Coal seam gas explorers would be required to carry a public liability policy of at least $20 million to protect landowners in the event of damage to their property, the environment or health, if calls in a Mid-Western Regional Council submission to the State Government were adopted.
The recommendation is included in Mid-Western Region Council’s submission on the State Government’s draft code of practice for coal seam exploration covering landholders’ rights, community relations and protection of water.
Councillors last week endorsed the submission, with amendments calling for stronger measures to protect landholders.
Council’s initial submission called for the code to include:
■ Stronger provisions to ensure coal seam gas explorers reimburse land owners for legal costs, in particular for the cost of engaging a solicitor to act in relation to access agreement negotiations:
■ Requirements that explorers provide specific details of all chemical brought onto the site, plus safety data sheets and details of any potential effects on the environment or health;
■ A mandatory Review of Environmental Factors (REF) outlining activities such as proposed chemicals and effect on water, to be approved before any exploration begins;
■ Requirements that any saline water or brine produced as a by-product of gas exploration be treated before it is disposed of appropriately.
However, after discussion with concerned landholders, Cr Russell Holden and Cr John Webb added amendments including:
■ Mandatory reimbursement of landholders for the cost of engaging independent water experts;
■ Compulsory consultation with the community, including establishing a community committee as soon as concern is expressed;
■ All baseline data must be made publicly available;
■ Explorers to carry a $20 million public liability policy which nominates the owner of land on which they are exploring as the beneficiaries.
Cr Holden said under the existing draft code of practice, there is no requirement for explorers to have insurance.
The amended submission also called for all information to be made available to local councils.
“Explorers should provide all information and councils should decide what as a council we want to know – not just the certain pieces of information they provide,” he said. “We want everyone to put their cards on the table – no cloak and dagger.”
Council has also objected to provisions of the code which would deem projects involving more than five bores to be State Significant and exempt from aquifer licensing requirements.
Cr Holden said the draft code of practice on coal seam gas exploration needed to be considered in conjunction with the State Governments draft aquifer interference policy and draft strategic policy for regional lands, making it difficult to understand. He said there was a “serious need” for an advocacy program which helped landholders to understand the mass of information available in the documents.