THE state government has defended its decision to grant approval to Shenhua Watermark’s open-cut coalmine on the Liverpool Plains, despite two independent expert panels raising serious concerns over the project.
Last week the NSW Department of Planning and Environment announced the billion-dollar mine should be approved and referred the matter onto the independent Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) for review and determination.
Shenhua is controversially seeking permission to extract up to 268 million tonnes of coal from the mine over 30 years, which would be located near the tiny village of Breeza about 25km south-east of Gunnedah.
The subsidiary of China’s state-owned mining giant Shenhua Group – one of the largest coal-producing companies in the world – maintains the mine will create more than 1000 jobs and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy.
But the project has been met with fierce opposition from many farmers and environmental groups, who have expressed concern at the mine’s potential impacts on the area’s productive farmland – or biophysical strategic agricultural land (BSAL).
Those fears were only heightened when the Mining and Petroleum Gateway Panel, in advice provided earlier this year to the government, found Shenhua had “applied incorrect methodology” in calculating the mine’s affects on BSAL.
“The proponent obfuscates the verification of BSAL and likely underestimates the true extent of potentially affected BSAL,” the report said.
“Based on the proponent’s information, the panel cannot decide the significance of potential impacts of mining on BSAL.”
The revelations – coupled with a scathing report from the federal Independent Expert Scientific Committee – have prompted the project’s opponents to question how the government could support the mine.