This Program provided transparent scientific information to better understand the potential impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining developments on water and water-dependent assets.

The challenge

More information about potential impacts

There was a need for authoritative information about the risks and potential impacts to water resources arising from expanding coal mining and coal seam gas (CSG) developments. To be able to understand the potential impacts, we needed to undertake comprehensive scientific analyses in regions of prospective development—bioregional assessments.

Pilliga Water Bore

Our response

Assessing regions of prospective development

Through the Australian Government-funded Bioregional Assessment Program, CSIRO collaborated with the Department of the Environment and Energy, the Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia to undertake a series of bioregional assessments.

A bioregional assessment is a scientific analysis of a particular area including its ecology, hydrology, geology and hydrogeology, with explicit assessment of the potential impacts of CSG and coal mining development on water resources and water-dependent assets such as wetlands and groundwater bores.

The assessments have increased the science available for decision making about the potential impacts of CSG and coal mine development on water resources and water dependent assets.

Areas assessed

The Program targeted regions with significant coal deposits and focused on those regions subject to significant existing or anticipated mining activity.

Map of the six bioregions, and subregions, being used in the Bioregional Assessment Programme

Assessments were completed for the following bioregions:

  • The Galilee, Cooper, Pedirka and Arckaringa subregions, within the Lake Eyre Basin bioregion (Queensland and South Australia)
  • The Maranoa-Balonne-Condamine, Gwydir, Namoi and Central West subregions within the Northern Inland Catchments bioregion (New South Wales and Queensland)
  • The Clarence-Moreton bioregion (New South Wales and Queensland)
  • The Hunter and Gloucester subregions within the Northern Sydney Basin bioregion (New South Wales)
  • The Sydney Basin bioregion (New South Wales)
  • The Gippsland Basin bioregion (Victoria).

Multidisciplinary teams from Geoscience Australia and CSIRO worked on all assessments.

The results

Expert advice for decision makers

Results from the assessments are now available online from the Bioregional Assessments website .

Bioregional assessments are a source of information that the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development can use to formulate their advice to the Australian Government on decisions under the Commonwealth's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and to state government regulators.

The bioregional assessments:

  • assessed the potential impacts, particularly focusing on regional scale and cumulative impacts, due to CSG and open-cut and underground coal mining developments (in the past, present and foreseeable future)
  • investigated risk by indicating the level of impact and the probability of that impact occurring
  • are made up of a number of products such as registers, models and reports which are available to the public
  • were developed by independent scientific experts in the fields of ecology, hydrology, hydrogeology, geology, informatics (computer information systems) and risk analysis, in consultation with state government agencies, catchment management authorities, local governments, and industry groups and their members.
[Animation image appears of a landscape showing layers of ground, water below the surface, and a rock layer and then a question mark and text appears: $26 000 000 000 000]

Narrator: How do you access $2.6 trillion worth of coal and coal seam gas while minimising impacts to our precious water resources and the environment and people that rely on them?

[Image changes to show a question mark and then the camera zooms out to show employees each side of the question mark and then the image moves left to show text: $62 million Bioregional Assessment Programme]

That’s the question the Department of Environment and Energy asked CSIRO when it joined with the Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia to undertake the $62 million Bioregional Assessment Programme.

[Animation images move through of a magnifying glass across a world globe, a tree dropping its leaves, and Australia on the world globe and numbers appear counting up to 860 000 km2]

A world first in scope, the BA Programme looked at the impacts of coal and coal seam gas development on water across more than 860,000 square kilometres of central and eastern Australia.

[Animation image changes to a laptop displaying a screen full of outline people and then the camera zooms out to show a female sitting at a desk working on the laptop]

 Over 120 scientific and technical experts ran purpose built numerical models producing a detailed range of potential impacts. 

[Animation image changes to show a male sitting at a desk working on a computer and then the image moves left linking a line to a female sitting on a couch looking at a tablet]

The outcomes are already supporting better and more informed regulation and decision making and provides a treasure trove of publicly accessible information. 

[Animation images move through of the female’s hand operating the tablet, four people operating computers and tablets, and a side view of coal seam gas being extracted]

Completed in June 2018, the BA Programme leaves a solid foundation for future studies to build on so we can support sustainable development and protect our precious water resources at the same time.

[Music plays and the CSIRO logo and text appears: CSIRO Australia’s innovation catalyst]

Bioregional Assessment Program

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