by George Houen, Landholder Services Pty Ltd
|Image sourced [here]|
Miners will get to keep the Newman government’s gift of open slather on groundwater, plus the waiving of both the water licence requirement and the obligation to justify the volume of water they extract - and they will be able to use or dispose of the water any way they wish including by evaporation, which for obvious environmental reasons was banned in coal seam gas fields years ago.
At least miners who dewater will, for the first time, be subject to Chapter 3 of the Water Act which imposes a make good obligation and requires underground water impact reports. Successive governments have assured bore owners that if there is bore damage from dewatering the Chapter 3 make good scheme will protect them – that is false and when the scheme is called upon for a contested make good scheme the affected owners will find it is tragically flawed.
Natural Resources and Mines Minister Anthony Lynham announced on 10th November which parts of the previous governments water amendments he intends to repeal or amend. But open slather for miners stays – and after consultation with the Environment Minister and with stakeholders as to how it will operate it will be proclaimed into force, including for existing mines, on a date to be agreed.
Provided a mining lease and an environmental authority have been granted, unlimited dewatering is OK, even in a worst-case situation where dewatering is virtually certain to damage or destroy water bores as well as groundwater dependent flora or fauna.
Under present laws, groundwater impacts are a major factor in any environmental impact assessment for mining - often giving rise to objections supported by high-level expert evidence in the Land Court’s objections hearings. The Court directs any resulting recommendations on groundwater to the Environment Minister for consideration in deciding the environmental authority application.
But the Court under present laws doesn’t have jurisdiction to make recommendations about the licence for dewatering which - until proclamation of the change - is under the separate jurisdiction of Natural Resources and Mines. This segregation is artificial and should have been removed. However, under the Water Act an interested person who disputes grant of a water licence can request internal review of the decision and can also appeal to the Land Court about it.
Allowing dewatering without a water licence doesn’t alter the Environmental Protection Act assessment process for the proposed mine, nor does it alter the Land Court’s role as the independent assessor which makes recommendations to the Minister. Both of those phases are designed to assess and test the evidence on overall environmental impact (including impacts on groundwater and water users) and applications for environmental authority.
In spite of the miners gaining open slather dewatering, the current process of overall environmental assessment including the impacts on groundwater resources and on users of water bores, with a right for the public to object and be heard in the Land Court, will continue.
This tussle over the Newman government’s amendments gave Minister Lynham a golden opportunity to remove artificial demarcation and integrate the approval of dewatering with the well-established environmental assessment system – he let it slip. Now I expect that, true to form, mining company lawyers will use the advent of open slather dewatering and abolition of the requirement for water licenses to argue that objections about groundwater be no longer permitted.
RELATED PREVIOUS PUBLISHED ARTICLES
|Dewatering Mt Gibson Iron Ore mine, photo sourced [here]|