Safeguarding Water and the Environment
One of the areas of community concern about the development of a gas industry in the Territory, and the use of hydraulic fracturing, is the risk of damage to our natural environment. Much of this concern is focused on water; competition between the gas industry and other water users, the potential for impacts on groundwater and aquatic ecosystems from water extraction, and risk of contamination of surface or groundwater and associated rivers and wetlands.
The government is implementing all the recommendations of the Inquiry, many of which will safeguard water and other environmental values through strengthening regulation and ensuring accountable industry practice. More specifically, the government is ensuring gas activities are subject to the provisions of the Water Act 1992, and water extraction will be licensed. Practices that pose an unacceptable risk to water resources, such as the use of surface water or reinjecting waste into aquifers, is being prohibited. Water allocation planning will identify the estimated sustainable yield of groundwater resources in regions subject to gas development, and ensure appropriate allocation of water to all users, including the environment and cultural uses.
Climate change is a global issue and the Chief Minister has written to the Prime Minister to commence discussions on offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. The Northern Territory climate change and environmental offsets policies are under development and will be progressed in parallel with the delivery of this implementation plan.
Managing our valuable water and other environmental assets in regions that may be developed for gas requires a detailed knowledge of the ecology and biodiversity of surface and groundwater ecosystems, and a sound understanding of aquifers and surface water systems. The Inquiry recognised that this detailed knowledge is lacking in many parts of the Territory.
To address this, the government will work with independent experts, research agencies such as CSIRO, and industry to undertake a comprehensive Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment (SREBA) in prospective onshore gas basins before granting any production approvals.
A SREBA will provide baseline data to properly assess all the biophysical risks, allow planning to minimise the potential for cumulative impacts and provide a baseline for monitoring to ensure satisfactory environmental outcomes.
It is anticipated that each SREBA will take at least three years to complete, and be largely funded by industry.
Planning has already commenced for a SREBA in the Beetaloo Sub-basin, where the first gas developments are expected to occur. In this region, the Australian Government Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program will also provide independent scientific advice on potential environmental impacts of gas extraction, along with appropriate mitigation and management approaches.
In line with the government’s approach to managing all aspects of the developing gas industry, transparency will be an important aspect of each SREBA, and the results of all studies and the underlying environmental baseline data will be readily available to the public.
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