Coal Seam Gas and Land Access Agreement
With recent controversy in the news around farmers, the mining industry and land access rights, and the announcement of new Queensland government regulations, it is important to clarify these regulations around Coal Seam Gas mining and exploration in Queensland.
The significant growth in CSG exploration and development has resulted in considerable concerns being expressed in the rural communities of the Surat Basin and across the state about the potential for these activities to impact on agricultural businesses and landholders.
Because the State’s land is subject to a range of competing uses, including agriculture, mining (such as coal seam gas activities) and urban development, protecting landholders’ rights when activities are being undertaken on their land is a key priority of the State Government.
Queensland has some of the toughest regulations in the world when it comes to mining exploration. Legislation applies to current and future CSG projects and requires stringent evaluation and management of impacts of water extraction from the process on bores, aquifers and springs.
Legislation involves the Authority to Prospect, Land Access Policy Framework and yesterday’s announcement of Exploration Restricted Areas
Authority to Prospect
The government identifies land that potentially holds energy reserves and then calls for tenders for resource companies to apply for an authority to prospect (ATP) at the relevant sites. A tender can cover up to 100 blocks, or approximately 7,500 square kilometres.
Resource companies which are granted an authority or tenure under the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 are authorised to explore, produce, process or transport coal seam gas.
This authority comes under the Land Access Policy Framework which includes a Land Access Code.
Land Access Policy Framework
Queensland’s land access laws provide landholders with greater protection and security about activities being undertaken on their land. They were created to ensure landholders have a more even footing when dealing with resource companies.
These reforms amend legislation and apply to respective tenures or authorities under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (exploration permits and mineral development licenses), the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004, the Petroleum Act 1923, the Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2009 and the Geothermal Energy Act 2010.
Under the new land access laws, companies are required to comply with a single Land Access Code. The Land Access Code clearly sets out government’s expectations of resource companies in relation to communication, consultation and behaviour when operating on private land, and imposes mandatory conditions on the way in which activities are undertaken to ensure impacts on landholders, businesses and land use are minimised.
The laws feature the following key elements:
• Companies are required to notify landholders before entering land to conduct activities that will have little or no impact on landholders (known as preliminary activities).
• Companies and landholders are required to negotiate an agreement about conduct and compensation before commencing larger scale activities that will have a more significant impact (known as advanced activities).
• A graduated negotiation and dispute resolution process has been introduced that allows the parties to access independent assistance to resolve disputes.
• Compliance and enforcement powers and process for the government relating to land access breach have been improved.
As part of the ongoing implementation of the new land access framework, government is funding an important program that will provide additional assistance to landholders who are negotiating with CSG companies about access and compensation.
This will be delivered in partnership with AgForce Queensland through its AgForward program and will focus around ‘farm shed’ meetings that provide training for landholders who are, or will be, negotiating with resource companies over access and compensation.
Exploration Restricted Area
Announced Monday the 15th August are new Exploration Restricted Areas. No mining exploration will be allowed in and around urban areas of Queensland, including regional centres, with a 2km buffer. The Exploration Restricted Area would be declared over land bound by the South East Queensland Regional Plan as well as other regional centres and towns with a population of 1,000 or more.
The restrictions are complimentary to the existing Strategic Cropping legislation.
The exploration restricted area would take effect from 16 August 2011.
The changes will be implemented by amending the Mineral Resources Act 1989 to prevent existing tenure holders from undertaking any exploration activities in and around urban areas across Queensland. Changes will also be determined under the Petroleum and Gas Act 2004 that no Authorities to Prospect will be issued over areas covered by the restricted area.
These changes provide further restrictions and assurances to communities in potential mining areas.
The Media Statement is available at http://www.cabinet.qld.gov.au/MMS/StatementDisplaySingle.aspx?id=76115
For more information please contact your Hawker Britton Consultant.