Coalface calamity

SHENHUA Watermark’s plan to build a $1 billion open-cut coalmine on the Liverpool Plains has received approval from the state government, despite a panel of independent experts raising grave concerns over the project.

The NSW Department of Planning and Environment recommends the mine “should be approved” providing “strict conditions (are) put in place to minimise potential impacts on biodiversity, water resources and local communities”. The project has now been referred to the independent Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) to carry out a further round of public consultation in the coming weeks prior to making a final determination.

Shenhua Watermark project manager Paul Jackson welcomed the decision and said it was the “culmination of many years of detailed scientific assessment to deliver a proposal that will unlock significant economic benefits for the local region”.

He said the mine, which would be located about 25km south-east of Gunnedah and provide 10 million tonnes of coal per annum for 30 years, would create more than 1000 jobs and meet all its environmental requirements.

But the government’s decision to progress the project has angered opponents of the development as it appears to disregard an assessment from the Mining and Petroleum Gateway Panel finding serious shortcomings in the application. 

In non-binding advice to the director-general, the panel claims it is unable to determine the project’s potential impact on the Liverpool Plains’ famously-productive black soils – referred to as biophysical strategic agricultural land (BSAL).

“The proponent has applied incorrect methodology for BSAL verification and this is non-

compliant with statutory requirements,” the panel of independent experts concluded.

The panel also found that predicted salinity levels posed a “significant long-term risk to water quality in surrounding creeks and alluvial aquifers” and concluded Shenhua’s “materially flawed” methodology meant it could not “decide the significance of potential impacts of mining on BSAL”.

The scathing report comes just weeks after The Leader revealed another panel, the Independent Expert Scientific Committee, had also identified a number of concerns over Shenhua’s environmental impact statement.

Tim Duddy, of the Caroona Coal Action Group, which has been fighting for years against the coalmine, made no attempt to hide his disgust at the project’s continual progression through the state’s planning process.

“What we are seeing now in NSW is a whole pile of ministers and staffers being hauled up in front of ICAC for improper processes in dealing with developments, be they cash incentives or otherwise,” he said.

“I have absolutely no doubt that this project, in the long-term, will head the same way because there has to be something that is not right behind the scenes for them to keep on progressing this the way they are progressing it.”

NSW Farmers Association president Fiona Simson said Shenhua, a subsidiary of the China-owned goliath Shenhua Energy, had grossly underestimated the impacts of the project on the region’s agriculture industry. “It looks as if there are a huge number of questions and a huge number of concerns raised by a number of the submissions to the Shenhua proposal that haven’t necessarily been answered fully,” she said.

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