The NSW Coalition government has quietly granted planning approvals for an expansion of coal mining operations under one of Sydney’s key drinking water catchments, sparking fury from environmental groups who petitioned against the plans.
As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, the Berejiklian government has quietly given the go-ahead to Peabody Energy to expand the Metropolitan mine located just south of Sydney.
The new expansion will see new coal faces established under the Woronora dam, which supplies drinking water to Sydney. Up to three new underground coal faces will be established at the mine, with two of them running below the dam’s water storage.
The Metropolitan mine is one of Australia’s oldest and supplies coking coal for use in steelmaking at smelters in Port Kembla.
The Sutherland Shire Environment Centre has run a campaign in opposition to the expansion of the mining operations, and submitted a petition to the NSW parliament with more than 10,600 signatories, call on the NSW government to rescind the planning authorisations.
The group has been vocal in raising concerns that mining activities under the reservoir could compromise the integrity of the water storages, potentially leading to leakages, and flow on environmental damage to the surrounding water table and the quality of drinking water supplies.
The group has said that the full impacts of the underground mining operations will not be known for several decades, and changes in the geological structures below the dam could continue well after the final coal has been extracted from the site.
The group’s petition was set to be considered by the NSW Parliament on 26 March, but the sittings of parliament were suspended before this could take place, in response to the Covid-19 crisis, and the need to limit the gathering of parliamentarians.
“It shows complete contempt for the community that they approved this even prior to the now cancelled debate. And with Peabody’s new exploration application on top of it to rub salt into the wound. Yet another huge mine they want to put through around Woronora reservoir,” the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre said in a post to Facebook.
“Over 10,700 people signed the petition to stop this mining going ahead. We’re sorry to have to advise that the approval for the next mines that run directly under Woronora Reservoir has been given – and that this occurred even prior to the parliamentary debate that was since cancelled.”
The decision the allow for the mine to be expanded has been slammed by environmental groups, including Greenpeace Australia, which labelled the move to expand coal mining under a drinking water catchment as dangerous.
“The Department’s decision to allow coal mining under the Worona Reservoir poses a direct threat to the drinking water of millions of Sydneysiders. The roof of the mine could collapse if it is abandoned, which means the threat of contamination will linger over Sydney’s water supply indefinitely,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific spokesperson Jonathan Moylan said.
“Thousands of people, fearful for their drinking water, triggered a Parliamentary debate on Peabody’s dangerous plan, that was only cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis.”
“It’s alarming that this highly-contested decision has snuck through amid the Covid-19 health crisis. It’s time for Peabody to listen to the pleas of residents and leave Sydney’s drinking water alone – water catchments are no place to dig up the last tonne of coal,” Moylan added.
Another of Peabody’s New South Wales coal mines, the Wambo mine in the State’s Hunter Valley was approved with restrictions being placed on where the coal could be exported. The NSW planning department imposed a restriction on the export of the coal, ensuring it could only be sent to countries that were a signatory to the Paris Agreement or had sufficiently strong climate change policies in place.
The conditions were a main motivation behind a push from the Berejiklian government to prevent planning authorities from considering the climate change impacts of exported coal in planning decisions.
Earlier in March, a parliamentary committee recommended the proposed law changes be scrapped, with parliamentary consideration of the legislative changes delayed late last year as the state was impacted by severe bushfires.
The NSW Greens have called on the NSW government to halt further planning decisions, including those that relate to potential new gas extraction projects in the State’s north-west, until new consultation arrangements can be established.
“The Greens are calling on the NSW Government to place a moratorium on all planning decisions, including mining and gas approvals, until a plan is developed to allow meaningful community consultation,” NSW Greens spokesperson for mining, coal and gas Abigail Boyd said.
“All planning approvals must be paused until the Government has a comprehensive plan for community consultation that includes increased exhibition time, online town halls, and reliable access to documentation.”
“Minister Stokes already has the power under the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act to regulate to strengthen community consultation during this crisis. We call on him to do so without delay,” Boyd added.
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