BHP Billiton dismisses water fears


BHP Billiton has dismissed as “scaremongering” concerns that its proposed underground coalmine at Caroona will impact on water resources, despite some farmers questioning their future on the land.

The mining giant has responded to the concerns of landholders expressed in The Leader yesterday after the company’s own report forecast drawdowns in groundwater of up to 185 metres on select properties.

BHP’s asset president for NSW energy coal Peter Sharpe said all the scientific modelling the company had completed indicated that “farming and mining can co-exist” on the Liverpool Plains.

“Let us be very clear, it’s absolutely incorrect to infer that farms in the district will lose access to water if the Caroona underground project goes ahead – that is scaremongering,” he said.

“We are talking 15 to 20 years before they will be impacted, so any mitigation plans will be well-addressed before those drawdowns occur.

“The ‘make-good’ commitments that we have obviously given already will make sure the farmers actually will have access to the water they require to sustain agricultural productivity.”

Those “make-good” commitments, which would have to be negotiated with each individual landowner, could include replacing or deepening existing bores, or even piping water onto farms where the groundwater has been drawn down. But Mr Sharpe said the mine’s impact on the major aquifer that has made the Liverpool Plains such a productive farming area would be “effectively minimal”.

“The highly productive alluvial aquifer that everybody, including ourselves, is worried about currently has 260 gigalitres of licensed water off-take in that region annually,” he said.

“And we are having less than 0.2 per cent impact on that, so it’s almost non-existent. The questions of concern have nothing to do with the highly productive alluvial aquifer that effectively maintains the 85 to 90 per cent of the agricultural productivity in the region.”

Mr Sharpe said the mine, which could produce about eight million tonnes of coal a year for three decades or more, would be a “great news story” for the region, if it received approval.

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