Environmental Law and the Coal Seam Gas Industry
Executive summary: The Coal Seam Gas (CSG) industry in Australia is still a relatively immature industry when compared to that of mining and conventional oil & gas production. As such, existing environmental legislation, regulations and other administrative processes may not be suitably developed to adequately environmentally manage the rapid development of the CSG industry.
The proposed thesis aims to look at and critically review federal and state environmental legislation as it specifically or could apply to the development of CSG in NSW. Furthermore the research intends to analyse the effectiveness of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process in the granting of licences to develop CSG. It is intended that the research will encompass case studies of existing CSG projects, reviewing the effectiveness of the processes and their outcomes. The research will also review the contractual relationships and compensation arrangements between the landholders and CSG proponents, and the overall public engagement and consultation process.
Central research question: “Does existing legislation, regulations and the EIA process actually facilitate the delivery of good environmental outcomes for the CSG industry?”
Methodology: In addition to a traditional review of existing legislation, regulations and administrative processes in relation to CSG, and a review of the academic literature; two main methodologies are envisaged to be deployed in this research:
- Case study analysis of existing CSG projects. The intention is to review the full life cycle of several projects. Particular emphasis will be placed on the review of the effectiveness of the EIA/EIS process is achieving good environmental outcomes.
- Direct empirical evidence gathering from proponents, regulators, landholders and the public in relation to their perceptions of the effectiveness of the legislation and processes involved. The intention is to probe deeper than the above case studies, identifying any underlying, systemic, or institutional problems. E.g. concerns that economic development, climate change, employment growth, state royalties or licensing fees etc. have a biased influence on the environmentally sustainable development of the CSG industry.
The research aims to contribute to legal literature and the existing body of knowledge by assessing how appropriate existing legislation is to environmental protection and sustainable development as a direct result of the development of this relatively new industry. Furthermore the research aims to contribute to the development of a fit-for-purpose EIS as applied to the CSG industry, one that “is comprehensive in the treatment of the subject matter, objective in its approach and meets the requirement that it alerts the decision maker and members of the public to the effect of the activity on the environment and the consequences to the community inherent in the carrying out of the activity”.
The research will also develop recommendations and suggest guidelines to improve the EIA process and public engagement; and explore the dispute resolution process as can be applied to the interaction of landholders and proponents.
 Test for legality of an EIS, Cripps J in Prineas v Forestry Commission of New South Wales (1983) 49 LGRA 402, 417-18.