Groundwater concerns raised
FEARS that a loophole in federal environmental protection laws may not protect Australia's groundwater were raised in a Senate committee inquiry on Thursday.
A Bill to create an independent scientific committee to assess the potential effects large coal mines and CSG operations might have on ground water and advise governments is currently before the Senate.
Various interest groups, including the Minerals Council of Australia and environmental lobby groups, told the committee about their concerns.
The Northern Inland Council for the Environment's Carmel Flint said the juggernaut coal seam gas industry was riding rough-shod over local communities in a system balanced towards project approvals.
She said the bill was a good thing, and hoped it would be enshrined as soon as possible to protect local communities and the environment.
But Ms Flint said she was concerned an agreement to hand environmental approvals to state governments and a lack of a trigger for the Federal Environment Minister to assess projects that threaten ground water was a "massive loophole.
"There's no provision in the Environmental Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act for a trigger for ground water supplies.
"So we are really concerned that the Federal Minister won't actually have the power to act if a large coal mine or coal seam gas project threatens groundwater resources.
"There's no law in place to protect that."
However, the bill being discussed did aim to inform federal and state governments on the risks such projects posed, but only in advisory capacity.
Caroona Coal Action Group's Timothy Duddy said he thought there were definite risks to ground water, but the committee should be filling any loophole that may exist.
"I think you can safely say that a mine of any significant scale will pose a risk if there is a significant body of water nearby.
"But I have faith in this committee - we're currently in a resource boom and if the industry is not prepared to lift their game in a boom, they're hardly going to do it in a bust."
While several groups raised questions of how conflicts of interest on the committee would be dealt with.
But Minerals Council of Australia's (MCA) Melanie Stutsel said the industry believed that experts had to be defined as someone who had expertise either within the mining industry or "in relation to" the industry.
She said there were hundreds who could act as experts despite such people being employed by the coal industry.
"We and or members believe that to be an expert you must have experience in the industry in both mining and its hydrogeological effects."
She said the MCA also believed the Federal Government should set approval guidelines, but states should have the assessment role.
The Senate committee will report its findings to parliament on June 20.
The Bill will:
- Amend the Environment Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act
- Create a scientific committee to provide public advice on large coal mine and coal seam gas proposals
The Committee will:
- Advise government on research priorities
- Advise governments on the impact of such projects on water resources