7.3 Opportunities

This assessment has identified that activities that create a disturbance at the surface (transport of materials and equipment, civil construction, decommissioning and rehabilitation and seismic acquisition) lead to a number of pathways of ‘potential concern’. While the assessment has identified that the impacts from these activities can be mitigated, there may be opportunities to look at ways to further minimise and/or mitigate these impacts from these causal pathways. For example, industry relevant application of Land clearing guidelines and coordinated industry-wide approaches to the management of invasive species.

Other opportunities that arise from this assessment are related to the knowledge gaps and limitations that have been identified. The causal network can be updated for the Beetaloo GBA region as more knowledge becomes available through:

  • The baseline ecological surveys conducted through the additional GBA funding provided ( Section 5 ).
  • The Northern Territory Government’s Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment program that is collecting baseline ecological, surface water and groundwater information.
  • Provision of information from ongoing exploration and appraisal activities by industry to understand resource potential, develop prospective resource estimates, identify areas most likely to be developed, and investigate extraction technologies. Thereby, improving the understanding of future resource development scenarios and their footprints.
  • As more hydraulic fracturing operations are conducted, the probable designs of future hydraulic fracturing operations (including fluid composition and volumes) and the amounts of flowback fluid and its quality will be better understood. This has important implications for overall water use and wastewater management options
  • The results of research conducted by programs such as the CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance that may be relevant to adding to the causal network.

The Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment program ecological baseline data will be useful in helping to further differentiate the landscape classes and vegetation communities within the Beetaloo GBA region. A better understanding of the importance of these vegetation communities to habitat requirements is likely to emerge from these baseline surveys. This would allow refinement of the assessment of the causal pathways of ‘potential concern’ identified in this assessment.

The causal network could be further refined to consider various scenarios. These could include:

  • Further differentiation of the various phases in the gas resource development life cycle. While this assessment considers all phases, the causal network could be refined to consider each phase separately.
  • Evaluation of the causal network considering different climatic or weather conditions. For example, considering the effects of climate change, comparing the impacts during drier and wetter periods.
  • Consideration of regional cumulative impacts by incorporating the activities of other industries (for example tourism, large-scale solar and pastoralism).

The assessment focused on the types of events and impacts that happen as a normal part of unconventional gas resource development. While this assessment did consider accidents and inadvertent incidents, it did not consider low-likelihood, high-consequence events. Examples of these are a major well blowout, a catastrophic failure at a processing plant, the impacts of a cyclonic weather event, or major pipeline failure. Assessing these events would require a significant amount of speculation about the specifics of the infrastructure and the environmental setting. Risk assessments for low-likelihood, high-consequence events are a routine component of infrastructure design – due to the risk to human life and financial impacts – the causal network method could be applied for assessment of the environmental impacts of these events.

The conservative modelling of the fate of chemicals in the environment used in this assessment could be augmented by more detailed assessment. Further consideration of how chemicals break down in the environmental conditions found in the Beetaloo GBA region would increase confidence in the assessment of the risks these chemicals pose.

The causal network allows systematic examination of potential impacts on water and the environment associated with unconventional gas development activities. At a practical level, this may be useful in the formulation of terms of reference for environmental impact assessments of individual projects, ensuring that the identified pathways of concern are addressed. Importantly, due to its whole-of-region approach, the causal network for the Beetaloo GBA region is not a substitute for careful assessment of individual unconventional gas development projects in the Beetaloo GBA region under Australian or territory environmental law. Such assessments may use finer scale groundwater and surface water models, consider impacts on matters other than water and the environment and include interactions with neighbouring developments in greater detail.

The assessment method is designed to be allow updates. New nodes, links and endpoints can be added to the causal network when new data and knowledge become available or the focus of the assessment changes. Link evaluations (and their spatial grids) can be updated to reflect improved knowledge, reduced uncertainty, new mitigation strategies or to better represent local-scale datasets, such as modelled groundwater drawdown. As individual gas resource development projects are assessed, the causal network can be updated to allow proponents and regulators to continue to prioritise future assessment, mitigation and monitoring activities.

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