The Australian Government originally established the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development 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.
On 15 December 2023, the Nature Repair (Consequential Amendments) Act 2023 amended the EPBC Act to expand the IESC’s remit to all unconventional gas developments, and for the IESC to continue under the new name: Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Unconventional Gas Development and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC).
The EPBC Act states that water resources in relation to unconventional gas development 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 unconventional 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 may also seek advice on unconventional gas and large coal mining development proposals.
Role of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Unconventional Gas Development and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC)
The IESC’s role is to provide independent, scientific advice. Their role is not regulatory, and they do not set environmental conditions or decide whether or not a development may proceed.
The functions of the IESC are set out in section 505D of the EPBC Act and include:
- Providing independent scientific advice to the Australian Government Environment Minister and relevant state ministers on the potential water-related impacts of proposed unconventional gas and large coal mining developments.
- Providing 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 unconventional gas development and coal mining.
- Providing independent scientific advice to a state government Minister of a declared state under the EPBC Act (QLD, NSW, VIC and SA) on any matter, following written agreement from the Australian Government Environment Minister and if the IESC has sufficient scientific expertise.
- Collect, analyse, interpret and disseminate scientific information about the impacts of unconventional gas and large coal mining activities on water resources.