GasFields Commission calls for immediate action to resolve ongoing coexistence issues

The GasFields Commission Queensland (the Commission) is today calling on all stakeholders  involved to urgently act to resolve ongoing coexistence issues emanating from Arrow Energy’s  (Arrow) Surat Gas Project development activities, near Dalby on the Western Downs. 

The Commission acknowledges ongoing community concerns regarding a number of Arrow’s recent  development activities on intensively farmed land and whether these activities are compliant with  statutory requirements, including the exemption criteria under the Regional Planning Interests Act  2014 (the RPI Act). 

To help address these concerns and provide certainty to the broader community, the Commission  has formally requested the State Government provide details of its expectations on compliance and how resource companies are meeting these statutory requirements under the RPI Act. 

The Commission’s CEO Warwick Squire commented, “The allegations and complaints levelled  against Arrow are being driven by a common desire held by regional communities to understand  what a resource company’s regulatory obligations are, and if they are complying with these requirements. 

“That is why we are now calling on the government to finalise their investigations into compliance  issues as a matter of urgency. This will provide much needed community assurance that the State’s  regulatory framework requirements are being enforced”. 

Importantly, a lack of transparency and clarity around statutory obligations associated with the RPI  Act was one of the key findings in the Commission’s ‘Review of the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 Assessment Process Report’ (the report). 

The report’s findings identified the use of exemptions to the Regional Interests Development  Approval (RIDA) process meant stakeholders and government had difficulty ascertaining the extent  and types of activities being undertaken in areas of regional interest. 

“Yesterday the Commission received confirmation that the government has now considered our  seven recommendations and ‘supports four of the recommendations and supports in principle the  remaining three recommendations’. 

“We are extremely pleased to see the government adopting our recommendations as this will most  certainly aid in alleviating a number of landholder concerns regarding coexistence and the RPI Act,”  Mr Squire said. 

Following on from the Commission’s review of the RPI Act, coal seam gas (CSG) induced  subsidence has also emerged as a significant concern of landholders in areas of intensively farmed  land.

In response to these concerns, the Commission has taken a leadership role and is reviewing the  adequacy of the regulatory framework for subsidence, with a view to identifying potential  enhancements to the current framework. 

Preliminary findings indicate that whilst there are already protections afforded to landholders under  the existing regulatory framework, these protections need to be enhanced. 

The Commission is currently finalising this review and will make formal recommendations to the State  Government in early March 2022. 

The Commission has also commenced a body of research into the potential consequences of CSG  subsidence at the farm scale. This work will be fundamental in providing landholders with information  on what subsidence might mean to their farming operations and builds upon subsidence assessment  undertaken by the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment, published in the Draft Underground  Water Impact Report 2021 for the Surat Cumulative Management Area.  

“Finally today, the Commission is calling on Arrow to do more to improve their relations with regional  communities and landholders. 

“The Commission recognises the release of Arrow’s ‘Commitments to Surat Basin Landholders’ in  late August 2021 as a positive step forward in working towards sustainable coexistence. 

“The Commission has been monitoring Arrow’s performance against these commitments and whilst  we have observed improvement, a ‘continuous improvement approach’ will be required to meet the  community’s expectations. 

“For the benefit of all stakeholders, it is vital the government urgently clarify outstanding issues  relating to statutory obligations and compliance. 

“As the Commission’s purpose is to manage and improve sustainable coexistence between  landholders, regional communities and Queensland’s onshore gas industry, it is important we remain  committed to overseeing how well the government are implementing and enforcing the current  regulatory frameworks. 

“Our oversight function has now led us to a crucial juncture where we are publicly calling on both  government and industry to deliver marked improvements and reforms, thus allowing the sustainable  coexistence between landholders, regional communities and Queensland’s onshore gas industry to  advance,” Mr Squire said.

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