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 ensure that industry has certainty about its proposed work plans.
The government has transferred the authority to approve Environment Management Plans (EMPs) under the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations 2016 from the Minister for Primary Industry and Resources to the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA) now has 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 are also ensuring government decisions are transparent so the community and industry understand how and why decisions are made. The law previously required approved EMPs and statements of reasons to be published online. We have increased 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 an “appropriate person” to hold a petroleum interest. We have also amended the law so public comment will be sought on draft EMPs for hydraulic fracturing activities received by the Minister and published.
Transparency is being incorporated into the decision making processes. We have made the regulatory changes required to allow open standing to challenge administrative decisions under the Petroleum Act 1984 and Petroleum (Environment) Regulations 2016, including the approval of EMPs and petroleum exploration permits.
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