The fight is not over to stop the Wallarah 2 coal mine, even though the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) recommended, on January 18, that the revised mine development application be approved by NSW Minister for Planning, Mr Anthony Roberts.
“We’ve got extremely strong grounds to challenge the decision in court,” said Mr Alan Hayes from the Australian Coal Alliance (ACA), which has been fighting the proposed coal mine since BHP acquired the mining lease in 1995.
“We have been at this point before,” Mr Hayes said.
“The PAC recommended approval previously and then the Labor Government in 2011 rejected the mine,” he said.
“The PAC hasn’t actually said it is approved; what they have said is they recommend it can be approved.
“The Minister still has to sign off on it,” Mr Hayes said.
“The last thing I want to do is to tell the enemy in advance what is going on but we have 12 weeks from last Wednesday to lodge our challenge with the NSW Land and Environment Court and we will do that within the three month period.
“As we are speaking now, the lawyers are in the process of putting this together and next week some time, I will sit down with senior counsel.
“We are 13 months out from an election and the government needs to consider this.
“It’s a game changer for the NSW Government, if they went to an election now, because of this decision, they would lose and it will impact on how people will vote.”
Mr Hayes said metropolitan and national media have started covering Wallarah 2 for the first time since Mr Barry O’Farrell made his ironclad “no ifs, no buts” guarantee not to approve the mine in 2011.
“I would say to Premier Berejiklian and Minister Roberts, do the honest and right thing, honour your promise to the community and reject the Wallarah 2 coal mine and put through legislation to protect the Central Coast water catchment for all time,” Mr Hayes said.
“I believe we can win this in court but Wallarah 2 won’t go away.
“Within months of the decision they will lodge another DA and do it all over again.
“I would say within a very short time of getting approval we would see the mine up for sale because I don’t believe Kores want to build the mine, I believe they want to sell it and they need approval to do that.
“The ACA will continue to fight on behalf of the Central Coast community to make sure their water and environment are protected.
“We will continue until we have driven the enemy from the gate,” Mr Hayes said.
Mr Hayes said he was receiving messages of support from all over the Central Coast and beyond, and a major rally outside NSW Parliament was being planned.
The NSW Department of Planning, in its reports to the PAC, concluded that subsidence impacts to groundwater resources, creeks and rivers, water resources, built features, biodiversity and other environmental matters were likely to be minor.
If approved by Mr Roberts, the new underground coal mine, to be located west of Wyong, would garner $274m in mining royalties and economic benefits to the NSW Government, according to NSW Planning.
Longwall mining methods would be used to extract up to five million tonnes of “run of mine thermal coal” a year, for up to 28 years.
PAC assessed the revised DA in April 2017 and subsequently required inclusion of a “compensatory agreement” that could see treated mine water returned to the Central Coast drinking water catchment.
The compensatory agreement appears to have been suggested by NSW Planning, which stated that “any potential loss to the water availability from the aquifer of the Central Coast Water Supply would be compensated by the applicant by
providing 300 mega litres a year of treated water to the catchment”.
According to the PAC report, Central Coast Council worked with the applicant to nominate a “potential discharge point” for the 300ML of treated mine water to re-enter the water catchment annually if the compensatory agreement comes into play before coal can be extracted from “Longwall 6N”.
On November 2, 2017, the PAC met with Central Coast Council.
In its report it stated that: “Council indicated that its major concern from the project was the risk to water security… and pointed out that it had had further meetings with the applicant in relation to working together on water compensation arrangements.
“Council also provided comments on the recommended conditions of consent to reflect the strategies reached between Council and the applicant,” the PAC report stated.
These two statements are at odds with the position expressed by Council in its submission to the PAC review, which retained the position of the former Wyong and Gosford Councils to oppose the mine.
The mine stands to be approved before the community has any access to details about the compensatory water proposal.
The PAC report said: “The applicant confirmed that it is not necessary to finalise the plans for the pipeline and discharge point… as it will not reach this point of mining longwall 6N for approximately 10 years, which includes one year for a feasibility study, three years for construction and then five years of mining in longwall panels 1N to 5N.
“Approvals for these aspects are not included in this DA as the precise route and discharge location are not necessary to conclusively establish, as the means of providing 300ML of water per annum, including any potential pipeline route and discharge location, can be better ascertained closer to the commencement of the compensatory water agreement,” the PAC report said.
“The thing is that until now, nobody in the community has been told that there is a proposal to put treated mine water back into the catchment,” said Alan Hayes from the ACA.
“You have to ask the community, do they want this mine water put back in the catchment, because Kores do not know if they can adequately treat the water and they do not know what will be in the water.
“There has never been a design put forward for a water treatment plant.
“ACA know what’s in the water because when we were fighting Sydney Gas, we obtained water from the coal seam and the UNSW compared it with the Australian Drinking Water Standard, and with water coming out of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, USA, where water coming from the coal seam was causing mass environmental degradation.
“Water in the coal seams beneath our valleys was 10 times more potent than in the Powder River basin,” Mr Hayes said.
According to Mr Hayes, there are “no mines that are successfully turning mine water into potable drinking water and no examples of any mine being built within a riverine system that haven’t destroyed or significantly compromised the system.
“Everywhere longwall coal mining goes beneath a riverine system, the riverine system is destroyed.
“The Wallarah 2 subsidence risk is 2.5 times greater than the Newcastle coal fields and the southern minefields.
“Jilliby Rd will subside 1.8 metres and some residences 2.6 metres, and that is not minor.
“The PAC has acknowledged that Wallarah 2 would be under a very sensitive environment and have said that if any damage occurs, they will close the mine, but once it occurs, it is too late.
“There is no rehabilitation bond.
“The company that will hold the licence to mine is not Kores Australia or Korean Resources, it is Wyong Coal Pty Ltd, which has a paid up capital of $400, based on an ASIC search, which means that the limit of liability is $400, so when it all goes wrong, they can pack up their duffle bag and disappear.
“They’ve argued that the mine is insignificant because it is only under five per cent of the water catchment area, but it is the most significant area, at the confluence of the two river systems which is where you draw the water from, the Wyong River and Jilliby Creek.
“Even if it was only a one percent chance you were going to do the damage, you wouldn’t do it.
“They don’t know what is going to happen because they have not done the exploration.
“If you dig deeply into their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), they believe the water loss will be 300ML a year, but they don’t know that for sure.
“If you hark back to the conditions of the exploration licence, they were required to drill 114 bore holes across the valley and this has never been done.
“BHP did drill 37 core holes and there were a number of them that BHP did some preliminary water tests on, but that did not come to 114.
“Kores acquired a 60 acre property at Jilliby and did six water bores in a line, but that was not sufficient, you would have to grid the whole area to develop proper base line data.
“What we have is just extrapolation from a few wells.”
According to the PAC report, within the first 10 years of mining, the mine would produce up to 2.5ML of water a day, which would be treated and discharged to Wallarah Creek, but the PAC has concluded that “suitable conditions are in place to ensure …impact is appropriately managed”, likewise its impacts on the coastal zone.
According to the PAC, the coal would be sized and screened on site, stockpiled and transferred by overland conveyor to a rail siding, before being transported by rail to Newcastle for export.
Surface infrastructure will be located at three sites.
A Tooheys Rd site will include a declining tunnel to the underground mine workings, conveyors, coal stockpiles, water and gas management, offices, a rail siding and train loadout facilities.
A Buttonderry site will have access and ventilation shafts, offices and amenities, an access road, a car park and surface water treatment facilities
A Western Ventilation shaft will have a downcast ventilation shaft for the underground workings.
The project originally included development, partly on land owned by Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council, but DLALC did not give consent so the mine was redesigned and the new DA submitted included removal of the proposed rail loop on the DLALC land and instead, a rail spur and train load out facility to the eastern side of the main northern rail line.
A sewer connection was also realigned to avoid DLALC land.
Mr Sean Gordon, CEO of DLALC, has been asked to comment but is not making an official statement at this time.
He has, however, been scathing of the PAC decision on social media.
Mr Hayes from ACA said claims that the conveyors can be covered are misleading.
“They can’t cover the conveyors, the sides have to be left open because they have to be able to service them.
“This coal will not be washed, it will be high in silica, which is extremely injurious to human health.
“The local area already has the state’s highest avoidable respiratory deaths from air pollutants.
“If you put this into the mix it will be a problem.”
Flooding was also assessed and deemed acceptable by the PAC which said: “an additional 33.2 hectares of land would be flooded in a 1 in 100 year ARI flood event and flood depths could increase by up to 1.35 metres.”
Wyong Regional Chronicle has also requested comments from all Central Coast Councillors including Mayor Jane Smith.
Mr Kenny Barry from Wallarah 2 requested written questions before he was prepared to comment.
Wallarah 2 Determination Report, Jan 16
David Johnson, NSW Planning Assessment Commission
Interview, Jan 20
Alan Hayes, Australian Coal Alliance
Jackie Pearson, reporter