The unconventional gas industry has outpaced regulatory frameworks in Australia, with legislation and operational standards still being developed. Regulations are also generally not specifically created for unconventional gas extraction. A report in 2011 into the regulatory framework for coal seam gas projects in NSW found legislation was inadequate and out-dated. The NSW State Government was also recently accused by the Federal Government of having an inadequate approval processes for CSG projects. The energy company AGL, operating a coal seam gas plant in Rosalind Park, NSW, was recently found to have breached its environmental protection license by failing to monitor nitrogen oxide emissions. A report into CSG exploration in NSW in the Pilliga claims that there have been several major breaches of laws and regulations by operators, including several incidents of water and soil contamination, and the commercial production of gas under an exploration license. Furthermore, operators failed to report breaches, and alleged breaches were not adequately investigated by authorities. The report claims that environmental issues seen in the Pilliga reveal a completely inadequate legislative and regulatory framework regarding the development of unconventional gas.
The development approval process has huge problems, with inadequate Environmental Assessments which fail to undertake any investigation into environmental and health risks, and fail to undertake necessary baseline studies. Reports from insiders have confirmed that the process is seriously flawed. An environmental scientist who played a key role in the approval process of two major CSG developments in Queensland stated that proper assessment of environmental impacts was made impossible by a lack of basic site information and baseline studies. Of particular concern was the lack of a groundwater assessment. These claims were backed up by confidential documents which revealed that the projects were approved by government agencies despite a lack of key, basic information usually required, and that the process was rushed.
Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) have also expressed major concerns over the current assessment, monitoring and regulations of coal seam gas activities in Australia, which they state as inadequate for protecting health. A DEA spokesperson claimed that the ability to assess risks to public health was limited by significant data gaps, and that
“Despite governments allowing rapid development of the industry, there is a lack of information on chemicals used and wastes produced, lack of information on cumulative effects, and lack of comprehensive environmental monitoring and health impact assessment”.