Strategic assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
What is proposed and what does it aim to do?
The Western Australian Government is proposing to develop a common-user liquefied natural gas (LNG) precinct to process Browse Basin resources.
The environmental, heritage and socio-economic impacts of the proposed development will be assessed by the Australian and Western Australian governments.
The tool being used to do the assessment by the Australian Government is called a strategic assessment, under the Australian Government’s key environmental legislation—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
The strategic assessment aims to address national environment law requirements upfront and in one go, to make sure the Australian Government’s conservation requirements are met, and comprehensive and consistent outcomes are achieved, while also removing the need for multiple assessments.
Why is this being done?
The Browse Basin, located about 500 kilometres off the north-west Western Australian coast, contains significant known gas reserves.
The strategic assessment aims to find a suitable site for a liquefied natural gas precinct to service the many companies operating in the Browse Basin, and to ensure that this site is appropriately managed.
Concentrating all gas processing at one site prevents piecemeal development by individual companies and associated cumulative impacts.
What about the national heritage assessment?
Running parallel to the strategic assessment, areas of national heritage significance within the west Kimberley have been identified for possible inclusion in the National Heritage List, which would protect them under national environment law.
The federal environment minister is expected to make his final decision on the listing of national heritage values before the end of June 2011.
Where is the Kimberley strategic assessment up to?
Following consideration by the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority, the WA environment minister formally approved the Browse Basin LNG precinct on 19 November 2012.
The department has received the final Browse Basin LNG precinct strategic assessment documentation from Western Australian Department of State Development and is verifying that the requirements of the strategic assessment have been met. If so the minister will then be able to consider the proposal under national environmental law. There are no statutory timeframes for decisions on strategic assessments.
What is the purpose of the public comment period?
The public comment period provided an opportunity for people to raise any concerns that they may have about the draft strategic assessment report. Relevant comments received must be addressed by the Western Australian Government in its final strategic assessment report.
The federal environment minister will be provided with all comments received during the public comment period when he considers whether or not to endorse the LNG precinct plan.
What happens next?
The Western Australian Department of State Development will now address the issues raised in submissions in the final strategic assessment report and LNG precinct plan where necessary.
These documents will then be submitted to the federal environment minister to decide whether to endorse the LNG precinct plan.
Before making his decision, the minister will carefully consider all relevant matters, including the environmental management arrangements put in place to tackle potential impacts of the proposed precinct on the environment.
The federal environment minister will only make a final decision once all matters required by the terms of the strategic assessment have been appropriately investigated, and he has all the relevant information before him.
If satisfied that the strategic assessment report adequately assesses the impacts to which the agreement relates, and that any recommended modifications to the plan have been made, the minister can endorse the LNG precinct plan.
There is no statutory timeframe for the minister to make a decision on whether or not to endorse the LNG precinct plan after receiving the final documentation from the Western Australian Government.
Which Australian Government law applies?
The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is the national environment law that protects listed matters of national environmental significance. These nationally protected matters include:
- world heritage properties
- national heritage places
- wetlands of international importance
- listed threatened species and ecological communities
- migratory species
- Commonwealth marine areas
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
- the environment where nuclear actions are involved (including uranium mines).
Any impacts on these protected matters will be assessed to ensure they are minimised and managed appropriately.
Strategic assessment of the Browse Basin liquefied natural gas precinct project