Monday, 28 October 2013

The gateway process commences for the assessment of mining and petroleum development

On 4 October 2013, the gateway assessment process for mining and petroleum development on strategic agricultural lands came into effect through amendments to the State Environment Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) Amendment 2013 (NSW) (Mining SEPP Amendment) and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Gateway Process for Strategic Agricultural Land) Regulation 2013 (NSW) (Gateway Regulation).

The gateway assessment is an independent, upfront scientific assessment of the impact of new state significant mining and petroleum development on strategic agricultural land and its associated water resources.  The gateway assessment process must be undertaken before certain mining and petroleum development can proceed to full environmental assessment.

Updated strategic agricultural land maps have been included in the Mining SEPP Amendment identifying areas of biophysical strategic agricultural land and critical industry cluster land (such as viticulture in the Hunter Valley).  At this stage the gateway process applies to two million hectares of strategic agricultural land which was mapped in the Upper Hunter and New England North West regions of the state. Mapping of the remaining areas of the state is currently underway.

The Mining and Petroleum Gateway Panel (Gateway Panel), comprising independent scientific experts, has now been established to review proposed mining or petroleum development and issue gateway certificates.

This means that if you propose to lodge an application for a mining or petroleum development on specified strategic agricultural land at any point in the future, your application must be accompanied by a gateway certificate in respect of the proposed development, or a site verification certificate that certifies that the land on which the proposed development is to be carried out is not biophysical strategic agricultural land.

Site verification certificates

A site verification process has been introduced by the Government to enable proponents of mining and petroleum development, and in some circumstances landowners, to verify if land is classified as biophysical strategic agricultural land.

A proponent or landowner can apply to the Director-General of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure for a site verification certificate confirming that specified land within the area of a development is or is not biophysical strategic agricultural land.

When determining an application for a site verification certificate, the Director-General must have regard to the criteria set out in the Interim Protocol for Site Verification and Mapping of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land published in the NSW Government Gazette on 12 April 2013.

In addition, if a proponent identifies that the proposed project site contains land identified as strategic agricultural land in the relevant maps, the proponent can choose to challenge this status by applying to the Director-General for a site verification certificate.  The fee for the site verification certificate is $3,900.

If the Proponent is not the landowner, prior to requesting a site verification certificate, written notice must be provided to the owner of land or an advertisement must be published in a newspaper circulating in the area in which the development is to be carried out within specified time periods.

The Gateway Regulation now requires site verification certificates to be included in s149 planning certificates issued by local councils.

Gateway certificates

A gateway certificate can be issued by the Gateway Panel and is issued as an ‘unconditional certificate’ (if the proposed development meets the relevant criteria) or as a ‘conditional certificate’ (if the proposed development does not meet the relevant criteria).  A gateway certificate is valid for five years.

A conditional certificate will include recommendations of the Gateway Panel to address the proposed development’s failure to meet relevant criteria and the certificate may also recommend that further studies be undertaken.

If a gateway certificate application relates to development on land that has been identified as biophysical strategic agricultural land, the Gateway Panel must refer the application to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IES Committee) established under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) for advice regarding the impact of the proposed development on water sources.

Changes to the environmental assessment process

Development applications for mining and petroleum projects will now have added complexity, as the gateway process introduces additional formal steps prior to (and in some circumstances during) the environmental assessment process.

If a gateway certificate has been issued for a proposed development, the Gateway Regulation requires the Director-General to address any recommendations of the Gateway Panel set out in the gateway certificate.  The Director-General must also consult with the Gateway Panel when preparing environmental assessment requirements for the proposed development, and have regard to the need for the requirements to assess any key issues raised by the Gateway Panel during the consultation process.

The Gateway Regulation also requires the Director-General to have regard to any gateway certificate recommendations of the Gateway Panel, even if the certificate is issued after a proponent has been notified of environmental assessment requirements.  The Gateway Regulation includes a provision which enables the Director-General to modify those environmental assessment requirements if it is considered necessary.

The Gateway Regulation now also require a consent authority to refer an application for development consent for a mining or petroleum development that is accompanied by a gateway certificate, to the Minister for Primary Industries for advice regarding the impact of the proposed development on water resources.  The Minister for Primary Industries when considering the impacts of a proposed development on water resources must have regard to the Aquifer Interference Policy, and particularly the minimal impact provisions.

Coal seam gas development exclusion zones

The Mining SEPP Amendment also introduces additional coal seam gas development exclusion zones and buffer zones (land within two kilometres of an exclusion zone), which prohibits coal seam gas development on or under certain land.

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