Some of the most frequently asked questions of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) are answered here.
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Why can’t proponents directly access the IESC?
Meeting with proponents directly could result in a perception of bias which the IESC needs to avoid, because maintaining the independence of the IESC is in the interests of the regulator, the proponent and the community.
Although the IESC will not meet with individual proponents to discuss projects, it engages with industry and their consultants through workshops or other engagement activities.
What does the IESC think about Australian Government or state government policy or regulation?
The IESC provides advice to regulators when requested to enable robust science-based decision-making. The IESC does not make regulatory decisions, nor is it the IESC’s role to tell governments what decisions they should make.
Why isn’t the IESC entirely funded by the industry?
To maintain complete independence and transparency in its provision of robust scientific advice to regulators and to remove any possible bias, it is appropriate that the IESC is not funded partly or entirely by industry.
Is the IESC incorporated? Is the IESC, or a member, responsible for recommendations adopted by a regulator if it could later be shown to be in error and to have substantially cost a proponent?
No. The IESC is not incorporated. The Department maintains professional indemnity insurance. Through this insurance, the IESC or a member of the IESC would be indemnified where it is established that the IESC or member was in error and liability was established, subject to exclusions such as where the error arose from a wilful breach of the member’s duty to the Department or their professional duty, or if they were deliberately acting to cause detriment.
What is the role of the Office of Water Science?
The Office of Water Science supports the IESC through the provision of technical advice and analysis, as well as secretariat and stakeholder engagement support.
Does the IESC receive feedback from regulators on the advice it provides to them?
Yes. The IESC has been increasing its engagement with regulators through workshops and meetings to review how the advice is adopted in decision-making and to enable improvements in framing advice.
Does the IESC believe that its advice is adequately addressed by regulators in the setting of conditions?
Through the Office of Water Science, the IESC periodically compares its advice with the conditions developed by regulators and believes the advice is adequately addressed.
Can the IESC revisit its original advice to the Minister on a particular project?
The regulator can ask for advice on a project more than once. Examples include when there are changes to the proposed project such as modifications to the footprint or the layout of the mining method, or in instances where the regulator requests the IESC expands on its previous advice.
Why does the IESC recommend proponents include one or more ecohydrological models depicting likely impact pathways in their EIS?
An ecohydrological model provides an important visualisation of all the components of the system, including the ecological components that a conventional hydrological model does not do. Ecohydrological models help illustrate potential impact pathways allowing a risk assessment to be conducted and in turn quantification of the impacts from these key risks.
Why do the Information Guidelines encourage proponents to develop their own models rather than using the established state models for assessing groundwater impacts?
Generally, models developed by state agencies are regional-scale models that are designed to look at cumulative impacts, particularly to productive aquifers, and hence are not designed to assess local-scale impacts such as changes to surface water-groundwater connectivity that can impact an individual wetland. The IESC, when considering potential impacts to water resources from a proposed project under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act), requires modelling that informs predictions of local- scale impacts to individual water resources such as wetlands, rivers and riparian vegetation.
For example, a local groundwater model is required to provide details on the extent and magnitude of potential impacts identified in the regional-scale Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment (OGIA) model. The IESC and OGIA have published a fact sheet that describes the shared understanding on matters where outputs from OGIA’s assessment are referred to by the proponents in their environmental impact assessments.
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