A cease and desist letter over alleged illegal construction and use of a pipeline to transport groundwater from farming properties has been issued to Whitehaven Coal over its Maules Creek operation.
But its not known what legal effect a desist letter will have from the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) on Whitehaven. The legal letter comes as the NSW water regulator continues an inquiry into the pipeline from two farms, bought by Whitehaven, that run to the Maules Creek mine near Gunnedah. The pipeline has just been completed but is not in operation.
Lock the Gate Alliance said that the state's water watchdog, the Natural Resource Access Regulator announced it was investigating the proposed pipeline last month. but the Alliance alleges, and now backed by the EDO, that the pipelines are outside the mine's development consent.
Therefore any potential action over the pipelines from the two properties to access groundwater would have to be handled by the Department of Planning.
Lock the Gate says in a time when farmers were struggling in the drought any further water impact in the Namoi will hurt groundwater supplies in the area.
Late last week, the Environmental Defenders Office issued Whitehaven Coal with a cease and desist letter on behalf of Lock the Gate Alliance. It alleges that the mine will be taking valuable farm groundwater from an area outside the mine's approved area for water extraction.
Lock the Gate NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said it was the Alliance's view that "the construction of the pipeline was illegal as it was well outside the approved mine project".
"The properties the mine is taking alluvial groundwater from are outside the approved mining area and therefore should not be used to supplement the company's water," she said.
The two properties are Olivedene and Brighton.
"When the impact of the Maules Creek coal mine was being assessed, the company never said it would be buying up local farms and piping productive groundwater to the mine," Ms Woods said.
"The mine's water use was modelled for a range of climatic conditions and Whitehaven never planned to use alluvial water for washing coal and suppressing dust.
"Whitehaven is a rogue operator, running a mine in a parched landscape at a time when farmers in the region are struggling against this severe drought.
"Whitehaven Coal has already outbid multiple farmers for groundwater allocations, paying exorbitant prices that farmers simply can't compete against. It has been found to be illegally taking surface water, and now we have this unauthorised groundwater pipeline.
"Locals in the area are at their wits' end. The bores Whitehaven is extracting from were for farming and irrigation - never for mining.
"We demand Whitehaven immediately stop using these bores to extract water and call on the government agencies to prosecute this company for its blatant breaches of environmental law." She said NSW state authorities should "throw the book" at Whitehaven over the water extraction bid.
A response was being sought from Whitehaven. It is believed the company has received the EDO legal letter and will respond directly to the EDO shortly. It is believed the company will contend that water comes from company assets, not farms, and is using valid Water Access Licences for the applicable Water Sharing Zone in Whitehaven's possession. Maules Creek is a major local employer.
It is not known if legal action will be pursued over the pipeline.