Australian coal miner South 32 has released fresh plans to extend the life of its mine, which lies beneath Sydney’s drinking water catchment.
- Opponents say the drinking water catchment will be put at significant risk if South32 is allowed to go ahead with the plan
- Business Illawarra is backing the proposal, which it says will create jobs and benefit local industry
- The final determination is yet to be made and the Environmental Impact Statement will be on public display until mid-June
The company wants extract an additional 5.2 million tonnes of coal per year from its Dendrobium colliery in the Illawarra, until 2035, using the longwall method.
It is also seeking continued use of its existing mine infrastructure, with upgrades and extensions, until 2041.
The expansion proposal had already been granted State Significant Infrastructure (SSI) status after the miner’s original plan to extract 78 million tonnes of coal until 2048 was rejected by the Independent Planning Commission last year.
It is the first time a mining project has been given the declaration.
“It’s a now a political process, not an evidence-based scientific process,” New South Wales Lock the Gate coordinator Nic Clyde said.
“We think this is such a damaging proposal.
“We’re calling on whoever wins the federal election on May 21 to use their powers under the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act to reject the proposal.
“This is a highly disturbing situation in NSW — it’s unprecedented and the risks are very great to the Sydney and Illawarra drinking water catchment.”
‘Significant water loss’
In its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) the company said it had reduced the proposed mining footprint by about 60 per cent, reduced surface water losses by 78 per cent and had agreed to offset the water losses, which were estimated to be less than one per cent of the Avon and Cordeaux catchment yields.
“Certainly any reduction of the impact on the drinking water supply is a good thing,” Mr Clyde said.
“The simple fact is South32 want to continue longwall mining that will further damage a special area of the water catchment and will still result in significant water loss.
“It just doesn’t make sense to risk these areas and our fresh water supply in perpetuity.”
Water New South Wales was critical of the company’s original plans to use the longwall method rather than considering the less-destructive board and pillar technique.
South32 wants to extract 5.2m tones of coal from its Dendrobium mine until 2035.(Supplied: South32)
South32 said the extension would create 100 jobs during construction and ongoing employment for 700 workers with an estimated benefit of about $649m to the state’s economy.
Business Illawarra executive director Adam Zarth said the organisation had “advocated strongly and consistently for the project”.
“It will provide an essential source of high-quality metallurgical coal to BlueScope to sustain the region’s steelmaking industry, as well as the Port Kembla Coal Terminal,” he said.
“The Illawarra business community strongly supports our local resources sector as a necessary part of the supply chain … and understands its important contribution to our regional economy.”
South32 acknowledged research was being conducted into the use of hydrogen in steelmaking but said there was presently no “economically viable alternative” to metallurgical coal at a commercial scale.
“Our revised mine plan considers feedback from the Independent Planning Commission and minimises environmental impacts while enabling the continuation of mining activities at the Dendrobium Mine,” vice president of operations Peter Baker said.
“The project would ensure the continued supply of metallurgical coal for steelmaking and help support thousands of additional jobs linked to the local mining and manufacturing industries.”
The EIS will remain on public exhibition until June 14, ahead of the final determination from NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts.
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