Queensland Resources Projects: Strategic Cropping Land

Articles Written by Paul Jardine (Consultant)

Recent announcements

The Queensland Government has announced additional details of its proposals for restriction of developments affecting Strategic Cropping Land (SCL).

New SCL legislation is to be introduced into Parliament later this year. Developments such as open cut mining, coal seam gas projects, underground coal gasification, long-wall/underground mining, urban uses and permanent forest plantations are to be assessed under the new legislation.

From 30 May 2011, transitional arrangements will apply to proposed coal, mineral, gas and petroleum resource development projects which have met specified milestones in the approvals process. These transitional projects may be allowed to proceed on SCL without being subject to the full assessment proposed under the new legislation.

The Queensland Government has also released for public comment a Regulatory Assessment Statement (RAS) which contains a limited economic assessment of the proposed legislation. Submissions on this RAS must be made by Wednesday 29 June 2011.

Strategic cropping protection areas and strategic cropping management areas

For the purposes of identifying land which may fall within the proposed legislation, maps have been released showing Strategic Cropping Protection Areas and the Strategic Cropping Management Area.

There are two Strategic Cropping Protection Areas - one in Central Queensland (covering areas of the southern Bowen Basin) and one in Southern Queensland (covering areas of the Surat Basin and other areas of the southern and northern Darling Downs).

Under the proposed SCL legislation, projects on land located in proposed Strategic Cropping Protection Areas will be assessed to ensure they do not permanently alienate SCL (except in limited exceptional circumstances).

Projects on land located in the proposed Strategic Cropping Management Area will be assessed to ensure they avoid, minimise and mitigate their impacts on SCL.

The proposed criteria for determining if land is SCL were released on 14 April 2011. The onus on establishing whether land is not SCL will fall on the proposed developer.

Transitional arrangements

The transitional arrangements will apply to proposed coal, mineral, gas and petroleum resource development projects that have met certain milestones in the approvals process. These transitional projects may be allowed to proceed on SCL.

Those resource development projects that had not achieved the specified milestones in the approvals process as at 30 May 2011 will be subject to the full extent of the new legislation.

Project milestones

It is intended that the eligibility milestones for the transitional arrangements will be as follows:

  • For resource production projects that require or have voluntarily undertaken an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS):
    • if a mining lease application - the project had, by 31 May 2011, finalised EIS Terms of Reference (TOR) and there was also a certificate of application under section 252 of the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) (MRA)
    • if a petroleum lease application - the project had, by 31 May 2011, finalised EIS TOR and an application had been lodged under relevant petroleum legislation and accepted by the relevant administering authority; or
    • for a future petroleum lease application lodged after 31 May 2011 under relevant petroleum legislation - the project had, by 31 May 2011, finalised EIS TOR and held an existing Authority to Prospect (ATP) where the ATP area is part of the project covered by the finalised EIS TOR.
  • For resource production projects not requiring an EIS - there was a draft Environmental Authority (EA) under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) granted by 31 May 2011.
  • For projects that relate to expansion of existing mines under the MRA - there were existing Exploration Permits or Mineral Development Licences held by the existing mine owner and contiguous with the existing production tenure as at 23 August 2010, and a certificate of application under section 252 of the MRA is obtained by August 2012.

Proposed SCL requirements for eligible transitional projects

The Government proposes that projects falling within the categories outlined above may be allowed to proceed even if the projects may permanently alienate SCL. However, those projects within Protected Areas which fall within the above categories but have not already obtained their final statutory environmental approvals or conditions will also be required to demonstrate that 'all efforts' have been made to avoid permanently alienating SCL.

Projects not eligible for transitional arrangements

Projects which are not eligible for transitional arrangements as at 31 May 2011 will be assessed under full SCL protection and management arrangements, in accordance with the new SCL legislation when it comes into effect. This means that:

  • when the new SCL legislation comes into effect a, project on land located in proposed Strategic Cropping Protection Areas will be assessed to ensure the project does not permanently alienate SCL (except in limited exceptional circumstances); and
  • projects on land located in proposed Strategic Cropping Management Areas will be assessed to ensure they avoid, minimise and mitigate their impacts on SCL.

Current law - existing applications

Until such time as SCL legislation is enacted, the current law continues to apply. Existing applications will be progressed in accordance with the current law. However projects not eligible for transitional arrangements are on notice that from 31 May 2011 they will need to comply with the full requirements of the new legislation once it commences.

Proponents of projects not covered by the transitional arrangements will face the difficulty of not knowing precisely what the law will require until the new legislation is introduced. By way of general guidance, projects on land located in proposed Strategic Cropping Protection Areas will be assessed to ensure they do not permanently alienate SCL (except in limited exceptional circumstances). Projects on land located in proposed Strategic Cropping Management Areas will be assessed to ensure they avoid, minimise and mitigate their impacts on SCL. It is anticipated that the State will release draft Policy statements and guidelines in the near future.

The transitional arrangements will not be applicable to any development applications under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld) (which will continue to be assessed under that legislation and relevant policies).

Important Disclaimer: The material contained in this article is comment of a general nature only and is not and nor is it intended to be advice on any specific professional matter. In that the effectiveness or accuracy of any professional advice depends upon the particular circumstances of each case, neither the firm nor any individual author accepts any responsibility whatsoever for any acts or omissions resulting from reliance upon the content of any articles. Before acting on the basis of any material contained in this publication, we recommend that you consult your professional adviser. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation (Australia-wide except in Tasmania).

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