Committee too late: Cotton Australia

SOME of Queensland's biggest coal seam gas operations are likely to escape scrutiny by a new scientific committee established to assess the dangers the industry may pose to water resources.

Cotton Australia, in its submission to the Senate Standing committee on Environment and Communication, has warned that the scientific committee had come too late to assess three of the sunshine State's largest CSG proposals.

The Senate committee is investigating changes to the nation's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act that would set up a new committee to advise the federal environment minister.

Cotton Australia policy manager Michael Murray said proposals by the British Gas-owned Queensland Gas Company; Australia-Pacific LNG and Santos' Gladstone LNG would not be assessed by the committee.

"I understand that once they've got the development approval it's really too late," Mr Murray said.

"As I understand it, the only project in Queensland that could be assessed under the committee would be the Arrow Energy Surat Basin project, because it's still at the environmental impact statement stage."

While he said he understood it was unlikely that any assessments by the committee would be made retrospectively, he said a "watching brief" should be given to the committee to ensure CSG and large coal operations were doing the right thing.

"To my knowledge, despite what both Queensland and New South Wales have been doing, nowhere is really off limits from CSG, except maybe for national parks." Mr Murray said.

While an interim scientific committee has been working since last year, it is still in the early stages, identifying regions that need more environmental research to be completed before operations should get under way.

Just shy of $25 million was allocated is in the 2012-13 Federal Budget to create a "science-based framework for coal seam gas and coal mining impacts on water" led by the interim committee.

It has already identified the Surat and Bowen Basins, Galilee Basin, Liverpool Plains, Maranoa-Balonne, Gunnedah and Clarence-Moreton regions for in-depth study of the potential hazards CSG and large coal mines may pose to water resources.

The committee members comprises six academic geological experts, including Dr Chris Moran, the director of the mining and CSG industry-funded Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland.

It is understood that when the official committee is set up, strict operating measures will be put in place, including rules to protect against conflicts of interest.

A recent New South Wales Parliamentary inquiry into CSG made a number of recommendations, including a need to hold off on any more production licenses for the industry until a regulatory framework was introduced.

That inquiry's recommendation reflects a growing public uneasiness about the industry - displayed most recently at a 7000-strong community march against the industry in Lismore on Saturday.

While the current inquiry specifically looks at the benefits and costs of instigating the official committee, the inquiry has taken submissions from both sides of the debate.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman wrote to the committee requesting that plans for the committee to publish information about the "development of standards for protecting water resources" be removed, on grounds that the plans were not agreed to by the states and such information could duplicate standards the states already have in place.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association recommended to the inquiry that any committee should not add more time to an already lengthy approval process.

While largely supporting the committee's creation, the National Farmer's Federation wrote in its submission that the committee should also take into account other industries such as geothermal energy.

The Senate committee will report its findings to parliament by June 20.

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