IT has been revealed Whitehaven Coal has pleaded guilty to taking one billion litres of water from the Maules Creek Water Source between July 2016 and June 2019, despite not having a licence to do so.
The company entered the plea in the Land and Environment Court on April 9, and now faces up to $2.002 million in fines for taking of water in contravention, with the judgement expected to take place later this year.
The charges were laid by the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) and relate to Whitehaven's Maules Creek Mine site, and its capturing of rainfall and surface water runoff through dams and other water storages.
Over a three year period, it was found that 1000 megalitres had been taken across six different storages, the largest of which was a sediment dam that captured 340 megalitres.
Despite pleading guilty and admitting operational deficiencies, Whitehaven maintains the storing of water was accidental.
"In its two-year investigation, NRAR examined a wide range of issues in relation to water management at Maules Creek, including the 'passive take' of water by mine dams and the function and efficacy of various diversion systems," a Whitehaven spokesperson said.
"Whitehaven has acknowledged shortcomings in the operation of some of its systems, but notes that the passive take of water from rainfall and rainfall runoff was unintentional."
It is also defending its decision not to issue a statement to their stakeholders via the ASX, arguing it did not breach any requirements or obligations under the ASX listing rules.
Lock the Gate Alliance (LTGA) said the conduct is not good enough however, and called for further investigations to be launched into the company and its practices.
"The company's behaviour is notorious, but we suspect this is a bigger problem than just one mine," LTGA spokesperson Georgina Woods said.
"We think the Berejiklian government should conduct a full, independent audit of water taken by Whitehaven at its mines in the Namoi, and of the mining industry's unlicensed capture of surface water more broadly."
The organisations have been going back and forth over the issue for several years. Lock the Gate told a senate inquiry in 2018 the Maules Creek site did not have permission to be storing the amount of water it did.
Whitehaven was critical of the alliance's stance back then, claiming it was "distorting the truth" and the company's practices were legal.
Whitehaven has maintained it does all it can to follow strict guidelines, and would work cooperatively with the appropriate agencies.
"In a number of other areas examined by NRAR, Whitehaven acted in accordance with industry best practice and the company is committed to continuing to work cooperatively with NSW regulatory authorities to ensure the water management regime is fair and practical for all water users," a spokesperson said.
NRAR was hesitant to provide comment before a judgement was handed down, but said it was pleased Whitehaven had pleaded guilty.
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