The coal seam gas industry is subject to a stringent regulatory framework in NSW. Before any coal seam gas exploration or production can take place, approval under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) is required from the NSW Government. In many cases, approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is also required from the Commonwealth Government.
In NSW, the Environment Protection Authority is the lead regulator of natural gas activities, responsible for issuing environment protection licences for coal seam gas activities and overseeing compliance. The Division of Resources and Energy and Department of Planning and Environment are responsible for determining coal seam gas applications and issuing conditions of consent. Other government agencies with an oversight or advisory role include DPI Water and the Land and Water Commissioner.
Narrabri Gas Project Environmental Assessment Process
The environmental assessment process for Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project is well underway. The project is classified as State Significant Development and is subject to the assessment and approval requirements of Division 4.1 of Part 4 of the EP&A Act. This includes preparation of a detailed environmental impact statement (EIS).
In 2014, Santos submitted a request to the Secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment seeking environmental assessment requirements (Secretary’s Requirements) for the EIS. The preliminary environmental assessment accompanying the request can be viewed here. The Secretary’s Requirements can be viewed on the Department of Environment and Planning’s website.
Santos also referred the Narrabri Gas Project to the Commonwealth Government for assessment under the EPBC Act. The EPBC referral can be viewed here. On 5 December 2014, the project was declared to be a controlled action requiring approval by the Commonwealth Government due to its potential to impact the following matters protected by the EPBC Act:
- listed threated species and ecological communities
- a water resource, in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development
- Commonwealth land.
The controlled action decision determined that the project is to be assessed under the assessment bilateral agreement between the Commonwealth and NSW Government.
The Commonwealth Department of the Environment issued environmental assessment requirements under the EPBC Act. These requirements form a supplement to the Secretary’s Requirements and will be addressed in the EIS. They can be viewed here.
State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum and Extractive Industries) 2007 establishes a gateway process for the assessment of State significant mining and petroleum projects located on biophysical strategic agricultural land (BSAL).
A BSAL assessment, including an extensive soil survey, was carried out within the agricultural part of the project area in accordance with the NSW Government’s Interim Protocol for Site Verification and Mapping of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land. This assessment identified that no BSAL occurs within the project area. The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage issued a site verification certificate confirming that no BSAL occurs within the project area on 1 December 2015. This can be viewed here.
Environment Protection Licensing
‘Petroleum exploration, assessment and production’ is a scheduled activity listed in Schedule 1 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act). Under section 48 of the POEO Act, all scheduled activities are required to hold an environment protection licence.
Santos holds three environment protection licences for petroleum ‘exploration, assessment and production’ in NSW:
- EPL 20350 covering PEL 238, PAL 2 and PPL3 in the area around Narrabri
- EPL 20351 covering PEL 1 and PEL 12 in the area around Gunnedah
- EPL 20352 covering PEL 456 in the Upper Hunter area.
Exploration and Appraisal Activity Approvals
Exploration and appraisal activities have been underway in NSW for a number of years. See below for more details on the environmental assessment documents related to exploration and appraisal activities and supporting operations in the Narrabri, Gunnedah and Upper Hunter areas.
State significant development
In July 2014, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) granted consent for the Bibblewindi Gas Exploration Expansion and the Dewhurst Gas Exploration Pilot Expansion, following submission of environmental impact statements for each of these projects. Documents relating to these projects can be viewed at the links below.
Review of Environmental Factors (REF)
Petroleum exploration and appraisal activities are subject to the assessment and approval requirements of Part 5 of the EP&A Act. In most cases, a detailed REF assessing the potential impacts of the activity, and identifying measures to mitigate those impacts, must be submitted to the NSW Government for assessment.
REFs for Santos’ exploration and appraisal activities can be viewed here.
In 2013, Santos referred its exploration and appraisal program activities in the Narrabri area to the Commonwealth Government for assessment under the EPBC Act. The Commonwealth Minister for the Environment determined that the program was not a controlled action if undertaken in a particular manner. Documents relating to the referral can be viewed here.
Santos has obtained development consent from the Narrabri Shire Council for a number of camp facilities and its Narrabri Operations Centre. Click here to view the statements of environmental effects for this infrastructure.
In 2008, the previous operator of the Narrabri operations, Eastern Star Gas, obtained approval to construct the Narrabri Coal Seam Gas Utilisation Project, including the construction of a gas pipeline from Bibblewindi and expansion of the existing a power station at Wilga Park. Regulatory approvals are in place for the operation and expansion of the Wilga Park Power Station up to a maximum capacity of 40 megawatts. Click here to view relevant approval documentation.
Under the conditions of PEL 238, Santos is required to have an approved Produced Water Management Plan in place for operations which generate more than three megalitres of produced water per year. Santos has an integrated Produced Water Management Plan for its PEL 238 and PAL 2 operations. Click here to view the Produced Water Management Plan.
All holders of environment protection licences are required to prepare a Pollution Incident Response Management Plan (PIRMP) under section 153A of the POEO Act. Santos has a PIRMP which applies to all its NSW operations. Click here to view the PIRMP.