Report shows Shenhua plan shortcomings

A SCATHING report has surfaced punching holes in Shenhua Watermark’s long-held claims that modelling surrounding the environmental impacts of its proposed coalmine near Gunnedah is “absolutely bulletproof”.

The Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC), tasked with providing advice to government decision-makers on the effects of large mining projects on water resources, submitted its report in May last year.

The never-before-revealed advice shows the panel identified a myriad of serious shortcomings in Shenhua’s 3000-page draft environmental impact statement that only weeks earlier the company described as “the benchmark for the mining industry”.

Chief among the committee’s concerns was that Shenhua had not considered the cumulative impacts of the open-cut coalmine on water quality and surface and groundwater flow in the context of other mines operating in the area.

“The committee has identified concerns relating to input data, assumptions, sensitivities and the number of scenarios modelled for groundwater and water balance modelling, which decreases confidence in the output from these models,” the report said.

Shenhua also came in for criticism from the committee for failing to adequately address the potential negative environmental impacts on the Liverpool Plains if the mine was to proceed.

“The one-page cost-benefit analysis (of the project) ... is not comprehensive and methodologically robust,” the report said.

“It includes only the environmental benefits and socio-economic costs of the chosen project alternative and notably not the environmental costs, including potential negative impacts on water resources.”

The committee also concluded that based on the information available Shenhua was unable to guarantee water downstream from the mine would not be contaminated.

“There is potential for contamination of downstream surface waters from mobilisation of accumulated seepage, emergency release from mine water storages and overflow of sediment dams. The key contaminant of concern is salt,” the report found.

Former New England MP Tony Windsor campaigned for six years for an IESC-type body to provide “objective scientific input into where coal seam gas and coalmining should be allowed to be undertaken”.

In 2012, while holding the balance of power, he successfully negotiated the creation of the IESC, which was granted nearly $200 million in funding and is stacked with some of the country’s leading ecologists, geologists and hydrologists.

Caroona Coal Action Group member Tim Duddy, who has been a prominent campaigner against the mine, said the report, obtained under the Government Information (Public Access) Act, vindicated many of the group’s concerns.

“What the report says it that a lot of the things that we’ve been complaining about have not been actually addressed,” he said.

“We are talking about dealing with the most significant agricultural water resources in this country and it is clear from this report that they don’t have enough information to work out whether they are going to harm those resources.”

A spokesperson for the Chinese-owned subsidiary told The Leader that it had the “highest confidence” in its water modelling and its environmental impact statement “meets or exceeds the standards required to confidently assess the impact of the project”.

“The issues raised by the IESC have been answered and no further responses have been requested by the Department of Environment,” the spokesman said.

“The (response to submissions) includes more than 60 pages of additional detailed response to all issues raised in respect of groundwater.

“It provides further clarity on the original baseline groundwater and surface water data that was included in the EIS and used in the modelling and re-confirms the veracity of the conclusions that have been made.”

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