Summary

A strengthened regulatory regime will ensure robust decision making by the government. The Inquiry told us that if the community can see how decisions are made, have input into the decision making process and can challenge decisions, the community will be more confident in and supportive of the government’s decisions. We need to to ensure that industry has certainty about its proposed work plans.

The government will transfer the authority to approve Environment Management Plans (EMPs) under the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations from the Minister for Primary Industry and Resources to the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA) will have additional members with specialist skills and experience in the assessment and management of the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing to be able to provide the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources with advice on whether or not that Minister should approve certain activities. This will ensure decisions about the environmental impacts of both the unconventional and the conventional gas industry are made independently. The Minister for Primary Industry and Resources will retain responsibility for regulating all non-environmental aspects of the petroleum industry, including resource management, operational and tenure matters.

We will also ensure government decisions are transparent so the community and industry understand how and why decisions are made. The law already requires approved EMPs and statements of reasons to be published online. We will increase transparency by requiring that reasons for other decisions are published including, for example, why the responsible Minister has decided to release land for exploration and why the Minister believes a gas company is a “fit and proper person” to hold a petroleum interest. We will also amend the law so public comment will be sought on draft EMPs for hydraulic fracturing activities received by the Minister and published.

Transparency will be incorporated into the decision making processes. We will make the regulatory changes required to allow open standing to challenge administrative decisions under the Petroleum Act and Petroleum (Environment) Regulations, including the approval of EMPs and petroleum exploration permits.

Strengthening Regulation Action Points

Implementing a Separate Environmental Approval

ActionRec#Stage

The Northern Territory Government will transfer the power to approve Environment Management Plans (EMPs) under the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations from the Minister for Primary Industry and Resources to the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.

The NT EPA will have additional members with expertise in the environmental impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing and will be able to provide the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources with advice on whether or not the activity should go ahead under a proposed EMP.

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2

The government will give further consideration to whether or not the establishment of a “one-stop-shop” independent regulator would be appropriate for regulating the gas industry in the Northern Territory in the long term. 14.35 3

Ensuring Decisions Are Made Transparently

ActionRec#Stage

The government will notify the public of any proposed land release for any onshore gas exploration, and will seek feedback prior to any proposed land release.

The government will amend environmental and petroleum legislation to require the publication of reasons why decisions were made, including, for example, why the Minister has decided to release land for exploration.

All notices and reports of environmental incidents will be published.

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14.12
14.16
2

The government will amend environmental and petroleum legislation to require the publication of reasons why decisions were made, including, for example, why the Minister believes a gas company is a “fit and proper person” to hold a petroleum tenure for both exploration and production tenures.

14.20 3

Holding Decision Makers Accountable

ActionRecStage

The principles of ecologically sustainable development will be applied to all decisions relating to the onshore gas industry.

The cumulative effects of industry development will be considered in decision making.

The government will make the regulatory changes required to allow open standing to challenge administrative decisions under the Petroleum Act and Petroleum (Environment) Regulations, including the approval of Environment Management Plans and petroleum exploration permits.

14.11
14.19
14.23
2

The government will amend the Petroleum Act and Petroleum (Environment) Regulations to allow merits review and allow standing to relevant third parties.

Government will review the existing arrangements around the allocation of legal costs of unsuccessful legal action by litigants who have genuinely pursued action in the public interest.

14.24
14.25
3

Giving the Community a Say

ActionRec#Stage

The government will allow any person to lodge an objection to the grant of an exploration permit within a prescribed time limit and the Minister must consider those objections in decision making.

The government will publish draft Environment Management Plans for hydraulic fracturing online so that any person can make a comment, and the Minister will need to consider those comments in decision making.

14.10
14.15
2