Legal development

Government releases consultation paper in response to regulatory review of coal seam gas-induced subsidence

Two half opened rusty gates opening to dry grassy landscape

    Key insights

    • The Department of Resources has consulted on legislative changes that would implement a risk-based management framework for the regulation of coal seam gas-induced subsidence.
    • The proposals include requiring tenure holders and landholders to enter into subsidence management agreements, expanding and clarifying the scope and functions of the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment, as well as creating clear alternative dispute resolution pathways to follow before disputes are escalated to the Land Court.
    • The Government is in the process of reviewing the feedback which will inform the drafting of the proposed legislative amendments.

    The need for reform

    In September 2023, the Department of Resources released its Consultation Paper Coexistence institutions & CSG-induced subsidence management framework. The Paper proposes legislative reform to enhance the regulatory framework as it relates to coal seam gas-induced subsidence (CSG-induced subsidence). The Paper is informed by the GasFields Commission Queensland's Regulatory review of coal seam gas-induced subsidence: report released in November 2022.

    We explained the issue of CSG-induced subsidence in our Queensland Land Access and Resource Approvals Year in Review 2022 article "Coal seam gas-induced subsidence flagged for further regulatory attention".

    What proposals have been made?

    The Consultation Paper proposes a raft of changes to the Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Act 2014 (Qld) (MERCP Act) and the Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Regulation 2016 (Qld) that aim to:

    • provide a statutory framework that ensures appropriate protection for landholders;
    • provide clear roles and responsibilities to various entities involved in monitoring these impacts; and
    • provide a pathway to impact assessment and dispute resolution, including alternative dispute resolution, with an ultimate determination in the Land Court as a last resort only.

    The proposed amendments will expand the role of the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment (OGIA) and introduce a subsidence management statutory framework. The framework will require OGIA to assess cumulative CSG-induced subsidence and develop management strategies, while tenure holders will be required to provide mitigation and management strategies through agreement with landholders.

    The proposed framework will only apply to areas declared by the Chief Executive of the MERCP Act.

    Broadly, the proposed framework requires OGIA to carry out a cumulative assessment of CSG-induced subsidence, including modelling, monitoring and a risk-assessment, and based on this, prepare a management strategy that identifies requirements for tenure holders to carry out baseline data collection and farm assessments. These two steps will need to be carried out periodically to develop a Subsidence Impact Report which will be subject to public consultation and independent review prior to its submission to the Department of Resources.

    The OGIA will direct tenure holders to carry out baseline data collection about the current status of farm field drainage and slope. This baseline data collection will inform any further farm-field and inter-farm drainage assessments required by OGIA that will aim to identify pre-existing and anticipated CSG-induced subsidence as well as consequences of subsidence from inter-farm drainage.

    If tenure holders are required to undertake further farm-field and inter-farm drainage assessments, these will inform the development of subsidence management action plans in consultation with landholders. The subsequent agreement process will be informed by the management plans, and will incorporate proactive remedial, mitigation and compensation clauses. These agreements may be standalone, or incorporated into conduct and compensation agreements.

    The Paper also proposed the incorporation of independent dispute resolution processes at various stages of the framework. These include conferences with an authorised officer under the MERCP Act and alternative dispute resolution processes. An application to the Land Court to resolve a dispute is available where alternative pathways have been exhausted.

    Next steps

    OGIA has developed a new interactive web-based LiDAR tool which assists users to assess the impact of CSG-induced subsidence on relevant land by drawing from data obtained from LiDAR in affected areas.

    Consultation closed on 8 December 2023. The Government is in the process of reviewing the feedback which will inform the drafting of the proposed legislative amendments.

    Authors: Leanne Mahly, Lawyer; Sophie Pruim, Graduate; and Lydia O'Neill, Paralegal.

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