Queensland Coal and Coal Seam Gas Assessments and Approvals (Australia)

Queensland coal and coal seam gas projects are regulated by the (Queensland) State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (SDPWO Act).

The SDPWO Act is administered by the Coordinator-General and the relevant minister. The Coordinator-General acts, with wide-ranging powers, to plan, deliver and coordinate large-scale infrastructure projects. Information posted by the Queensland Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning about the activities of the Coordinator-General is here.

Information on assessments and approvals under the auspices of the Coordinator-General is here.

Proponents of projects of economic, social and/or environmental significance to Queensland may elect to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) that is evaluated by the Coordinator-General. These are termed Coordinated Projects.

One or more of the following characteristics will be evident:
– complex approval requirements, involving local, state and federal governments
– significant environmental effects
– strategic significance to the locality, region or state, including for the infrastructure, economic and social benefits, capital investment or employment opportunities it may provide
– significant infrastructure requirements.

But, the Coordinator-General is not bound to declare a project to be a coordinated project merely because it satisfies one or more of these characteristics. Any declaration made is under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (SDPWO Act).

Remember also that a memorandum of understanding exists between Queensland and the Australian Government surrounding the matter of ‘one stop shop’ at state-level for environmental approvals. My earlier post on this is here.

NB: Proponents of projects may be required to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) in Queensland under either the:
– State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971, or
– Environmental Protection Act 1994, or
– The Sustainable Planning Act 2009.
These are Queensland state laws.

If stipulated in the terms of reference, the EIS must also include a social impact assessment. The social impact assessment identifies the social impacts directly related to the project and proposes strategies to capitalise on social opportunities and to avoid, manage, mitigate or offset the predicted detrimental project.

The Coordinator-General may make one of two types of coordinated project declaration –
– requiring an environmental impact statement (EIS)
– not requiring an EIS – before making this declaration, the Coordinator-General must be satisfied the appropriate environmental impact assessments will be carried out under other legislation (e.g. Environmental Protection Act 1994 or Sustainable Planning Act 2009).
The Coordinator-General may also independently declare a coordinated project if he thinks it is justified.

Information on Coordinated Projects is found here.

Information on Coordinated Projects that are current EIS projects is here.

The Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project, for example, is a Queensland Coordinated Project with a current EIS in progress – information is here.

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Australia)

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government’s core piece of environmental legislation which commenced 16 July 2000. Information about the EPBC is found here. We posted earlier about the EPBC water trigger.

The EPBC Act enables the Australian Government to join with the states and territories to deliver a national level scheme of environment and heritage protection and biodiversity conservation. The EPBC Act has the objective to focus the Australian Government interests on the protection of matters of national environmental significance, with the states and territories having responsibility for matters of state and local significance.

Following a change of government, a ‘one stop shop’ for environmental approvals that will accredit state planning systems under national environmental law, to create a single environmental assessment and approval process, is being pursued. This one stop shop policy aims to simplify the approvals process for businesses, lead to swifter decisions and improve Australia’s investment climate, while maintaining high environmental standards.

On 16 October 2013, the Minister for the Environment, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, announced that the Government had approved the framework for achieving the one stop shop. This includes a three-stage process with each of the willing jurisdictions, comprising:

– signing a Memorandum of Understanding;
– agreement on bilateral assessments and updating any existing agreement with the state; and
– negotiation of approval bilateral agreements within 12 months.

Memoranda of Understanding have to date been formed with New South Wales and Queensland. The status of current proposals and agreements reached, together with the associated documents is found here.

Queensland has extensive coal resources. The Kevin’s Corner and Alpha coalmines are two of a series of developments planned for the coal-rich Galilee basin area of central Queensland. GVK’s press release on the proposed Kevin’s Corner coal mine is here.

Per the Guardian news article on legal action being considered by environmental groups – Carbon emissions from coal mined at Kevin’s Corner are estimated at 58m tonnes a year – more than the entire annual emissions of Denmark. Construction is set to start in 2015, with the first coal mined in 2018.

UK Coal & Mining Safety Major Fines

UK Coal Mining Ltd (formerly the UK’s largest coal producer, and now in administration) was prosecuted (22nd Oct) in two cases of major safety failings at its Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire.

In the first case (safety failings leading to a gas explosion underground at the Kellingley 501 District) – an explosive mixture of flammable gases had accumulated close to the area where miners were working because a safety curtain, designed to keep gases safely behind the coal face, was inadequately maintained. The Mines Inspectorate of Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the curtain was damaged with one section cut and another removed, rendering it ineffective and allowing the explosive methane mixture to gradually move closer to the working area and to potential ignition sources. It was likely ignited initially by sandstone falling on to sandstone. Some 218 miners were safely evacuated. Dozens of further minor explosions took place just behind the coal face as accumulated gas ignited – probably from a residual hanging flame – and then burnt off. It was nearly three weeks before production was able to resume.

In the second case (safety failings leading to a fatality) – a miner was killed when some 15 tonnes of rock forming a section of roof collapsed as a powered roof support was being operated. His death happened just six days after a similar roof fall in the same vicinity of the mine with the same powered roof support in operation. HSE’s investigation identified that UK Coal managers were fully aware of the earlier roof fall, which fortunately hadn’t resulted in any injuries. However, despite the clear dangers posed to workers, no investigation into the failure of the roof support was carried out and insufficient precautions were taken to prevent it happening again. HSE also found the company had not improved the system of monitoring the roof supports to ensure warning signs of ground movement would be picked up quickly. The miner was trapped near to the centre of the roof fall and died from asphyxiation. A second miner was released after being trapped toward the edge of the collapse and allowed home after hospital treatment.

HSE told the court that it was unacceptable for UK Coal to have allowed miners to continue to work in that part of the mine following the earlier roof fall without:
– having carried out an in-depth investigation into the cause
– putting measures in place to prevent a recurrence
– workers being fully aware of the potential dangers, and
– establishing suitable procedures to ensure no one was in the area when the roof support was in operation.

Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

Fines were against Juniper (No3) Limited, c/o the administrators at Bridgewater Place, Leeds (£50,000 and £200,000 respectively), after a guilty plea (in both cases) to breaches of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was agreed that although prosecution costs were properly incurred they would not be awarded so as not to jeopardise any potential payments to the Miners’ Pensioners’ coal allowance scheme, a main creditor against UK Coal’s limited financial assets.

There have been 15 fatalities in mines in Great Britain since 2006, including four deaths at Gleision in South Wales in September 2011, as well this fatality at the Kellingley pit.

EPBC Water Trigger Query (Australia)

Consultation on new draft Guidelines has just closed – see here for the documentation.

The EPBC is Australia’s national environmental law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). 2013 amendment has inserted a mandated (national-level) assessment of water resources impacts (a water trigger for project referral) into the process of approving new coal seam gas and large coal mining activities (this does not apply to shale gas).

Before the amendment was made, projects with water related risks could only be regulated at national level if they had implications for existing matters of national environmental significance eg. nationally endangered plants or animals.

This location gives further information on the new water trigger.

See here for the consolidated law (the water trigger is provided for by inclusion of coal seam gas and large coal mining at Chapter 2 Part 3 Subsection FB).