Fracking reforms 

 

 

The EDONT has a vital role to play in holding the government to account to deliver strong environmental laws to regulate fracking. 

We are participating as a member of the Northern Territory Government's Reference Group.  We provide advice and oversight of the implementation of the Inquiry's recommendations.  Details about how the Northern Territory Government is proposing to implement all 135 recommendations is set out in their Implementation Plan

Where we have the opportunity, we are making submissions on draft laws and regulations, and are available to provide the community with legal information and updates about these reforms. 

On this page, we are publishing information to assist the community to understand the legal and regulatory reforms being proposed. 

You can also read our Fact Sheets to understand how environmental law works in the Northern Territory. We are in the process of developing new fact sheets specifically about fracking.

In 2018, following a Scientific Inquiry, the Northern Territory Government announced its intention to lift the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, and implement an ambitious reform program that will fundamentally re-shape the Territory's environmental regulatory framework.

EDONT principal lawyer Gillian Duggin presenting a seminar about environmental and fracking law reforms, Alice Springs November 2018

Latest news

draft Code of Practice - Onshore Petroleum Activities (released 4 April 2019) 

The draft Code of Practice - Onshore Petroleum Activities has been released for public comment. 

The Code is intended to set enforceable standards to regulate onshore petroleum activities, including fracking. It has four main components: 

  • Surface activities

  • Well operations 

  • Well site water management

  • Methane emissions.

The draft Code is open for public comment until 2 May 2019. 

Water Amendment Bill 2019 (introduced 13 February 2019) 

The government introduced the Water Amendment Bill 2019 in mid February 2019.

This is the latest piece of legislation that forms part of the government's plan to implement identified 'key recommendations' of the Fracking Inquiry (p456), prior to any exploration activities commencing. 

The Bill proposes amendments to the Water Act that seek to implement the following recommendations:

  • a prohibition on the use of surface water resources for fracking (recommendation 7.6)

  • a prohibition on the extraction of water for fracking within 1km of groundwater bores, unless there is landholder agreement or hydrogeological investigations and groundwater monitoring indicate another distance is appropriate (recommendation 7.8a) 

  • a prohibition on the reinjection of treated or untreated fracking waste water into aquifers and conventional reservoirs (recommendation 7.9)

  • a prohibition on the discharge of treated or untreated wastewater into waterways (recommendation 7.17). 

The Bill has been referred to the Economic Policy Scrutiny Committee of parliament for inquiry and the public can make submissions until 11 March 2019.  The Committee must report back by 7 May 2019. 

You can find the Minister's Second Reading Speech and the Explanatory Statement, together with the text of the Bill itself, here

 

While EDONT supports the intent of this Bill, which is to legislate various prohibitions to protect water quality and access, we are concerned that some of the Bill's clauses do not appropriately or effectively implement the recommendations. In our submission to the Committee, we have explained our issues and suggested amendments to resolve them.  

See our submission here

Petroleum Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 (passed 19 March 2019)

In late 2018, the government introduced the Petroleum Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. 

The Bill is intended to implement recommendation 14.12 (requiring applicants for exploration permits and production licences be a 'fit and proper person'), recommendation 14.23 (providing open standing for judicial review of decisions under the Petroleum Act and Petroleum (Environment) Regulations, and recommendation 5.1 (enabling enforceable codes of practice to be made). 

Submissions were due to the Economic Policy Scrutiny Committee by 30 January 2018.

 

See our submission here. 

 

The Committee tabled its report on 12 March 2019, available here.  The report recommended some amendments to the Bill, including some recommended drafting changes proposed by EDONT. 

Parliament debated the Bill on Tuesday 19 March 2019 and passed the Bill, incorporating the Committee's amendments.  Draft minutes of the Parliamentary debate are here. 

 

Although EDONT would have liked to see further amendments made to strengthen the drafting of the Bill, we generally support the Bill's provisions. We consider the new provisions in the Petroleum Act will bring greater accountability and rigour to decision-making about petroleum activities. 

 

In particular, it is significant that the NT will now have 'open standing' for judicial review in the Petroleum Act, that technical 'codes of practice' that will apply to fracking operations will be enforceable, and that operators will have to demonstrate they are 'appropriate' to hold a permit or licence, based on matters such as the company's compliance record, technical competence and general honesty/integrity. 

Amended Petroleum (Environment) Regulations 2018 (commenced 19 December 2018)

In late 2018, the government made changes to the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations to implement some of the Inquiry recommendations:

  • to ensure the consideration of 'cumulative effects' prior to the grant of exploration approvals (recommendation 14.19)

  • to require publication of environmental incidents (recommendation 14.16) 

  • to require draft Environment Management Plans (EMPs), which are environmental approvals required prior to fracking exploration and production, be made available for public comment prior to the Minister deciding whether to approve or refuse the EMP (recommendation 14.15)

  • to require the disclosure and publication of chemical use, flowback and produced water (recommendation 7.10). 

There was no public consultation on the details of these amendments prior to being made. 

Water Act amendments passed into law

The government has recently passed the Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. 

The Bill removed the current exemption for mining and petroleum activities for a water extraction licence (recommendation 7.1) that currently exists in the Water Act. To our knowledge, the Bill does not attempt to implement any other recommendations.  

The Bill also updated offences in the Water Act and increases penalty amounts. 

See EDONT's submission here

NTEPA Act amendments passed into law 

The government recently passed the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority Amendment Bill 2018.

 

The Bill introduced some changes to the governance and role of the NTEPA that are linked to the fracking reforms, in particular to support the proposed role of the Minister for the Environment to be the new approval authority for environment management plans (EMPs) under the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations, ostensibly to implement Inquiry recommendation 14.34.   

See EDONT's submission here

Background resources

EDONT made three written submissions into the Independent Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory

 

Many of our recommendations relating to the legal and regulatory framework were adopted in the Final Report and adopted by the NT Government (which accepted all 135 recommendations of the Inquiry). 

EDONT's written submissions are here:

 

The Final Report of the Scientific Inquiry can be found here.  

You can help support our important legal work to protect the Northern Territory's environment by making a donation.  

© 2019 Environmental Defenders Office (NT) Inc.