As we previously reported1, a consequence of the High Court of Australia’s decision in Forrest & Forrest Pty Ltd v Wilson2 is unexpected and unhelpful uncertainty regarding the validity of the grant of certain mining leases in Western Australia.
The State Government and the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) are continuing to assess an appropriate legislative fix for the issues arising out of the High Court’s decision. Although this assessment is ongoing, the DMP has publicly indicated that the legislative fix will not cover mining lease applications which (in DMP’s opinion) are affected by the High Court’s decision. Affected applicants will be required to re-submit new mining lease applications that comply with the relevant requirements of the Mining Act. The DMP has not indicated (at this stage) whether the same approach will be taken for other applications for mining tenure which have similar document lodgement requirements.
On 29 August 2012, the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources (Environment) Regulations 2012 (WA) (Environment Regulations) commenced operation, codifying the existing requirement for all onshore petroleum activities to have an approved Environment Plan. To support the Environment Regulations, the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) has also published Guidelines for the preparation of an Environment Plan (Guidelines) and an Information Sheet on chemical disclosure (Information Sheet).
The Environment Regulations were developed following Dr Tina Hunter’s report ‘Regulation of Shale, Coal Seam and Tight Gas Activities in Western Australia’ (Hunter Report). The Hunter Report found that while the DMP’s processes to protect the environment from onshore petroleum activities were adequate, the regime lacked legal enforceability. Dr Hunter recommended that the Environment Regulations be written to provide legal certainty and ensure enforceability.
Increasing media attention around onshore unconventional gas activities in WA, in particular fraccing, has in part elevated stakeholder concerns. This is recognised in the Hunter Report, with the use of chemicals in the fraccing process identified by Dr Hunter as a cause of ‘community distress’. Dr Hunter recommended that the DMP provide full, transparent disclosure of all chemicals used in WA fraccing operations and this requirement has been built into the Environment Regulations.
Complying with the new chemical disclosure requirements, particularly in respect to the protection of proprietary information, is a key concern arising from these reforms.
Read our WA Fraccing regulations article here.