Labor Promises To Extend ‘Water Trigger’ To Shale And Tight Seam Gas


The Labor Party has promised to tighten environmental regulations around unconventional gas mining by extending the so-called ‘water trigger’ to include shale and tight seam gas developments.

The trigger was brought into national environmental law in 2013. It means water is recognised as a matter of national environmental significance, paving the way for higher environmental protections and a requirement for Federal approval in many cases.

However, a loophole in the reform has meant shale and tight seam gas are not covered. In a statement today, Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler said Labor would move to ensure those gas formations are brought into the fold, as the nation faces the possibility of a boom similar to the rapid expansion of the coal seam gas industry over recent years.

Environmental groups have welcomed the move and called on the Government to match it.

“When mining companies extract shale gas by fracking, they inject massive quantities of water and chemicals into underground aquifers, polluting precious artesian water,” said the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Campaigns Director Paul Sinclair.

“The Gillard government, with independent MP Tony Windsor, introduced a water trigger to the federal environment law to protect water from coal seam gas fracking,” he said.

“Fracking for shale and tight gas remains exempt from this legislation, even though these other forms of unconventional gas extraction do virtually the same sort of damage to the environment as CSG fracking does.”

IMAGE: Simon Fraser University, Flickr.
IMAGE: Simon Fraser University, Flickr.

The National Director of the Wilderness Society, Lyndon Schneiders said expanding the water trigger would “help protect water resources in some of our most iconic and parched landscapes,” like the Kimberley and Queensland’s Channel Country.

However, Schneiders continued a campaign which is building pace across the environment movement for a dramatic overhaul of environmental law to strengthen and streamline it, saying “the community has lost faith in the approvals process and [now]take to the streets and courts instead”.

“We need environmental laws we can all trust. We need a whole new regulatory framework that includes national independent assessment and approvals,” he said. “We need independent assessment, not consultants paid for by developers and miners. Nobody can have faith with that.”

Lock the Gate took a similar tact. National Convener Phil Laird went on the attack over the Coaliton’s plan to hand off its environmental powers to the “untrustworthy” states and territories, in what has been roundly condemned as a substantial watering down of environmental laws.

“It’s not acceptable to regional Australia for crucial matters like these to be partisan, and this important promise to close an accidental loophole in the EPBC water trigger and keep it in Federal hands must be immediately matched by Water Minister Barnaby Joyce,” Laird said.

“We also urge the Labor Party, and all other parties, to go further and make commitments over the next six weeks to no-go zones and a strengthened Independent Expert Scientific Committee with more power to protect water resources” he said.

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.