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Groundwater rules unfairly favour resource companies: AgForce

Beef Central, 01/10/2013

AgForce Queensland has expressed concern at what it terms as the stark inconsistency of State Government legislation regulating the protection of groundwater potentially impacted by the resources sector.

A case currently before the Queensland Land Court between farmers and a large coal company particularly highlights the disparity between petroleum and gas and coal mining regulations and ‘make good’ requirements and raises concerns as to the impact of resource company’s activities on groundwater.

AgForce General President, Ian Burnett, said one of the most important issues faced by affected landholders was the potential impact of resource project developments on groundwater availability.  Such potential impacts are initiated by the dewatering of underground aquifers by companies so as to access coal or mineral deposits.

Last week, Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, announced 47 large coal mine and coal seam gas (CSG) developments, 35 of which are in Queensland, would be assessed under national environment law and would require federal environmental assessment of potential impact on water resources.  Under new amendments, the Minister may now include within project approvals a range of conditions to ensure impacts to water resources are acceptable.

“However it is the state-based regulation in Queensland surrounding how such potential impacts are managed and compensated for which is of greatest concern to the Queensland rural sector given the clear inconsistency between that imposed on the petroleum and gas industries with that of coal,” Mr Burnett said.

For example, CSG companies which impact on underground water bores are compelled by the Water Act 2000 to enter into ‘make good’ agreements with potentially affected landholders.  These agreements ensure that if predicted water loss impacts on farm operations, CSG companies must provide an appropriate alternative supply of water or provide fair compensation.

Mr Burnett said this was particularly important given the majority of underground water impacts of both CSG and mining are not seen in the aquifer until operations are established.

“However, unlike the CSG companies, coal and other mineral companies whose activities impact on underground water resources are not legislatively required by the state to enter into ‘make good’ agreements with likely affected farmers despite those farmers facing similar concerns over future water loss as those affected by CSG,” Mr Burnett said.

“Despite the obvious gap in legislative protections some coal proponents have voluntarily bridged this gap by issuing ‘make good’ agreements to landholders likely to be impacted by mine dewatering but it is not across the board.

“Our environment and our farmers, who have built their livelihoods around these land and water resources and who provide food to our nation clearly deserve this basic protection.

“It is time for the State Government to enact legislative change and for this gap to be closed.”

Source: AgForce Queensland

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