The time to fix coal seam gas laws is now
Victoria’s mining laws do not require that landholders be informed or consulted when a mining company is licensed to explore for the coal seam gas (CSG) under their land. One of our clients found out that there was an exploration licence for CSG granted over his farm when a journalist rang him to ask how he felt about the licence.
This is one example of how the laws that govern fracking for coal seam gas in Victoria are out of date and do not meet public expectations for community and environmental protection.
Communities do not get to see what a CSG proposal will look like, what techniques and chemicals will be used, and where exactly a proposal will be located, until after it is approved. The laws do not ensure a thorough, independent assessment of the environmental impacts.
In NSW and Queensland, dangerous ‘BTEX’ chemicals, which are carcinogenic and used in fracking, have been banned. NSW and Queensland also have provisions requiring extra levels of environmental assessment if CSG extraction will affect important agricultural land. Fracking is banned within 2 kilometres of a town. Victorian laws provide no such protection.
Currently, there is a moratorium which temporarily bans fracking in Victoria, until the National Regulatory Framework on CSG is finalised. This is due to occur in a couple of months’ time. Once the moratorium is lifted, fracking can proceed under Victoria’s antiquated and inadequate mining laws.
Fracking has not occurred on a large scale in Victoria. The large number of exploration licences for CSG, as well as statements by companies exploring Gippsland for coal seam gas suggest that is about to change. We need to fix the laws applying to CSG before this occurs.
Victoria has a unique opportunity to come up with a system of comprehensive and forward looking laws that only allow fracking in circumstances and locations where the impacts on the community and the environmental will be acceptable, before fracking gets underway and damage is caused. This opportunity will only remain available for a short time.