Release of the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy - What it means for coal and gas projects on strategic agricultural land

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19 September 2012

On 12 September 2012, the NSW Government released the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy (Policy) and its accompanying plans, policies and codes which aim to provide greater protection for valuable agricultural land and water resources from the impacts of mining and coal seam gas proposals and better balance competing land uses.

Under these reforms, all State significant mining and CSG proposals on land identified or verified as Strategic Agricultural Land will be considered under an independent Gateway assessment process which will investigate the impacts of such proposals on that land. Such proposals may only proceed to the development application stage after a Gateway Certificate has been obtained.

Summary

The key elements of the Policy include:

  • the identification and mapping of Strategic Agricultural Land (Strategic Land) and the Strategic Land criteria in the Strategic Regional Land Use Plans (Regional Plans) in the Upper Hunter and New England North West areas.  State significant mining and coal seam gas (CSG) proposals (Mining Proposals) on Strategic Land will trigger the new Gateway assessment process.  The Regional Plans for the Upper Hunter and New England North West identify and map more than two million hectares of Strategic Land;
  • the introduction of strict new controls to protect groundwater and aquifers under the Aquifer Interference Policy (Aquifer Policy).  The Aquifer Policy provides for an assessment of the impacts of Mining Proposals on water sources and water dependent ecosystems based on minimal impact considerations.  This assessment will inform the advice of the Minister for Primary Industries to the panel under the Gateway process or, if the Gateway does not apply, the consent authority during its assessment of the development application;
  • the establishment of a new Land and Water Commissioner (Commissioner) with an unfettered oversight and an advisory role with respect to exploration across the State.  Significantly, the Commissioner will have powers to review any exploration approval and provide advice in relation to whether the correct assessment process has occurred;
  • the requirement for an Agricultural Impact Statement (AIS) as part of the environmental assessment process for both exploration proposals and Mining Proposals.  The purpose of the AIS is to assess potential impacts of these activities on agricultural resources and businesses; and
  • the implementation of stringent new rules for CSG exploration and production under two new Codes of Practice for the CSG industry covering Fracture Simulation Activities and Well Integrity.  Although the moratorium on fraccing has been lifted, a ban has been imposed on the use of additives containing BTEX compounds and the use of evaporation ponds as a method of dealing with product water. 

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The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.


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