NT Introduces Water Amendment Bill 2019 To Make Changes Recommended By Fracking Inquiry

Monday 4 March 2019 @ 11.50 a.m. | Legal Research

On 13 February 2019, the Hon Eva Lawler, introduced the Water Amendment Bill 2019 (NT) (“the Bill”) to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. The Bill was immediately referred to the Economic Policy Scrutiny Committee for report by 7 May 2019, with submissions to the Committee due by 11 March 2019.

About The Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to relevant recommendations of the Final Report of the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory. Specifically, relevant recommendations that are addressed in this Bill include:

  • Recommendation 7.6 – Prohibition on surface water take for petroleum activities;
  • Recommendation 7.8(a) – Prohibition on water extraction for hydraulic fracturing within 1km of landowners bore without agreement or hydrogeological information;
  • Recommendation 7.9 – Prohibition on re-injection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater into aquifers; and
  • Recommendation 7.17 – Prohibition on release of hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface waters.

Brief Overview of the Amendments

The Bill proposes to amend the Water Act 1992 (NT) (the “Act”) by inserting into Part 2 a new Division 3, including sections 17A, 17B, 17C, and making other consequential amendments to the Act to ensure that disposal of hydraulic fracturing waste to surface water and groundwater is prohibited under the Act.

The Bill also introduces new offence and penalty provisions for the prohibitions that align with existing penalties within the Act and comply with Part IIAA of the Criminal Code (NT).

The Final Report was handed to the NT Government in April 2018.

Terms of Reference of the Inquiry

The Terms of Reference required the Panel to assess and determine:

  • the nature and extent of the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing of on-shore unconventional shale gas reservoirs and its associated activities on the environmental (aquatic, terrestrial and atmospheric), social, cultural and economic conditions of the NT;
  • whether these risks can be mitigated to an acceptable level;
  • if they can, by what methodology or methodologies can these risks be mitigated; and
  • whether the existing regulatory framework is sufficient to implement these methodologies, and if not, what changes need to be made.

Reaction and Comment on the Bill

In the Minister’s Second Reading Speech, she commented:

“… The purpose of this bill is to amend the Water Act to ensure that there is no way for decisions to be made which do not align with these recommendations [contained in Final Report of the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory] and to prevent future challenges of either a decision of the controller or those made under the petroleum environment regulations …”

An article in Utility Magazine notes:

“… The bill will not impede the reuse of wastewater for future hydraulic fracturing operations. This would improve water use efficiency and be managed through the risk assessment process associated with any environment management plan approval. It also won’t prohibit existing wastewater management practices undertaken by conventional petroleum producers …”

The article also quotes the Minister as saying:

“Water is a precious resource and we need to manage it responsibly to ensure its sustainability … The sustainable use of the Territory’s water resources is crucial for the health of our rivers, aquifers and water‑dependent ecosystems … It also crucial to protect the thousands of jobs in the tourism, fishing, cattle and agriculture industries that rely on the health of our water systems.”

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