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Testing uncharted waters: the precautionary principle and the protection of groundwater in coal seam gas operations in Queensland
James Fung Chern Foo, BA LLB
Project submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MSc (Energy and Resources), UCL School of Energy and Resources, Australia.
One of the most prominent principles underlying environmental law is the precautionary principle – at its core lies the idea that decision-makers should be taking steps to address the threat of serious and irreversible harm before scientific evidence has been established to prove that the harm will occur.
My research found the implementation of this important legal principle in the energy and resources industry in Australia produces inconsistent results. Further, in Queensland specifically, its implementation through adaptive management may not necessarily protect Queensland’s groundwater resources.
The application of the precautionary principle is especially aimed at containing the potential impacts of new technologies, as the full impacts on society may not be fully appreciated. Its application to the coal seam gas industry is especially pertinent, given the introduction of relatively new production techniques into new environments. However, there are significant concerns about the uncertainties of coal seam gas production, especially in relation their potential impacts on Queensland’s groundwater resources.