Posted on February 20, 2014 by Frances Tse

‘Getting the balance right’ for CSG reforms

In October 2013, the NSW Government introduced measures to protect certain residential land and buffer zones around that land from new coal seam gas development. In January 2014, these exclusion zones were extended to cover land in villages which meets certain criteria, but is not zoned residential, defined as ‘additional rural village land’ and land containing significant agricultural industries defined as ‘critical industry clusters’.

The NSW Government states that these reforms ‘get the balance right’ by protecting 2.8 million hectares of land across NSW including an estimated 95% of NSW dwellings covered by current petroleum licenses, and vital agricultural industry from CSG exploration and development.

The measures have been introduced through two sets of amendments to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) 2007 (‘Mining SEPP’).

The first set of amendments took effect in October 2013 and introduced the definition of ‘coal seam gas’, ‘coal seam gas exclusion zones’ and ‘buffer zones’.

Relevantly, development for the purposes of coal seam gas was prohibited on coal seam gas exclusion zones and buffer zones. That is, land within a residential zone (being land zoned R1, R2, R3, R4 and RU5), future residential growth area land (being land identified on certain maps) and land within 2km of those areas.

The second set of amendments took effect on 28 January 2014 and extended the protection of land from coal seam gas development by:

  • including ‘additional rural village land’ and ‘critical industry cluster land’ identified on certain maps as being within the coal seam gas exclusion zone,
  • amending the maps showing future residential growth area land to include more land, and
  • amending the definition of buffer zone to include land that is within 2km of any additional rural village land.

The NSW Government states that the identification of the above land occurred in consultation with local councils and through a public exhibition process during October and November 2013.

It is important to note that the prohibition on development for coal seam gas in the exclusion and buffer zones only extends to new coal seam gas development (which includes development the subject of applications made but not finally determined before 4 October 2013).

Changes were also made to the savings and transitional provisions in the Mining SEPP in January 2014 to make it clear that the prohibitions on coal seam gas development in the SEPP do not apply to any coal seam gas development that is the subject of a Part 3A approval or development consent granted before 4 October 2013, provided the development is carried out in accordance with the conditions of the approval or consent.

Industry groups such as the Urban Development Institute of Australia have responded positively to the coal seam gas reforms.