THE state’s peak environmental regulator has cleared Whitehaven Coal of any wrongdoing over blasting at its Maules Creek coalmine last month, but the ruling is cold comfort for residents questioning their future in the area.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) found the company “had not breached any of its licence conditions” during blasting that several residents claim rocked the foundations of their homes on June 17.
However, EPA north branch acting director Brett Nudd said to “further safeguard the environment and provide extra assurance to the local community”, Whitehaven Coal would install an additional monitor closer to the residents’ properties.
“Our officers conducted a site inspection of the mine on June 18 and requested a detailed incident report from the company, including the monitoring data the mine is required to keep,” he said.
“Given the community concern about the blast, our officers were keen to identify whether the operators had breached any of the conditions set out in the environment protection licence (EPL).
“The ground vibration and air blast overpressure levels recorded at the two nearest private residences located approximately two to three kilometres from the blast site were well below the EPL limits.”
Three people who felt the reverberations on their properties complained to the EPA about the magnitude of the blasting, which was being carried out to facilitate construction of a rail spur.
Whitehaven Coal, which this week began advertising for 450 workers to run the mine, has approval to conduct no more than an average of four blasts a week each year, according to its management plan.
But former Maules Creek resident and Lock the Gate Alliance national co-ordinator Phil Laird said it was apparent that if the blasts in question were “well below” the acceptable level, as stated by the EPA, then there was a “problem”.
“Based on the reactions that people have had, if this is normal for mining then obviously there’s a real problem with the standards,” he said.
“It’s pretty concerning. Clearly people’s expectations are different to what the EPA’s position is.”
Mr Nudd said because the blasting did not take place inside a mine pit like most blasting, the noise “may have been heard further away than usual”.