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The South Australian Government has a responsibility to ensure that South Australian water resources are allocated and used to achieve socially and economically beneficial outcomes in a way that is environmentally sustainable for all users, now and in the future.

A number of government agencies deliver a range of water management functions including (but not limited to):

  • Water planning and management and regulation of water markets (Department for Environment and Water (DEW) and Landscapes boards)
  • Rural/bulk water supply and services (SA Water)
  • Water quality (Environment Protection Authority)
  • Water pricing and industry regulation (Essential Services Commission of South Australia).

The South Australian Government aims to balance the demands for water for consumption, the environment and other non-consumptive uses at three broad levels:

  • management and control of water resources on behalf of all South Australians
  • prescribing water resources, granting entitlements to water and setting sustainable limits and caps on use
  • providing individual rights to water

If not managed properly, energy developments can potentially have an adverse impacts on local or regional water resource quality and availability affecting both future growth in these industries as well as other uses including household, stock, irrigation and other economic use, cultural use and the environment. Water use in the energy resources sector include usage for industrial use such as exploration drilling, hydraulic fracturing, oil and gas production operations, plant and equipment cleaning, dust suppression, and cooling. In addition, water is extracted as a by-product of oil and gas production, otherwise known as co-produced or produced formation water (PFW).

The Department, through the statutory activity approval process, requires that risks associated with energy resource development to water resources in the State are identified and managed to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP), and meets the expectations of the community and regulators.

The Department applies a one window approach to the effective regulation of all petroleum and gas exploration, development and production activities. The Department is responsible for ensuring a streamlined, coordinated approach to the assessment and consultation on industry developed Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) and Statement of Environmental Objectives (SEO), and ensuring that the proponent meets all other legislative requirements.

Water planning, management and regulation

The Department for Environment and Water (DEW) is the lead agency for monitoring, planning and managing the State’s water resources and provides policy, technical advice and data on matters related to water and natural resources, including for technical assessments regulated under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 (PGE Act) and the Landscapes SA Act. DEW works in partnership with the State’s eight regional landscape boards, industry and landholders. Responsibilities include:

  • administering the Landscapes SA Act;
  • coordinating associated water allocation plans;
  • issuing permits for water affecting activities (including well construction permits), water licences or approvals to take water by Ministerial authorisation on behalf of the Minister for Environment and Water;
  • monitoring compliance with conditions of water licences and permits for water affecting activities
  • reporting and responding to incidents that may impact on water resources (where relevant).

For more information on water related matters administered by DEW, please see the links below:

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Water allocation plans

Petroleum exploration or production licence holders, under the PGE Act, are required to provide for their water requirements within the framework of the Landscape South Australia Act 2019 (Landscapes Act), as is the case with all other water users. This legislation requires that any water use is undertaken in accordance with principles set out in the relevant Landscapes Plan and the relevant Water Allocation Plan (WAP).

A WAP is a legal document that sets out the rules for managing, taking and using prescribed water. WAPs seek to provide security and equity between water users while balancing the capacity of the region’s water resources and the needs of the environment. It is developed with the community, industry and key stakeholders for each water resource identified as being significant, or ‘prescribed’, under the Landscapes Act.

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The National Partnership agreement on coal seam gas and large coal mining development

In March 2012, South Australia signed the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (NPA). South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria and are all signed parties to the NPA.

The Agreement strengthens the regulation of coal seam gas (CSG) and large coal mining by informing decisions with best-available science and advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Developments (IESC).

The IESC aims to improve the collective scientific understanding of the water-related impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments through targeted research and a transparent assessment process. The IESC provides advice on the direct and cumulative impacts of proposed coal seam gas and large coal mining developments across the NPA participating states, allowing a more comprehensive review of potential impacts to water resources, particularly those that cross state boundaries.

Under the Agreement, and in line with the South Australian Protocol all coal seam gas or large coal mining proposals must be referred to the IESC for advice if the proposal is likely to have a significant impact on water resources, either in its own right or cumulatively with other actions. As with other stakeholder consultation, IESC advice informs decision-making on licences and conditions.

To streamline the referrals process and allow for an informed assessment of impacts on water resources, project applications should meet the information requirements in the Information Guidelines for Proposals Relating to the Development of Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mines where there is Significant Impact on Water Resources.

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Environmental management

The Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 (PGE Act) defines ‘environment’ as:

  • Land, air, water (including both surface and underground water), organisms and ecosystems – this includes native vegetation and fauna;
  • Buildings, structures and cultural artefacts;
  • Productive capacity or potential;
  • The external manifestations of social and economic life which includes aspects such as human health and wellbeing; and
  • The amenity values of an area.

This definition of environment is consistent with the Environment Protection Act 1993 definition, and is broad to ensure that potential impacts on all natural, social and economic aspects of the environment are identified, considered, and appropriately addressed through the environmental assessment and approval provisions of the PGE Act.

As part of the environmental assessment and approvals process, licensees are required to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for proposed regulated activities. This document addresses the potential threats and risks on the environment, and outlines their potential frequency as well as the extent to which these threats can be managed. A Statement of Environmental Objectives (SEO), based on information provided in the EIR, must state the environmental objectives to be achieved in carrying out the specified activities, as well as the assessment criteria used to assess whether the objectives have been achieved by the licensee.

These features of a SEO provide transparency to stakeholders on what is required of the licensee in terms of its environmental performance.

Notably, licensees have obligations under legislation other than the PGE Act, and where possible the objectives of those other legislation are captured within SEO’s for activities under the PGE Act.

As part of the approvals process, subsequent to approval of a relevant SEO, licensees are required to notify, and where relevant, seek approval from ERD prior to commencing any regulated activity within a licence area.

With respect to environmental reporting obligations, a licensee is required to provide an assessment determining whether the proposed activity is covered by an existing and approved SEO, in addition to detailing how the licensee will ensure that the proposed activity will satisfy the respective SEO requirements, including those in relation the environment.

More information on the environmental assessment and approvals process is available on the activity approvals process.

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Protected and conservation areas

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Areas with special natural, social or economic value, including areas proclaimed for protection or reserved for conservation purposes in South Australia include those administered by the Department of Environment and Water under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972Crown Land Management Act 2009Native Vegetation Act 1991 and Wilderness Protection Act 1992.

Approximately 74 percent of onshore protected areas allow access for mineral, geothermal and petroleum exploration and development. While the legislation is designed for conservation purposes, there are provisions for joint proclamations and regional reserves both of which allow access for mineral and petroleum exploration and development. Where access is excluded, this excludes both surface and subsurface access.

Further information is available on the conservation areas page.

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Aboriginal interests

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 (AHA Act) is the principal legislation that protects Aboriginal heritage and covers all areas of South Australia. The AHA Act provides protection for Aboriginal remains and Aboriginal sites and objects of significance to Aboriginal archaeology, anthropology, history and tradition. The AHA Act applies to all persons, including those operating under the PGE Act and the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1982.

In order to comply with obligations under other legislation, including the AHA Act, licensees are required to incorporate objectives relevant to other legislation within SEO’s for activities under the PGE Act. In relation to the AHA Act this includes incorporating objectives which protect Aboriginal heritage.

Licensees are required to understand the legal frameworks relevant to their project including legal obligations to protect Aboriginal heritage. These obligations will inform consultation regarding Aboriginal heritage surveys and clearances, Land Access Agreements, Indigenous land use agreements (ILUAs), native title mining agreements and cultural heritage management plans.

Under the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993, AHA Act and various Aboriginal land holding Acts, licensees are expected to have taken reasonable steps to involve the relevant Aboriginal organisations in the project planning of operations to assess the likely impacts on Aboriginal heritage before commencing ground-disturbing exploration or development.

Aboriginal Heritage Guidelines for Resource Projects in South Australia

More information is available on the Aboriginal interests page.

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