Roadshow 1.1 Geological and Bioregional Assessments program

Geological and Bioregional Assessments program

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Hello. Welcome to the Geological and Bioregional Assessments Roadshow. My name is Mitchell Bouma. I am the acting director here in the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. So we're here today to celebrate and showcase just some of the amazing science and dedicated work that has come out of this Australian government program. It's been a real joy for me to work with such a fantastic group of dedicated and exceptional people. Before I start, can I just thank every one of them, both for their presentations today, but also for their drive, professionalism and innovation that allowed us to deliver the program.

The Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program, or GBA Program for short, is an extension of the $120 million bioregional assessment programs aiming to provide science information and data clearly and transparently to governments, industry and the community. The series of programs are an investment, symbolising the Australian Government's commitment to ensuring a reliable supply of gas for all Australians, without compromising the environment and our precious water resources, underpinning the Australian Government's commitment to responsibly supplying gas suppliers was the $86.6 million towards New Energy Future Package.

This package included $30.4 million for our program, the Geological and Bioregional Assessments Program to focus on potential opportunities for getting gas to the east coast gas market, for shale, tight and deep coal gas resource developments. The program received additional funding in 2019, which was also designed to support the Northern Territory's, Northern Territory Government, sorry, delivery of the strategic regional, environmental and baseline assessment.

The Geological and Bioregional Assessments Program is a series of independent scientific studies conducted in partnership across government. The GBA Program brings together a huge range of science and data expertise from our program partners in CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology. The program was set up to address four primary objectives. They are to encourage exploration, accelerating the delivery of gas to the east coast gas market in the next five to 10 years, improve the understanding of what the actual risks to water and the environment are from unconventional gas developments and how they can be managed, to develop tools, data and information to make regulation more efficient and to improve community understanding of the industry.

Commencing in 2017, the program was delivered in three stages over four years, as shown by this infographic here. On the left there, you can see stage one was comprised of a process to prioritise and define the regions to be assessed. You'll hear more about this from Adam, from Geoscience Australia a bit later on. This work resulted in the selection of the three areas for assessment by the Geological and Bioregional Program. These are the Cooper GBA Region or Cooper Basin in Northeast South Australia and Southwest Queensland, the Isa super basin or Isa GBA region in Northwest Queensland and the Beetaloo sub basin or Beetaloo GBA region, which is wholly in the Northern Territory.

After stage one, we moved on to stage two, which is the second column there. It brings together all information on the environment, water resources, geology, prospectivity and chemicals in a baseline synthesis. This approach, stage two, allowed us to develop a robust conceptual understanding of the environmental features of each region. It also allowed us to work with the stakeholders to identify the potential hazards that new industry might bring and then undertake gap analysis to inform the identification of data gaps that could be filled by the collection of new data in stage three. Today, you'll actually be hearing about just some of those investigations that were undertaken to address these gaps from the scientists themselves who did that work.

The program had a robust and well run governance structure with support, direction, advice and oversight at all levels shown by the diagram here. This included independent technical peer review groups, support from different state and territory science agencies and technical working groups. Each of these groups ensured that the appropriate level of rigour and robustness was applied to the delivery of the program. On the bottom left, the user panels. There was one of these for each of the regions, and the panels provided a unique advice function from the perspective of those living or working in each of the GBA regions.

The user panels did not make decisions on the program's direction. They were more of a communication forum for advising the program on the information needs of those who live and work in the regions. The inclusion of user panels in the program was a deliberate decision to create forums for targeted and early key stakeholder engagement and dialogue through the life of the program. The three panels were designed to have a broad membership, including state and federal regulators, local state government, traditional owner groups, indigenous representatives, and their respective land councils, industry reps and other key stakeholders such as local land holders, local water users and natural resource management bodies for example. The panel's met every six to 12 months. Before COVID, this happened within each of the regions or as close to as possible. Again, you'll hear more about these later on today.

Stage three was the impact and risk analysis. The grey column there on the right, it examines the potential impacts to water resources and to protected commonwealth state and territory environmental values. It also identifies effective monitoring, mitigation and management measures that can be used to protect these values. As you may have noticed, stage three is only being completed for Cooper and Beetaloo. This is because the program determined that a full impact assessment for stage three was not a viable option for the Isa GBA region. Due to limited geoscientific data and investment in exploration at that point in time when we're looking at these stage threes. For the Isa GBA region, the program leaves a legacy of publicly available baseline data and information ready for use in any future assessment of the region.

Stage three delivers the assessment through causal networks and an interactive tool called the GBA Explorer. This is an innovative, transparent and detailed decision support tool. It clearly shows the logical chain of events from gas resource development to potential impacts on water and the environment. The tool allows decision makers, be they industry or government based, to identify priority potential impacts and focus management efforts on those activities where the potential impacts are of the greatest concern. Further, it is a visual representation that provides clear identification of where avoidance, mitigation and monitoring is critical to break the chain of events to impact. What you're seeing here on this slide is just a snippet of the key functionality in the tool. Apologies if it's not too easy to see.

But the tool is an innovative, groundbreaking way to fully interact with and interrogate the program's assessment. It's fully searchable. It can be personalised, giving users the ability to focus on the matters of interest to them. It contains all of the detailed science that underpins the assessment, including information, data, maps, references and imagery. You'll hear more about this product and its benefits in a later presentation. While the GBA Explorer is where the full assessment is all available in a single location, we have prepared a huge amount of other supporting documentation and products, including synthesis and methods documents, complete with fact sheets, plain English summaries, supporting references and maps, transparently accessible data from field of investigations, scientific journal articles, all of these available from a dedicated website.

The plethora of tools, data and information will assist by ensuring that decisions on shale and tight gas resource developments are based on the best available science and that the basis for making those decisions is transparently available to all interested parties. I'll leave you now with a quick video that gives a nice overview of the program and is a nice lead in to the rest of the presentations in this session. I hope you enjoy hearing about the brilliant work that has been completed by the program and by some of Australia's best scientists in their fields. Thank you.

Further information can be found on the Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program landing page

Introduction to the Geological and Bioregional Assessments

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Voiceover: While providing reliable and affordable energy to all Australians, we must also protect our precious water resources and the environment. That's why the Australian Government commissioned the four-year Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program. The program provides government, industries and communities with information on the potential environmental impacts of unconventional gas resource development to help inform decision making. Three priority geological basins were studied the Cooper, Isa and Beetaloo regions.

We worked closely with people living and working in each region to study the matters that were of most interest to them and consulted with local and state and territory governments, environmental groups, land users and industry. We partnered with CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology to conduct scientific studies and provide transparent and accessible information. The data and tools produced by the program provide greater clarity for environmental decision making now and into the future. The assessment map the links between resource development activities and the environmental assets to be protected, such as threatened species and water quality.

As we look to our future, the Geological and Bioregional assessments program information and tools will assist the coordinated management of potential risks to ensure unconventional gas resources can be environmentally responsibly developed to provide important gas resources for all Australians. To find out more about the program and to access the data and tools, visit

About the presenter

Mitchell Bouma 

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment

Mitchell is the Program Manager of the Geological and Bioregional Assessments Program. Mitchell has over 10 years-experience working in the assessment and regulation of resource developments across Australia.

Last updated:
15 November 2021