Environmental protections

Why are environmental protections important?

Resources exploration and extraction activities represent only a temporary use of our land. Yet, if they are not undertaken in a way that minimises and offsets impacts on the environments, resources projects can have significant and prolonged impacts on Australia’s pristine environment. That is why projects are subject to strict environmental assessment and approval processes and can only commence once a range of approvals and licences have been issued.

The Australian, state and territory governments share responsibility for ensuring the environment is protected. However, primary responsibility for regulating environmental impacts associated with onshore resource projects rests with state and territory governments.

How is the Australian Government involved?

The Australian Government plays an important role in protecting the environment from potential impacts of development activity, with a focus on matters of National Environmental Significance. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Government’s legislative framework for the protection and management of our nationally and internationally important environmental assets and heritage areas. The Department of the Environment and Energy has oversight of resource development approval processes through administration of the EPBC Act.

In the case of development activity related to coal seam gas (CSG), this includes the protection of water resources. Before taking an action that could have a significant impact on any matter protected by the EPBC Act, including nationally and international important flora, fauna and ecological communities, the proposed action must be referred to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment for assessment and approval.

On behalf of the Australian Government, the department is working with state and territory governments to address a number of environmental issues including mine closure and rehabilitation. This work is largely undertaken through the Land Access Working Group, a sub-group of the COAG Energy Council.

The department is also reviewing the regulatory framework that applies to decommissioning of Australia’s offshore petroleum facilities.

Investing in science to empower communities and improve decision making

The Government invests in science and research to ensure we have sound scientific evidence about the impacts of mining operations. The Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) provides advice to Australian government regulators on the water-related impacts of CSG and large coal mining development proposals. This ensures decisions are based on the best available science.

The department is working with the CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) to give the community the information it needs to engage with government and industry on proposed gas projects. The community also has a say in the research that’s conducted to ensure their questions are being answered.  

The Government is also funding regional scale bioregional assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of CSG and coal mining developments on water resources and water-dependent assets such as wetlands and groundwater bores. These provide baseline information and assess cumulative impacts. This research is improving our understanding and management of the impacts of coal and CSG extraction projects on water resources. For more information please see Department of the Environment and Energy.

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