Freedom of information documents show Whitehaven Coal environmental licence breaches

Whitehaven Coal has been labelled a “rogue operator”, after documents obtained through a freedom of information request show all four of the company’s Namoi coal mines breached at least one of their licence conditions in the past six years.

The documents also revealed despite more than 50 breaches between 2010 and 2016, the NSW government only fined the coal giant seven times, for a total of $24,000.

However, the company said it had a “great deal of confidence” in its record of environmental management and had demonstrated a “trend of strong compliance” over many years.

It took Environmental Justice Australia nine months to get the annual reports for Whitehaven’s Narrabri, Rocglen, Maules Creek and Tarrawonga mines, which the company fought to keep secret.

The reports, which are lodged to the state government, detail every instances of the mines’ non-compliance with their environmental licence.

The breaches ranged from exceeding noise and blast limits to water and air pollution.

Of the *20 annual reports, only twice were mines found to be compliant – Narrabri in 2011/12 and Maules Creek in 2013/14.

The NSW Environmental Protection Authority issued seven Penalty Infringement Notices – four to Tarrawonga, two to Narrabri and one to Rocglen.

Six of the infringements incurred a $1500 fine, but the company was hit with a larger fine of $15,000 when it went over the extraction limit for the Tarrawonga mine by more than 136,000 tonnes of coal – which had a market value in the millions.

Whitehaven is currently seeking approval to expand its Vickery coal mine. EJA research James Whelan said it would be negligent of the government to allow the expansion, given the company “consistently disregards its environmental licence conditions”.

“Our analysis cements Whitehaven’s reputation as a rogue polluter and bad neighbour that flaunts environmental constraints,” Dr Whelan said.

A Whitehaven spokesman said mining in NSW was subject to extremely strict environmental controls and the company took its obligations to comply with them “very seriously”.

“Where there have been occasional instances of non-compliance, we have worked closely with all stakeholders, including the state government, to ensure any issues are quickly addressed and remedied,” he said.

Maules Creek landholder and Lock the Gate national coordinator Phil Laird said “Whitehaven Coal is a rogue operator”.

“They are short changing communities on approval commitments, and putting these funds towards expanding and threatening other districts,” he said.

“This is not acceptable. They shouldn’t even be considered for any further projects until they are 100 per cent compliant at Maules Creek.”

*Maules Creek mine did not start operations until 2013, while no report was provided for Rocglen 2015/16.