Important legislation changes for landholders, February 2017
AgForce Projects Coal Seam Gas (CSG) and Mining Landholder Support Project is dedicated to providing free and easily accessible information about the CSG and mining industry to landholders across Queensland. The Project is also committed to advising on developments regarding legislation and policy as well as assisting landholders to negotiate effective and beneficial agreements.
The project aims to provide landholders across Queensland with independent, factual and landholder relevant information to support them managing resource activities at any stage; from preliminary negotiations to ongoing management.
Over the course of 2015-2016 the Queensland Government made a number of important legislative and policy amendments to resource legislation governing the CSG and mining sectors and the interactions with agriculture. This webinar provided landholders with an overview of the key changes throughout this period, as of February 2017, and outlines why these are important to landholders.
Some of the key changes include:
- The proposal to develop and implement a 'Land Access Ombudsmen' as an independent body that will hear disputes between resource companies and landholders;
- A review into the GasFields Commission was released in December 2016 and outlines the new path and focus for the Commission as well as a new Chairperson, Ruth Wade, former CEO of Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF);
- Landholders that are involved in 'Make Good' negotiations will be able to seek expert hydrogeological advice and have their necessary and reasonable costs covered by the responsible resource company;
- There will be a consistent groundwater management framework for both mining and CSG, governed under Chapter 3 of the Water Act (2000);
- Conduct and Compensation Agreements (CCAs) will be noted on title, similar to that of an easement agreement; and
- Landholders will have the option to sign and enter into an 'op-out agreement' instead of signing a CCA.
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Below are a selection of questions raised by landholders before and during the webinar and the CSG & Mining team's response to these questions.
What will be the role of the 'Land Access Ombudsmen' and will it relate to the GasFields Commission?
The role of the Land Access Ombudsmen will be to hear disputes between resource companies and landholders and to provide input, guidance, advice and resolution options to both parties. It is important to be aware that the land access ombudsmen will only be involved in dispute resolution post agreement, i.e. after a CCA has been signed.
At this stage there is no proposal for the ombudsmen to be involved in dispute resolution while a CCA (Land access agreement) is being negotiated or review the behaviour of either party during these negotiations.
The proposed introduction of a Land Access Ombudsmen will be separate from the GasFields Commission and the two will carry out different functions and roles.
AgForce are continuing to work with the State Government and all stakeholders regarding the roles, functions and responsibilities of the land access ombudsmen.
Click here for more information on both the review into the GasFields Commission, including the proposed recommendations, and to learn more about the Land Access Ombudsmen.
What are landholder rights in Make Good negotiations and can we get expert advice?
If your bore is predicted to experience an impact, through a regional groundwater model, or is experiencing an actual impact as a result of CSG activities, then the responsible company has an obligation to 'Make Good' under Chapter 3 of the Water Act (2000).
Amendments to the Water Act since 2014-2016 have expanded the make good framework to cover both CSG and most mining activities. This process will give landholders more certainty about their rights to protect their bore and what framework the company is operating under. This process came into action in December 2016 and there are transitional arrangements being finalised for existing mine operations.
Another important amendment through this process was the inclusion of expert hydrogeological (groundwater) advice to landholders during make good negotiations. As a result, during make good negotiations landholders will have their necessary and reasonable accounting, valuation, legal and now groundwater advice costs paid for by the responsible resource company.
AgForce are working with a number of industry partners including the International Association of Hydrogeologists, to develop guidance material to assist landholders find experts and understand what support they may require during these negotiations.
A 5 business day cooling off period has recently been introduced, where landholders can terminate their make good agreement without penalty.
AgForce encourages any landholders that are actively negotiating a make good agreement or believe are experiencing a water supply issue to contact the CSG & Mining Project Team.
My bore is being impacted by gas, am I entitled to a make good agreement?
Under changes made to the Water Act through the Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2016 (EPOLA), landholder rights have been expanded to include a 'make good' agreement for bores that are or are likely to be impaired due to free gas generated by a CSG company (i.e. gassy bores).
It is for this reason that AgForce encourage landholders to negotiate a baseline bore assessment as part of any conduct and compensation agreement (CCA) and to include ongoing monitoring for the duration of activities. Part of this monitoring should include taking a baseline gas content from the bore to identify any changes in gas content from CSG or other activities that may create a supply or health risk.
Landholders with any questions regarding this process are encouraged to contact the CSG & Mining Team for information.
What are op-out agreements? Am I required to sign one?
Through amendments made to legislation over the course of 2015/2016 landholders and resource companies will be given the ability to enter into 'op-out' agreements. This in essence a shorter agreement stating that the landholder agrees to 'opt-out' of the land access framework (including minimum negotiation timeframes) and the requirement to negotiate a detailed conduct and compensation agreement (CCA).
Landholders should be aware that there is no requirement to sign an opt-out agreement. For all advanced activities (activities that are likely to have an impact, such as wells, roads etc.) a landholder can still require that the company wanting to gain access to their property negotiate a CCA and are still entitled to have their necessary and reasonable legal, accounting and valuation costs reimbursed by the company during CCA negotiations.
The intention behind these opt-out provisions are targeted at small scale exploration where a relationship between the landholder and company exists as well as solid understanding of the activities. AgForce strongly encourage all landholders to very carefully consider what you are being asked to agree to and compare the safeguards an opt-out agreement provides vs signing a detailed Conduct and Compensation Agreement (CCA) and we ask any landholder considering this to contact our CSG & Mining Team.
Some additional key points about opt-out agreements are:
- An opt-out agreement must be accompanied by a special information form, in a prescribed form by the Queensland Government;
- Are subject to a 10 day cooling off period; and
- Do not negate a company's liability to compensate an eligible landholder.
Any landholder that has been approached to sign an opt-out agreement and are unsure what this means are encouraged to contact the CSG & Mining Team for information.
What are restricted lands and how do these work?
Recent amendments to resource legislation in Queensland have introduced standardised 'restricted lands' for CSG, petroleum and mining companies. These amendments create a standardised 'buffer zone' around property infrastructure, such as houses and bores, and activities from resource companies can only take place within these prescribed distances with approval from the landholder.
The distances are:
- 50m buffer around key infrastructure such as principal stockyards, bores and artesian wells, dams and artificial water storages connected to a water supply; and
- 200m buffer around permanent buildings including places of residence.
A property map developed by AgForce showing property features (house and bores) in relation to proposed CSG infrastructure (CSG wells and roads) and highlighting buffer zones around these areas, being a useful tool in CCA negotiations.
It is important that landholders recognise that companies are still required to comply with environmental authority conditions (i.e. light, noise and dust pollution) and that these restricted areas are only minimum distances, and that all activity locations still require negotiation between the landholder and resource company.
This new framework will only apply to tenures that were applied for and granted after the 27th of September 2016. So if you are negotiating with a CSG or mining company for activities on your property and their tenure was granted before this date, these regulations will not apply.
For CSG operations that had a tenure prior to these amendments coming into place, landholders will continue to retain a 600m buffer zone around houses that will require a conduct and compensation agreement (CCA) for any activities within this zone whether these are preliminary activities (such as field sampling and small seismic operations) or advanced activities (such as drilling a well, clearing tracks or intensive seismic).
AgForce Projects CSG & Mining Team can help you to understand this process and assist landholders to develop property maps to identify these property areas and develop buffer zones around property features to then to assist in negotiations.
For more information on these amendments and to understand how the project can help you map these areas please contact us.
CSG & Mining Project Team- (07) 3236 3100 – firstname.lastname@example.org