Thursday 16/05/13 Kate Dowler, The Weekly Times
VICTORIA urgently needs to tighten its mining laws before signing up to national guidelines for coal seam gas extraction.
That's according to the Environment Defenders Office.
The advocacy group said the state had a unique opportunity to come up with comprehensive laws that allow fracking only where the impacts would be acceptable to the community.
EDO principal lawyer Felicity Millner said Victoria's mining laws did not require landholders to be informed when a mining company was licensed to explore for CSG.
The laws do not ensure a thorough, independent assessment of the environmental impacts (of CSG), Ms Millner said.
In NSW and Queensland, dangerous BTEX chemicals, which are carcinogenic and used in fracking, have been banned. NSW and Queensland also have provisions requiring extra levels of environmental assessment if CSG extraction will affect important agricultural land.
Fracking is banned within 2km of a town. Victorian laws provide no such protection.
Ms Millner said the current Victorian moratorium on fracking would be lifted when the national regulatory framework on CSG was finalised, within a couple of months' time.
Once the moratorium is lifted, fracking can proceed under Victoria's antiquated and inadequate mining laws.
A spokeswoman for Victorian Energy and Resources Minister Nicholas Kotsiras said the Government announced changes to the regulation of CSG last year to provide greater certainty in the lead-up to the preparation of a National Harmonised Framework for CSG.
These included a hold on approvals to undertake hydraulic fracturing and a hold on the issuing of new exploration licences for CSG, she said.
These activities remain on hold until the national framework proposals have been considered. The Government is taking the time to ensure the oversight of onshore gas remains strong and continues to protect the environment and agricultural industries.
Meanwhile, federal opposition resources spokesman Ian McFarlane said his party's policy was farmers should have right of veto over mining on prime farmland.
But he conceded the policy would not be enforceable because states managed mining, not the Commonwealth.