Acting for Western Downs Alliance, we successfully negotiated for important environmental conditions to be added to the approval of Santos’s GLNG Gas Field Development Project in the Surat Basin, Queensland.
Western Downs Alliance challenged the Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy’s approval of the project on the basis that the Minister allowed millions of litres of coal seam gas (CSG) waste water from the project to be released into surface water systems such as the stunning and environmentally important Dawson River without having assessed the environmental impacts this would have.
Australia’s environmental laws require that the Minister properly assess a major CSG project’s impacts on water resources (known as the water trigger). Western Downs Alliance argued that the Minister incorrectly formed the view that it was not necessary to assess the impacts of releasing CSG water to surface waters as part of the project approval, and that as a result the approval was unlawful.
The case was scheduled to be heard by a Full Bench of three judges of the Federal Court in Brisbane on Monday 13 February 2017. However, in December 2016, the Minister and Santos agreed to amend the approval by adding important conditions: that the project is prohibited from discharging CSG waste water to any watercourse; and that any proposed release in the future must be assessed by the Minister.
More about the project
Santos plans to develop 6,100 CSG wells across approximately 1 million hectares of land in the Surat Basin in south-central Queensland. This represents a substantial expansion on the 2,650 CSG wells approved for an overlapping (but significantly smaller) area in 2010.
Over the project’s predicted life of more than 30 years, Santos is proposing to extract up to 219 billion litres of water, with potential impacts on the Great Artesian Basin. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project outlines proposed methods of managing the extracted water, one of which is to release water from the wells into surface water systems such as rivers and lakes.
Western Downs Alliance argues that the approval of the project was unlawful because the Minister did not properly assess the project’s impacts on surface water.
The EIS notes that the project is likely to have a number of surface water impacts, including:
- increased sedimentation;
- erosion of stream banks;
- surface water contamination, including toxicity to aquatic ecosystems; and
- altered surface water flow.
The Independent Expert Scientific Committee, which was set up in 2012 to provide scientific advice to decision makers on the impact that coal seam gas and large coal mining development may have on Australia's water resources, advised the Minister that there is ‘considerable scientific uncertainty about potential impacts [of this project] on surface water and groundwater and associated ecosystems’. The Committee specifically stated that the potential impacts of discharging water into the Dawson River, including ecological impacts, should be assessed.
By taking legal action, the Alliance has ensured that there will be no release of waste water to surface waters under this project and that any future proposal will require a separate application and assessment.
- Community group’s court action forces stricter environmental protections for Queensland coal seam gas project, media release, 9 January 2017
- Page for this case
A local community group has launched a legal challenge in the NSW Land and Environment Court to the approval of Chinese mining company, Shenhua’s open cut coal mine on the Liverpool Plains in north-western NSW, which is one of Australia’s most productive farming areas.
The Upper Mooki Landcare group, represented by EDO NSW, argues the NSW Government approval failed to properly consider whether the mine was likely to significantly affect Koalas, a threatened species, as required under the law. If the mine goes ahead it will clear 847 hectares of koala habitat.
EDO NSW principal solicitor Sue Higginson said the group will argue that the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), that approved the mine on behalf of the Minister for Planning, failed to assess whether the mine would place a viable local population of Koalas at risk of extinction, as required by the NSW Planning laws.
Koalas are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction in NSW under State and Federal law after numbers dropped a third over the past 20 years. This means they are facing a high risk of extinction in NSW in the medium-term future.
The PAC stated: “The [Gunnedah Koala] population has reduced significantly, as a result of droughts and heatwaves, with the estimated reduction of up to 70% since 2009.”
Ms Higginson said the evidence before the PAC was widely varying in terms of the estimates of Koalas within the Gunnedah Local Government Area. Shenhua used population estimates of 12,753 animals for the entire Gunnedah Local Government Area. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there are only 800-1,300 animals in the Gunnedah Local Government Area.
The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, in its submission to the mine assessment process, stated: “The assessment of significance [impacts] for the Koala is totally inadequate. No details of the actual Koala population to be impacted upon, nor what impact the Project will have on the population is provided.”
The plan for managing the impact of clearing 847ha of the Koala habitat noted in the PAC’s report is that “the animals will be encouraged to naturally move away from the habitat that is being cleared. If the animals do not naturally move, then a translocation plan will be implemented”. There was evidence before the PAC that translocation programs have resulted in significantly high mortality rates.
The case has been set down for a directions hearing in the NSW Land and Environment Court on June 5 when a date for a full hearing will be set.
On behalf of the Mackay Conservation Group (MCG), EDO NSW is challenging the Federal Government’s approval of the Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland, which would be one of the largest coal mines in the world.
MCG’s claim alleges that Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, failed to properly consider the impact of the Carmichael mine on the Great Barrier Reef, when he approved the project by Indian company, Adani Group, in July last year.
Given that climate change is the greatest threat to the survival of the Reef, Mackay Conservation Group says that the Minister should have considered greenhouse gas emissions arising from the burning of the coal by Adani in India, not just the emissions from mining the coal.
MCG says that under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the Minister unlawfully limited his consideration of greenhouse gas emissions from the mine to those that are reportable under the under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007 Act, which covers only emissions from mine operations.
However, emissions from the burning of the coal once it is exported to India will by far eclipse any emissions generated in Australia by the mining process itself.
An amended claim also alleges that the Minister failed to properly consider Adani’s poor environmental record in India before approving the mine.
In 2013 the Indian government found Adani guilty of serious breaches of Indian environmental law, including illegally clearing mangroves and destroying tidal creeks.
Indian Courts had also found in 2012 that infrastructure associated with the Adani’s port in Mundra had been built without environmental approvals.
In the amended claim, our client says that the Minister ignored that evidence, instead relying on an earlier statement made by Adani in 2010 that it has a good environmental record overseas.
The case is due to be heard on 10-11 August 2014.
In a separate legal challenge the community group Land Services of Coast and Country has launched proceedings against Adani’s Carmichael Coal Mine in the Queensland Land Court on the grounds of climate change, groundwater impacts and protection of the threatened Black-throated Finch. The case will be heard in March. Click here for more information.
Community group Land Services of Coast and Country launched legal proceedings in September against Adani’s Carmichael Coal Mine in the Queensland Land Court on the grounds of climate change, groundwater impacts and protection of the threatened Black-throated Finch.
The proposed Adani Carmichael underground and open-cut mine, railway and port project includes building Australia’s largest thermal coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland (Click here to see our map and graphic). It will be linked by a purpose built 388km rail line to a new terminal at Abbot Point Port adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef near Bowen. It will export to India 60 million tonnes of coal each year over its estimated life of 60 to 90 years.
The Carmichael coal mine will open up the currently untouched Galilee Basin coal reserve. It will impact on the threatened ecological community at Doongmabulla Springs and the million year old groundwater resources that are the life blood of surrounding farmers. It will also significantly impact threatened species including one of only two nationally important populations of the endangered Black-throated Finch (pictured).
The hearing of the mining lease applications and objections is listed for five weeks commencing on Monday, 30 March 2015.
For information visit EDO Queensland.