The Office of Water Science (OWS) is leading the Australian Government’s efforts to improve the understanding of the potential water-related impacts of proposed coal seam gas and large coal mining developments. OWS provides secretariat and technical support to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) as well as expert advice to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (the Department) on other water related matters.
OWS was established in 2011 to lead on the delivery of the Australian Government’s actions set out in the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (the NPA).
- More about the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (the NPA)
The Australian Government established the IESC in November 2012 under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Prior to this time, an Interim IESC operated between January and November 2012 under the NPA.
The IESC provides independent expert scientific advice to Australian governments on the potential impacts proposed coal seam gas and large coal mining developments may have on water resources. In addition, the IESC provides advice to the Australian Government on research priorities and the now completed Bioregional Assessments Programme.
OWS provides secretariat support to the IESC, as well as technical support to assist in its consideration of requests for advice on development proposals from Commonwealth and State Government regulators.
The role of OWS and the IESC with respect to advice on development proposals is outlined below:
|Liaises with Australian government regulators on requests for advice||Review requests for advice|
|Reviews requests for advice for adequacy||Reviews project assessment documentation|
|Prepares supporting analysis documentation for the IESC||Considers OWS supporting analysis|
|Presents key potential impacts to the IESC||Provides advice to Australian government regulators|
- The IESC and the assessment process under the EPBC Act
- More about the Independent Expert Scientific Committee
Other related programs
The Australian Government has finalised a program of regional-scale assessments to better understand the impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water resources across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
These assessments can be used by government, industry, the IESC, and other interested parties to manage the cumulative impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water resources and water-dependent assets such as wetlands that provide habitat for water birds or water supply bores used for agriculture.
The Department worked with program partners, the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, with input from state governments, natural resource management bodies and others, to deliver the bioregional assessments.
The Bioregional assessments program was completed in 2018.
The Australian government managed a research portfolio which aimed to strengthen the science underpinning regulatory decisions. The research program focused on areas of high risk and where there are identified knowledge gaps, and aimed to address issues of national significance.
Research projects were grouped under priority themes relating to the potential impacts on water resources from coal seam gas and large coal mining development:
- Hydrology—improved scientific understanding and prediction of changes to groundwater and surface water characteristics and processes.
- Ecosystems and water—improved scientific understanding and prediction of ecological responses to hydrological change.
- Chemicals—improved scientific understanding of potential risk from chemicals associated with coal seam gas extraction, including hazard and risk assessments, and research on movement of chemicals in surface and groundwater systems, their toxicity, and the management of salts and heavy metals.
The themes were informed by advice from the IESC and were identified following consultation with other Australian and state government agencies, industry organisations, academia, community groups, natural resource management bodies, and others in the community. A review of existing and proposed research was also undertaken to avoid duplication and better prioritise Commonwealth research investments.
A range of research products and fact sheets covering various topics across the priority themes have been released.
This research program has now finished however, the IESC still oversees some small-scale research projects.