Mining companies wanting to develop coal seam gas (CSG) projects in NSW could soon face fewer regulatory hurdles, after the O'Farrell government signed up to a new federal plan for environmental approvals.
The Business Council of Australia (BCA) said the NSW government had helped overcome one of the barriers to CSG projects in the state by signing up to the Abbott government's approvals overhaul.
NSW on Tuesday followed Queensland's lead by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the federal government to create a "one-stop-shop" for environmental approvals.
The proposal promises to deliver faster approvals and eliminate regulatory duplication, but opponents claim it will erode crucial environmental protections by handing federal powers to the states.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the "same strict environmental standards" would apply, but businesses would only need to obtain one approval for projects instead of two.
"The federal government is on track to sign-on all states and territories within 12 months and fast-track the eradication of red and green tape for environmental approvals," Mr Abbott said in a statement.
BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the NSW government, which imports 95 per cent of its gas from interstate, had taken a critical step to securing its own gas supply.
"Today's MOU helps overcome one of the barriers to developing coal seam gas projects that would enable New South Wales to develop its own gas supply," Ms Westacott said in a statement.
NSW has been under pressure from the federal government to expand gas mining, including CSG operations, as they search for a solution to energy price spikes and a crisis in natural gas supply.
CSG has proved a powder keg in NSW, with the government the target of frequent protests from farmer and conservationists who warn expanding gas operations threatens agricultural land and water supply.
The NSW Minerals Council praised the O'Farrell government for supporting the plan they claim will address the "overly bureaucratic and cumbersome" approvals process in the state.
"We look forward to seeing fast progress on delivery of these promised reforms, so that the words expressed in the MOU are matched by real action," chief executive Stephen Galilee said in a statement.
The Minerals Council of Australia said the one-stop-shop would eradicate unnecessary green tape without compromising environmental standards.
But Greens senator Larissa Waters said the plan would "gut" environmental protections, and blasted the duplication argument being put forward by Mr Abbott and "his big business buddies" as a furphy."Tony Abbott is laying the groundwork to hand federal environmental approval powers to NSW, giving his conservative state cronies open slather over our nationally significant environmental assets," she said in a statement.