EPA gain greater powers to monitor gas activities in NSW

Recent changes to legislation will require that all gas industry activities in NSW will require an environment protection licence enabling the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to oversee gas activities through development phases from exploration to production.

The Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (NSW Gas Plan) Regulation 2014 came into effect on December 19, 2014, amending Protection of Environment Operations acts of 1997 and (General) 2009.

NSW EPA chief environment regulator Mark Gifford said the amendment formed part of the expanded compliance role of the EPA, as a key part of the NSW Gas Plan, and gave the EPA direct regulatory oversight of gas activities to ensure effective, consistent and transparent regulation of the industry.

“All gas exploration, assessment and production activities, including conventional gas, coal seam gas, tight gas and shale gas are now required to hold an environment protection licence issued by the EPA,” he said.

“An environment protection licence contains legally enforceable site specific conditions, which holders must comply with in order to prevent and minimise pollution, and safeguard the environment.”

Gifford said the changes brought environmental regulation of all petroleum activities in line with 2013 amendments to better regulate coal seam gas activities.

“It enables the EPA to oversee gas activities through all development phases, from the outset of exploration to production,” he said.

“It also provides certainty for industry and the community about the environmental regulation of gas activities.”

The legislation covers all forms of gas without distinction, whether conventional and unconventional, under the term ‘petroleum’ meaning any naturally occurring hydrocarbon.

The amendment provides a new administrative fee scale for gas activities, and requires licensed operators to pay load-based fees on specific assessable pollutants when annual capacity production of a project exceeds 0.5 petajoules.

Gas facilities required to hold an environment protection licence have three months from the regulation commencement to apply for a licence or a licence variation, which means applications must be lodged by 19 March 2015.

“The EPA will work proactively with existing holders of coal seam gas related licences to ensure that the variation process is streamlined and efficient,” Gifford said.

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