What is the EPA’s role in the regulation of onshore gas activities?
The EPA is not a consent authority for onshore gas activities in NSW and does not determine if onshore gas development applications will be approved. The EPA has a role as the lead regulator for onshore gas activities, responsible for compliance with and enforcement of all relevant conditions of approval, excluding work health and safety conditions.
Is the EPA responsible for regulating all non-compliances relating to onshore gas activities?
The EPA is responsible for regulating all alleged non-compliances for onshore gas activities in NSW except those related to work health and safety conditions, which is the responsibility of the Resources Regulator.
The EPA is responsible for assessing non-compliances related to the title conditions issued by the Division of Mining, Exploration and Geoscience within the Department of Regional NSW, approval conditions issued by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, water access licence conditions issued by Natural Resources Access Regulator , some bore licence conditions issued by Water NSW and environment protection licence conditions issued by the EPA.
When investigating an alleged non-compliance, the EPA determines whether an alleged contravention has occurred and then takes the appropriate and proportionate regulatory action. The EPA’s Compliance Policy (PDF 455KB) and Prosecution Guidelines (PDF 66KB) guide its decisions, ensuring its regulatory activities and actions are consistent, fair and credible.
Other government agencies continue to provide expert advice to the EPA to assist with the EPA’s compliance and enforcement activities.
What penalties can the EPA impose for breaches of conditions of approval?
The EPA applies the appropriate regulatory response depending on a range of considerations for any alleged contravention of legislation. If the EPA issues a Penalty Notice, the monetary penalties are stipulated by legislation. If the EPA decides to enter into a Court Enforceable Undertaking, negotiations are undertaken in accordance with the EPA’s Guidelines on Enforceable Undertakings. If the EPA prosecutes and is successful, the court decides the sentence.
How can the community contact the EPA to report a potential breach?
If an incident occurs that presents an immediate threat to human health or property, call 000 to report it immediately to emergency services.
Report all other incidents or complaints regarding onshore gas operations to the EPA's Environment Line on 131 555 or by email to email@example.com. The 131-555 telephone service operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
This includes incidents or complaints affecting human or environmental health related to noise, air quality, water contamination, land pollution, waste disposal, chemical leaks or escapes etc.
See report pollution for useful information to record that can assist the EPA to respond to an incident or complaint.
Is the EPA responsible for regulating onshore gas pipelines?
Generally, no. Within, NSW, the Division of Mining, Exploration and Geoscience within the Department of Regional NSW, is responsible for the oversight of legislative requirements for licensing of certain pipelines under the Pipelines Act 1967.
However, if the pipeline falls within a premises as defined by an environment protection licence, the EPA may also have a role in ensuring conditions are met.
Who makes inspections of the onshore gas sites?
The EPA undertakes regular inspections of onshore gas sites to determine compliance with conditions and statutory requirements, excluding work health and safety matters.
The EPA consults with relevant government agencies when making inspections without limiting the independence of the EPA’s compliance and enforcement role.
What are the EPA’s regulatory powers concerning breaches of conditions that occurred prior to 1 July 2015, that are still being investigated by another agency?
The EPA has worked closely with the other government agencies to finalise any outstanding issues.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) sets out how these agencies managed these matters and clearly defines the responsibilities involved in the regulation of onshore gas activities in NSW since the EPA became the lead regulator.
What is the Memorandum of Understanding and what is its purpose?
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) defines the responsibilities of the key government agencies involved in the regulation of onshore gas activities in NSW.
The MOU has been developed between the EPA, the now Division of Mining, Exploration and Geoscience within the Department of Regional NSW, (formally the Department of Industry (Division of Resources and Energy and Resource Regulator)), the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (formally the Department of Planning and Environment) and the Natural Resources Access Regulator / Water NSW (formally the Department of Primary Industries - Water). The MOU establishes the necessary systems and processes for agencies to perform their roles effectively and seamlessly.
How are the onshore gas regulation processes communicated to the community and what involvement will the community have?
The EPA takes part in community groups and other activities to enable community involvement and engagement with the government regulators, industrial operators and other stakeholders on local environmental issues.
The EPA participates in industry consultative committees and also leads community consultation groups. Consultative groups in current onshore gas activity areas include
The EPA also maintains the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 Public Register (and other public registers) which include information on environment protection licences and associated applications and notices as well as penalty notices, court enforceable undertakings and successful civil and criminal proceedings.
Access to government produced or held information and records is also governed by the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009.
Why are onshore gas resources such as coal seam gas being explored in NSW?
The industry is focused on exploration and appraisal activities with two approved onshore gas production activities at Camden, and Narrabri. On 30 September 2020, the NSW Independent Planning Commission approved the Narrabri Gas Project, subject to conditions.”
The NSW Government has previously reported that more than 1.1 million NSW consumers use gas in their homes and the demand for gas is rising. Only 5% of the gas supplied in NSW is met locally by the AGL Camden Gas Project. As existing contracts with interstate suppliers begin to expire, NSW will have to compete with offshore demand and pay export prices, leading to a rise in the cost of gas. An exploration licence issued by the Division of Mining, Exploration and Geoscience within the Department of Regional NSW, does not permit production nor does it guarantee that a production lease will be granted.
The NSW Government’s Commonground Portal shows where current petroleum and gas titles (as well other title information) have been approved for exploration, assessment or production. Find out about CSG exclusion zones.
Who regulates onshore gas in NSW?
The onshore gas industry in NSW operates under some of the toughest controls in Australia. The principal bodies responsible for regulating onshore gas in NSW and their roles are described in the table below.
|Department||Department role||Company responsibility|
|The Environment Protection Authority||The Environment Protection Authority is the lead regulator for onshore gas activities responsible for regulating instruments and conditions, as they relate to onshore gas activities, excluding work health and safety conditions, and undertaking compliance and enforcement activities. The Environment Protection Authority also issues environment protection licences for onshore gas activities.||Onshore gas companies must hold an environment protection licence issued by the Environment Protection Authority and comply with the licence conditions.|
The Division of Mining, Exploration and Geoscience, Department of Regional NSW
The Division of Mining, Exploration and Geoscience is responsible for granting exploration, assessment and production titles, administering these titles, securing and holding rehabilitation securities and workplace health and safety issues (carried out by the Resources Regulator).
Onshore gas companies must apply to the Division of Mining, Exploration and Geoscience for a petroleum title to undertake petroleum activities from exploration through to production and comply with the petroleum title conditions. The different titles consist of Petroleum Special Prospecting Authorities, Petroleum Exploration Licences, Petroleum Assessment Leases and Petroleum Production Leases.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is responsible for delivering the Strategic Release Framework for Coal and Petroleum Exploration, establishing Coal Seam Gas exclusion zones, resourcing the Major Projects Portal and assessing development applications for major onshore projects.
Onshore gas companies must hold a development approval where required, such as for petroleum production activities and comply with the development approval conditions.
DPIE-Water, the Natural Resources Access Regulator and Water NSW
DPIE-Water is involved legislation and policy development, water science and the development of water sharing plans across NSW. The Natural Resources Access Regulator and Water NSW both have a role in assessing water resources and water use with both issuing and administering water related approvals, such as Water Access Licences. These agencies also provide specialised advice regarding the potential risk of groundwater movement between aquifers, impacts on the water table, water pressure levels and water quality changes in different types of groundwater systems.
Onshore gas companies must apply to the Natural Resources Access Regulator– for and hold a water access licence for any activity extracting more than 3 ML per year from groundwater sources and comply with the licence conditions.
What measures are onshore gas companies required to have in place to protect the environment from its activities?
In addition to any petroleum title or development approval assessment and conditioning process, all onshore gas activities must have an environment protection licence issued by the EPA. Each licence contains legally enforceable site-specific conditions which holders must comply with in order to prevent pollution, including noise, air, water, waste and other requirements, to protect human and environmental health. This is in addition to legislative requirements.
- Search for licences in the POEO Act Public Register
What measures are onshore gas companies required to have in place to prevent and manage incidents?
All environment protection licence holders must have a Pollution Incident Response Management Plan in place as required by legislation that
- ensures comprehensive and timely communication about a pollution incident to facility staff, the EPA, other relevant authorities and people outside the facility who may be affected by the impacts of the incident
- minimises and controls the risk of a pollution incident at the facility by requiring the identification of risks and the development of planned actions to minimise and manage those risks
- identifies trained staff who are responsible for implementing mitigation and management measures
- is regularly tested for accuracy, currency and suitability
- promotes community involvement and education in, and awareness of, environmental matter
What environmental monitoring is occurring?
An environment protection licence often includes a requirement to undertake monitoring for pollution. For onshore gas activity licences, this includes robust groundwater pollution monitoring and reporting requirements. which are regularly assessed. All pollution monitoring data that is required to be collected by the conditions of a licence must also be made available to the general public in accordance with legislation.
The EPA also regularly inspects onshore gas industry sites to assess environmental performance, check compliance with relevant conditions and legislative obligations, respond to environmental incidents and undertake detailed compliance audits if needed.
- See the AGL Camden Audit Report
How safe is groundwater from CSG activity?
The single greatest risk to groundwater occurs during the drilling of any subsurface well such as those drilled to access coal seam gas resources. To manage this, the NSW Government has introduced a Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Well Integrity. The Code of Practice ensures that wells meet world best practice standards. The Code of Practice specifies technical requirements for industry to meet during the life cycle of the well through design, construction, production, maintenance, decommissioning and rehabilitation.
There are also a number of other codes of practice including the Exploration Code of Practice: Environmental Management, the Exploration Code of Practice: Produced Water Management, Storage and Transfer and the Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Fracture Stimulation Activities for older activity approvals which ensure that risks to the environment are identified, eliminated where possible or minimised through appropriate management practices
To safeguard valuable groundwater resources, the NSW Aquifer Interference Policy has been introduced which provides a framework for protecting aquifers and groundwater from developments, including onshore gas activities.
A Water Access Licence is mandatory for any onshore gas activity extracting more than three megalitres per year from groundwater sources. New licences will not be issued where the proposed activity means extraction limits in water sharing plans will be exceeded. The Water Regulation Overview document provides a summary of key considerations.
What is fraccing?
Hydraulic fracturing (or fraccing) of a coal seam involves the pumping of fluid under pressure into the coal seam to open up fractures to release gas. The fluid is typically a mixture of sand, water and additives that open up cracks in the coal seam to create a path for water and gas to flow back to the surface.
The process depressurises the coal seam, allowing the gas in the pores of the coal to be released and flow to the surface. On the surface, the gas is separated from the water. The produced water is safely disposed of or treated and recycled for industrial purposes or irrigation.
In NSW, a Fracture Stimulation Management Plan (FSMP) must be in place before any hydraulic fracturing activity can commence as required by the Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Fracture Stimulation Activities . This is administered by the Division of Mining, Exploration and Geoscience, Department of Regional NSW. An FSMP must demonstrate that any potential risks to the environment, land, water and community are managed through an effective risk management process.
The use of BTEX chemicals (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylene) for fraccing has been banned in NSW since 2012. Find out more about how coal seam gas is extracted .
What rights do landholders have?
Onshore gas explorers must hold a relevant petroleum title and enter into a written access arrangement with landholders before entering a property.