Information for decision making
The Australian Government committed $35.4 million to undertake the Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program as part of the Towards a New Energy Future and the Supporting Reliable Energy Infrastructure budget measures.
The program, completed in mid 2021, assessed the potential impacts of shale and tight gas development on water and the environment. Independent scientific studies were conducted in 3 geological basins: the Cooper Basin in Queensland and South Australia, the Isa Superbasin in Queensland and the Beetaloo Sub-basin in the Northern Territory.
Funded by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, the four-year initiative was undertaken by CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, supported by the Bureau of Meteorology, and managed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
Developing an evidence base
The Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program aimed to:
- increase understanding of the potential impacts on water and the environment posed by the development of unconventional gas resources
- increase the efficiency of assessments and ongoing regulation, particularly through improved reporting and data provision or management approaches
- improve community understanding of the industry
- encourage exploration to bring new gas supplies to the East Coast gas market within 5-10 years.
It involved a series of studies in three stages.
Stage 1 of the Program identified and prioritised geological basins with the greatest potential to deliver shale and/or tight gas to the East Coast Gas Market within the next five to ten years. As part of this process, three regions were chosen in consultation with state and territory governments and industry: the Cooper GBA region; the Isa GBA region; and the Beetaloo GBA region (see map).
Stage 2 compiled and analysed available data for the 3 selected regions to form a baseline and identify gaps to guide collection of additional baseline data where needed. This analysis included a geological basin assessment of structural and stratigraphic characteristics and an environmental data synthesis.
Stage 3 analysed the potential impacts to water resources and matters of environmental significance to inform and support Commonwealth and state or territory management and compliance activities.The geological and environmental knowledge, data and tools produced by the Program will assist governments, industry, landowners and the community by informing decision-making and enabling the coordinated management of potential impacts.
The Program was also informed by a series of user panels to articulate user needs in each region. User panels helped guide the assessment process, communicate findings and share information about the regions and the assessments, including the potential opportunities and risks associated with shale and tight gas development in regional centres.
Tools for planning, assessment and reporting
Environmental impact assessments are necessarily complex. To improve decision-making, the Program developed a new impact assessment method – a spatial causal network – to provide a systematic, robust and transparent assessment of potential impacts in a region. The systematic evaluation of the likelihood, consequence and mitigation options for each causal pathway is presented in an interactive web-based tool – GBA Explorer
The assessment is supported by independent scientific investigations to address knowledge gaps identified in the baseline assessment and through discussions with government, industry, land users and the community.
The geological and environmental knowledge, data, and tools produced by the program will assist governments, industry and the community by informing decision-making and enabling the coordinated management of potential impacts.
Reports, journal papers and fact sheets that support the impact assessment method, outputs and investigations for the GBA Program are available at www.bioregionalassessments.gov.au/gba