Bioregional assessments are independent, scientific assessments of the potential cumulative impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining developments on water resources and water-dependent assets such as rivers, wetlands and groundwater systems. These regional-scale assessments focus on 13 areas across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) help to explain the Bioregional Assessment Program. Click on the questions below to go to the answer.
Questions and Answers
The assessments will identify areas where impacts on water resources and water-dependent assets are likely to occur. This will allow governments, industry and the community to focus on these areas when making regulatory, water management and planning decisions. Importantly, the assessments will also identify areas where impacts will not occur.
The assessments focus on bioregions which are defined by landscape-scale natural features such as geological and river basins that support distinctive ecosystems. Bioregions were selected based on:
- the number and size of current exploration activities and the number of current and potential coal seam gas and coal mining developments
- areas where new scientific knowledge can be developed about the potential impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining developments on water resources
- areas identified by governments through the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development.
Water-dependent assets are things in the landscape which the community values that rely on surface water or groundwater. These assets could potentially be impacted by changes in groundwater or surface water due to coal seam gas or coal mining development.
Assets have been identified by community groups such as natural resource management groups for their ecological, economic, social or cultural values. For example, a wetland that provides habitat for waterbirds, river water or groundwater used for agriculture, or a sacred site which has cultural significance are all assets.
The first component of work that brings together background information about each subregion or bioregion in reports and registers will be available as technical products are finalised through to mid-2016. Full results from the bioregional assessments are expected to start being released from late 2016 through to mid-2017. This will include products providing model-data analysis and impact analysis which will be jointly released with a synthesis of the full bioregional assessment.
No. Bioregional assessments are not regulatory decisions.
Coal seam gas and large coal mining proposals are subject to state and national environment laws. Water resources must be considered in decisions on whether coal seam gas and large coal mining developments are acceptable under national environment law – the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Before making a decision on whether the project can proceed, the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Energy takes advice on the water-related impacts of developments from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) who can use the bioregional assessments to inform their advice. The IESC also provide advice to state governments to inform their regulatory decisions.
Regulatory decision-making is continuing while bioregional assessments are under way. Regulators can use products from bioregional assessments when considering documents submitted by proponents as part of the assessment process or conditions on their approval.
Products (such as data registers and reports) are being released periodically as assessments progress, continually improving information for decision making over time.
Not all products will be produced in all subregions and bioregions. This will ensure that effort (including Australian Government funding) is focused on areas where a greater level of coal and coal seam gas development is expected and new scientific knowledge can be developed. It will also avoid duplicating other work.
The Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO and Geoscience Australia are liaising with state government agencies, natural resource managers, local governments, industry groups and their members, and other scientists and organisations to identify and collect relevant data.
Local experts, including representatives from councils and natural resource management groups, are being invited to contribute at specific points throughout the assessments. For example, the Australian Government invested about $13 million for natural resource management organisations and authorities across Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria to identify water-dependent assets in their communities.
Information and scientific analysis produced by bioregional assessments is subject to a rigorous quality assurance process before being finalised. Products are reviewed by senior science leaders in state and Commonwealth agencies with technical expertise in ecology, hydrology, geology and hydrogeology. The Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development also provides ongoing advice on the scientific approach.
No. However, salinity changes connected to coal seam gas and large coal mining which could affect the use of water by humans will be considered as part of bioregional assessments, where data are available.
The bioregional assessments consider the potential water-related impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water-dependent assets, some of which have social, cultural or economic value, for example, river reaches, irrigation areas and wetlands.