September 2016

In brief: Resource sector operators need to be aware of further proposed changes to how the take of groundwater is regulated in Queensland. The proposed changes will impact existing, new and expansion operations. Partner Bill McCredie (view CV) and Senior Associate Gobind Kalsi consider the proposed amendments and their significance for resource projects.

What does it mean for you?

If the Bill is passed in its current form, resource sector operators will need to carefully consider the impacts that the new regime will have on their existing and planned resource projects. In particular:

  • a new requirement to obtain an 'associated water licence' will apply for some mining projects, including the potential for third-party appeals against the grant of the licence;
  • new assessment requirements for environmental authority applications (and amendment applications) that relate to underground water extraction;
  • potential increased time and costs associated with negotiating Make Good Agreements with landholders; and
  • broader statutory powers granted to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) to unilaterally amend existing environmental authorities, subject to appeal rights.

The impacts for the mining, petroleum and gas sectors if the Bill is passed in its current form are summarised below.

What are the changes?

The Queensland Government has released the Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (Qld) (the Bill), which seeks to amend the regulation of groundwater extraction for resources projects in Queensland.

The below table identifies the key issues that the Bill will affect, and the 'Proposed change' column describes the relevant reform.

SectorIssueProposed change

Mining only

 

 

 

 

Right to take groundwater  For projects that do not currently hold, but would be required to hold, a water licence or water permit to take or interfere with 'associated' groundwater (eg mine dewatering) when the amending legislation commences.

Project proponents will be required to apply for, and hold, a new 'associated water licence'.

The approval process for an associated water licence is subject to third-party submission and appeal rights.

Mining and petroleum and gas

 

 

 

New 'site specific' environmental authority applications

 

Significant additional environmental impact assessment material will be required if the application relates to the exercise of a statutory right to take groundwater.

Amendments to 'site specific' environmental authority applications

Significant additional environmental impact assessment material will be required if the application relates to the exercise of a statutory right to take groundwater.

Unilateral amendments to environmental authorities (subject to appeal rights)

The DEHP will be able to unilaterally amend an environmental authority (subject to appeal rights), if it considers amendments are necessary or desirable because of an impact or potential impact on an environmental value identified in an underground water impact report.

Mining* and petroleum and gas

*The statutory requirement to 'make good' water bores will apply to miners taking water under a water licence or water permit after the water reforms commence.

It will also apply to operations that 'opt-in' to the statutory right to take water after the water reforms commence.

 

 

Make Good – when a water bore has 'impaired capacity – water level

Landholders will no longer have to demonstrate that the water level decline in their bore was because of the exercise of underground water rights.

Rather, landholders must demonstrate that 'the exercise of underground water rights has, or has likely, caused or materially contributed to the decline'.

Make Good – free gas

Landholder bores will have to be made good if they have been impacted by free gas as a result of the tenure holder's activities, even if there is no decline in water level caused by the activities.

Make Good Agreements – other changes
  • Landholders will have a statutory 'cooling off' period for Make Good Agreements.
  • Tenure holders will be liable for alternative dispute resolution costs and landholders' hydrogeologist costs.

The way forward

The Bill has been referred to the Agriculture and Environment Parliamentary Committee for review. The closing date for written submissions to the Committee is Friday, 7 October 2016 at 4pm. The Committee is due to report to Parliament by 25 October 2016.

Resource sector operators and project proponents should consider making submissions to the Committee directly or through relevant industry bodies.


For further information, please contact:

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