Wambo mine's impact on surface and groundwater is under challenge

Big: The then Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at Peabody's Wambo Coal mine in 2011. An independent scientific committee assessment of the company's underground expansion plan criticised water impact monitoring.

Big: The then Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at Peabody's Wambo Coal mine in 2011. An independent scientific committee assessment of the company's underground expansion plan criticised water impact monitoring.

AN independent scientific committee has issued a scathing assessment of Wambo Coal’s water quality monitoring of its existing operations as Peabody Energy proposes a major expansion of underground mining.

Current surface water quality monitoring is “inadequate for identifying potential mining impacts” from Wambo’s approved, and proposed, mining operations at the site 15 kilometres west of Singleton, the Independent Expert Scientific Committee wrote in a report commissioned by the Federal and NSW governments.

The committee was sharply critical of limitations in an environmental assessment of plans to expand current underground operations by another nine longwall panels, in addition to Wambo’s open cut operations, and found it was not clear how any negative impacts of expanded mining would be mitigated or managed.

Some surface and groundwater figures had been “calculated erroneously” using areas already impacted by mining, making it difficult to detect potential impacts of future mining, the committee found.

Limited and incorrect data also made it difficult to calculate cumulative impacts of the proposal in an area that had already been heavily mined since 1969, and was in close proximity to other mines.

The committee questioned how Wambo would manage onsite water to comply with environmental licence conditions after Wambo advised it did not hold sufficient salinity credits under the Hunter River Salinity Trading Scheme to accommodate expected future discharge needs. The problem is exacerbated by the expiry of some of the mine’s credits in 2020.

In a response to broader objections to the expansion plan, including subsidence and impacts on biodiversity, Wambo said it was preparing a more detailed report on surface and groundwater issues raised, but a surface water assessment in 2016 concluded expansion would not have a significant impact on surface water quality.

“As there would be no material surface water impacts as a result of the modification, further consideration of cumulative impacts is not considered to be required,” Wambo said.

Lock the Gate coordinator Georgina Woods said the Wambo mine had been modified beyond recognition since it was first approved.

“If this modification is granted there will be three times the number of longwalls originally described. The planning system doesn’t have a way of coping with these changing and growing mining projects that gives the public confidence our river system is not being seriously degraded and compromised by them,” Ms Woods said.

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