CANBERRA, March 12 Australia will impose tougher
environmental hurdles on coal and coal seam gas mining,
responding to mounting public concern about protection of
fragile water resources from the impact of extraction,
Environment Minister Tony Burke said on Tuesday.
The government would amend national environment laws to
force coal seam gas and large coal mining developments to now
receive national government approval and assessment of their
impact on water, Burke said.
Australia has a booming coal seam gas industry with around
$50 billion worth of projects underway in the country's
northeastern Queensland state.
Under Australian laws, state governments approve coal seam
gas and coal mine projects. New projects will now also need
national government approval, with companies providing
environmental impact data to a new independent expert scientific
"Up until now, we have only been able to take account of
water to the extent there has been an impact on issues such as
threatened species or a RAMSAR (protected) wetland," Burke said.
Mounting public concern about environmental impacts has
threatened to hurt the minority Labor government at national
elections on September 14, with several election-swinging seats
near coal seam gas developments in New South Wales state.
An alliance of community groups last week launched a
political campaign against coal seam gas mining, arguing that
existing extraction licences or applications in Australia now
covered an area 18 times the size of Great Britain.
The NSW government last month banned coal seam gas
exploration near residential areas, wineries and horse breeders,
in a move aimed at cracking down on an industry that
environmentalists and farmers fear could pollute water supplies.
The southeast Victoria state last year barred hydraulic
fracturing, a technique used to produce hard-to-reach gas
deposits, and stopped issuing new coal seam gas exploration
licenses until a national regulatory framework was put in place.
Burke said projects already underway would not have to begin
the time-consuming approval process again.
"It will not be a broad trigger that affects everything
relating to water," he said. "My department is writing to every
company affected advising them as to what the additional
information is, so that they can get to work on that."
The coal seam industry in New South Wales is still in the
early states of development. Energy firms such as Dart Energy
Ltd. say coal seam gas resources can be developed
without causing environmental damage and that limiting the
industry will push up gas and electricity prices.
AGL Energy, which has invested in coal seam gas
developments in New South Wales, said the fuel was one of the
multiple new sources of domestic gas supply needed as the
country ramps up its gas exports in a few years just as domestic
gas supply contracts expire.
(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Michael Perry)