FARMERS have welcomed the inclusion of ground and surface water in the Federal Government's environmental assessment process for coal seam gas and large coal mining projects.
The change was announced by Environment Minister Tony Burke, bowing to pressure within the Labor caucus and public concern over how CSG and big coal mines were affecting ground water.
The large increase in the take of water from aquifers seems to be unsustainable - in the driest country on earth, we must not sacrifice our underground water for a short-term financial gain.
New South Wales Farmers' president Fiona Simson said primary producers had consistently said stronger regulatory frameworks were needed to place sensible limits on mining and CSG proposals.
"It is not surprising the federal environment minister has seen a need to step in," Ms Simson said.
"Improvements are still needed at a state level to give farmers and rural communities' confidence that the risks to their land and water from CSG and large coal mining developments will be managed."
Mr Burke announced groundwater and surface water would now be included among the Matters of National Environmental Significance for such projects.
While Mr Burke said the new criteria would be included for any future CSG or large coal mining assessments, existing approved projects, such as the three major projects in Queensland, would not be subject to the new conditions.
He said any applications for such developments which had not yet been assessed by the IESC would now be subject to water conditions.
The change also comes after pressure from independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott on the issue, despite the Government not supporting a Greens bill that did much the same thing.
It also comes after growing concerns among primary producers and environmentalists in Queensland over the proposed Arrow Energy CSG project.
The Basin Sustainability Alliance and Save the Reef lobby groups each made statements this week, outlining their concerns Arrow Energy had not provided enough detail about its impacts on ground water to the government
BSA chairman David Hamilton said concerns first raised by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining were the same ones BSA had previously highlighted.
"The large increase in the take of water from aquifers seems to be unsustainable - in the driest country on earth, we must not sacrifice our underground water for a short-term financial gain," Mr Hamilton said.
The lack of conclusive groundwater modelling, gaps in field research, potential to impact on areas of national significance, tonnes of salt being brought to the surface, groundwater drawdown predictions, and potential for well failure during construction, were among the concerns highlighted.
Mr Hamilton said the report drew attention to the fact there was still not enough understanding and modelling of likely groundwater drawdown to be sure what impact CSG activities would have.
"We have been very anxious about the effect this is going to have on the Great Artesian Basin and now we are seeing areas like Lake Broadwater, which is a nationally listed wetland, in the firing line," he said.
"We strongly support the IESC's recommendation that field-based research be undertaken to better assess the groundwater-surface water relationships."
While the Government's new regulations will apply to new projects, it will not apply to the Arrow Energy proposal, as the IESC has already submitted its report.
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