Ensuring Accountable Industry Practice
The Northern Territory Government is inviting the gas industry into the Territory to perform the important task of exploring for and extracting a publicly owned resource. While gas companies are here we require them to obey our laws.
First, we need to be very clear about how we require gas companies to operate and the standards we expect them to reach. The Inquiry told us that having transparent and enforceable Codes of Practice is one way to make these requirements clear. We have developed Codes of Practice and other guidance materials to underpin every one of these requirements, such as how methane emissions will be minimised, how well integrity will be maintained, how solid wastes must be managed, how induced seismic activity can be minimised and how human health will be protected at all times.
We will require the gas companies to tell us what chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing (and why), and what chemicals come out of the wells. We have mandated the public disclosure of this information. The government will keep track of the types of chemicals, their quantities, what they will be used for, how they will be transported, and how spills will be prevented and managed and how the chemicals are removed or treated after their use. Gas companies will be prohibited from releasing any chemicals or wastewater into the environment. Wastewater will be required to be stored in enclosed tanks to ensure there is no leakage or overflow during the wet season, and well pads will be treated to ensure that spills cannot leak down into underlying aquifers.
The government is implementing various tools to ensure gas companies comply with our laws. For example, we have enacted a broader range of powers to sanction gas companies if they do not comply with our laws. We have reviewed and increased penalties for environmental offences so that they are in line with best practice. We have implemented “chain of responsibility” laws similar to the kind introduced in Queensland to ensure that gas companies do not avoid complying with their environmental obligations. We have reversed the onus of proof so that gas companies – not landholders or the state – will need to prove in court that they did not cause environmental harm. We have also empowered the community by establishing whistleblower protections and a whistleblower hotline that can be used if someone sees a problem. All these tools are working together to require gas companies to comply with our laws.
The gas industry will be accountable for the costs associated with regulating it. We will work with the community and industry to develop a framework that will ensure that, in the event of any environmental harm such as a leaky well or groundwater contamination, the industry – not Territorians – pays the clean-up costs in full. A non-refundable levy will be imposed on the industry before any gas production commences to ensure that money paid by the gas industry will be available for the long-term monitoring of wells.
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