IESC - Independent Expert Scientific Committee
- The IESC is tasked with (amongst other things) advising on the scope and method of the bio-regional assessments to be undertaken in areas where coal seam gas and/or large coal mining developments are underway or planned. The purpose of these assessments are to provide scientific analysis of the ecology, hydrology and geology of an area, so as to enable the assessment of potential risks to water resources as a result of intended developments.
The IESC (the Committee) provides scientific advice to decision makers as requested on the impact that coal seam gas and large coal mining development may have on Australia's water resources.
The Commonwealth established the IESC under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in November 2012. Under the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Coal Seam and Large Coal Mining Development the Agreement provides for the Commonwealth and signatory states to the Agreement to seek advice from the IESC at appropriate stages of the approvals process for coal seam gas or large coal mining development proposals that are likely to have a significant impact on water resources and upon which the Party is intending to make a regulatory decision.
Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria have committed to:
- seek the Committee's advice at appropriate stages of the approvals process for a coal seam gas or large coal mining development that is likely to have a significant impact on water resources
- ensure that decision-makers take account of the Committee's advice in a transparent manner.
As yet, tight and shale gas and other forms of unconventional coal developments, such as underground coal gasification, are not part of the referral system. Nor does it cover cumulative impacts of coal and unconventional gas development?
Process for obtaining Committee advice:
- State Regulator requests advice from the Committee on the water-related impacts of the development proposal
- The Committee considers the request and provides written advice to the regulator
- Regulator considers the Committee's advice in decision making
In the event that the Victorian Government wants to further progress with ONG and new coal mines the Victorian Government has signed a protocol http://www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/planning/environment-assessment/useful-documents whereby they agree to seek the advice of the Committee when assessing a coal or coal seam gas proposal which may have a significant impact on water resources. The protocol commenced operation on 30 September 2013. In this way the Committee will have the opportunity to provide advice on developments in the Gippsland region referred to it by the Victorian Government. As bio-regional assessment information becomes available for this region it will further build the science base for the Committee’s advice.
As this committee is there to give the community assurance that science will inform rational decision making on whether CSG and/or large coal projects should go ahead why is it then that this advice is not binding on the State Minister and, instead, comes down to Minister's discretion to approve or refuse an application?
A significant area of Gippsland is currently under exploration with plans to progress with an onshore gas industry and an expanded open cut coal mine industry.
With this in mind, it is vital that federal government have oversight and that scientific advice be binding on the State Coalition Government to prove transparency.
- potential impacts of delegating environmental approval powers to state and territory governments;
- maintenance of high environmental standards;
- benefits of streamlining and reducing red tape; and
- potential impacts of cost-recovery on environmental assessment and approval processes, including budgetary impact, cost impacts for proponents and impacts on process timing
The Victorian Government are yet to bring reform of the environmental process to parliament for review yet continue to use an ineffective guideline for referral and assessment of projects, via an Environment Effects Statement, under the Act.
In 2011, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee (ENRC) proposed 20 recommendations for reform of the Environment and Effects Statement (EES). The government responded to the recommendations in 2012 and is still to have the EES process reviewed by parliament with all current EES subject to an outdated and inappropriate mechanism.
Additionally, under the EPBC Act, there are no exclusion zones around sensitive environmental areas, including critical habitat.
The following comments from two newspaper articles provide an overview:
Current bio-regional assessments for Gippsland:
Under ecology we have numerous Ramsar sites which are protected under international conventions.
Under the Environmental Protection Act any area of national or/and international importance has further protection if on the Ramsar list.
This year new amendments were made to specifically protect areas from CSG or coal mining permits and projects.
The Gippsland Lakes and Corner Inlet are listed as protected wetlands on this Ramsar list.
The large Gippsland Exploration Licence EL4416 (Exxon in partnership with Ignite Energy Resources) should be subject to a bio-regional assessment immediately as mining of this area could effect water leeching into these protected wetlands.
Additionally, under hydrology and geology, this same licence area is subject to significant subsidence and seismic issues which also extend further inland and cover the Latrobe Valley and Strzelecki Ranges as well through to Bairnsdale in East Gippsland.
So, where do Ramsar sites, subsidence and seismic issues sit in the equation and will these issues be considered for referral to IESC given the State Coalition Government plan to mine anything they can get their hands on.
Maybe the Government is happy for this to go under the radar while everyone focuses on aquifer contamination and nothing else. Once the Federal Coalition Government get their way with de-regulation of the industry, what hope have we got.
Someone must hold our State Victorian Government to account as they need to show the public that any new projects will not further impact, exacerbate or result in significant detriment to the environment in advance through this process.
See news article in regards to referring CSG applications to IESC
Put all this together with the Federal Liberal Coalition Government planning to further reduce environmental protections and we are in trouble.