The Australian Government established the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) in 2012 under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act). It did so in response to community concerns regarding the impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining on water resources such as groundwaters, rivers, wetlands and springs, and to provide greater transparency in the regulatory process. These impacts included the perceived threats to water quality of surface waters and groundwaters.
Video footage credit: Queensland Government
An interim committee was established in January 2012 pending the formal establishment of the statutory committee in November 2012. The Australian Government has funded the IESC since its establishment.
The EPBC Act states that water resources in relation to coal seam gas and large coal mining developments are a matter of national environmental significance.
Because of this, the Australian Government Environment Minister must assess all proposals for coal seam gas and coal mining developments that are likely to have a significant impact on a water resource.
Before deciding whether to approve a proposal, the Australian Government Environment Minister must seek the IESC's expert scientific advice. Relevant state government regulators also seek advice on coal seam gas and large coal mining development proposals. The IESC’s role is not regulatory and they do not set environmental conditions or decide whether or not a development may proceed.
The IESC's role includes providing advice to the Australian Government on research priorities and projects to improve knowledge of the potential water-related impacts of coal developments, developing resources such as our Information Guidelines and Explanatory Notes, and promoting the IESC’s work at conferences and workshops. The IESC also provided advice to the Australian Government on the Bioregional Assessments Program.
Role of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development
Under the EPBC Act, the IESC has several legislative functions. These include to:
- Provide independent scientific advice to the Australian Government Environment Minister and relevant state ministers on the potential water-related impacts of proposed coal seam gas or large coal mining developments.
- Provide independent scientific advice to the Australian Government Environment Minister on:
- bioregional assessments being undertaken by the Australian Government (completed in 2018); and
- priorities for research to improve scientific understanding on the water-related impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining.
- Collect, analyse, interpret and disseminate scientific information about the impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining activities on water resources.
The functions of the IESC are set out in section 505D of the EPBC Act and reflect the commitment between the Commonwealth and the New South Wales, South Australian, Queensland and Victorian state governments (the NPA states) under the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (NPA).