The Protocol sets out a four-stage incident response
In response to a bushfire near Dalby caused by gas emissions
from an abandoned coal exploration borehole, the Queensland
Government has announced a new protocol for managing and responding
to such legacy boreholes incidents.
In August 2012, after an initial bush fire was extinguished by
the Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority, a legacy borehole
emitting gas continued to burn with a small flame. The Department
of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) collaborated
with adjoining coal and petroleum authority holders and their
contractors to safely extinguish the flame and to cap the
The Protocol identifies two types of uncontrolled borehole
a fire at a legacy borehole; and
a legacy borehole emitting methane at levels that presents an
unacceptable level of risk.
The Protocol describes a legacy borehole as "a borehole or
well drilled for the purposes of coal, mineral or petroleum
exploration or production but not by the current petroleum or
mining tenement holder or its related bodies corporate, and where
the land has since been relinquished or there is no continuity of
tenure to the current tenure."
The Protocol will apply where an uncontrolled borehole incident
occurs at a legacy borehole, and:
the Queensland Government exercises its discretion to take an
oversight role and apply the Protocol; or
a resource or drilling company decides to act on its own
initiative in regard to the legacy borehole incident on its own
The Protocol states that where required, the Government will
utilise legislative powers to authorise or direct parties to
rectify an uncontrolled bore incident.
Incident response process
The Protocol sets out an incident response process, divided into
Stage 1 – Identify and notify: any
landholder, tenure holder or government may notify DNRM of an
uncontrolled borehole incident;
Stage 2 – Authorise or direct parties to undertake
work and complete risk assessment: DNRM commences role as
project manager, and may either:
collaborate with other parties to agree on a risk assessment
and coordinate activities to restore control over borehole; or
allow a resource company to undertake risk assessments under
its own Safety Management System followed by an advice to DNRM of
the proposed action plan;
Stage 3 - Activities undertaken: where DNRM is
managing the response with other parties, the parties are to
conduct the activities in accordance with a sign in / sign off
process. The Protocol describes the sign in / sign off process as
"a safety and health process put in place at the incident site
whereby a company undertaking an activity 'signs on' to a
record sheet overseen by DNRM. Whilst 'signed on' that
company has control of the site and the SHMS of that company will
be the single and only applicable SHMS on site. When the activity
is completed the company will 'sign off', handing control
of the site back to the DNRM until the next company 'signs
Where the resource company is acting on its own initiatives,
that company is to undertake the rectification and rehabilitation
Stage 4 - Completion: DNRM reviews site, confirms completion of
activities, releases relevant information and provides a debriefing
Under the Protocol, the Queensland Government states that it
will indemnify and hold harmless any party who is requested to
undertake work pursuant to the Protocol from all claims and losses
caused by that work, except to the extent that such claims arise
out of the party's negligence or wrongdoing.
While a party involved in the activities of bringing a legacy
borehole may get some comfort out of the indemnity, whether or not
the indemnity given under the Protocol would be binding without
legislative changes is questionable.
Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide
commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon
as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular
transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin.
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