Gaping hole in assessing the true impact of final voids

END GAME: The cumulative impacts of large open cut mines in the Hunter Region have not been assessed in their entirety or costed, argues one opponent.
END GAME: The cumulative impacts of large open cut mines in the Hunter Region have not been assessed in their entirety or costed, argues one opponent.

THE NSW Minerals Council continues to mislead the community on the impact of final voids in the Hunter. (‘Coalmining peak body defends use of final voids’, Newcastle Herald, 10/1). The reference by Stephen Galilee, chief executive of NSW Minerals Council, to rehabilitation bonds does not explain the full story.

The bonds are relinquished once a mine has formally closed. The final voids are left in the landscape forever. Most are predicted to impact on groundwater systems for many hundreds of years. The stability of the side walls of voids over many hundreds of years is an unknown.

Who will be responsible for the management of hyper saline lakes in the Hunter landscape once the mines have closed and the rehabilitation bonds are relinquished? This is still the unanswered question.

The impacts of climate change with severe weather events and localised heavy downpours have not been taken into account in the assessment of water levels in final voids over hundreds of years. The accumulation of heavy metals and salts in these pit lakes spilling into the landscape is a toxic time bomb being set for future generations.

Expansion of large open cut mines in the Hunter continue to be approved in the absence of a NSW government policy on final voids and a lack of guidelines for assessing cumulative impacts.

The proposed fifth modification of Hunter Valley Operations South wants to increase the area and the depth of the final void, intercept more groundwater and create higher overburden mountains in the landscape.

This is next door to the proposed United-Wambo superpit that the NSW Department of Planning and Environment has also referred to the Planning Assessment Commission with a recommendation for approval.

The United-Wambo joint project between Peabody and Glencore is an application to open cut eight coal seams, including four that have currently been extracted by underground mining.

The reason why coalmining is different in the Hunter to US examples, as Stephen Galilee points out, is that coal seams that were once extracted by underground methods are now being approved for open cut operations, which are much cheaper to run.

The open cut mines are even cheaper when the NSW government allows final voids to be left in the landscape rather than requiring them to be backfilled, as part of the approval process.

This is an unfair level of cost shifting from the multinational coal industry onto the environment and taxpayers of NSW.

The cumulative impacts of the large open cut mines in the Singleton area are already far too great.

The loss of base flows to the Hunter River and its tributaries, permanent destruction of groundwater sources, loss of river flats and prime agricultural land, loss of future opportunities for agriculture and food production, loss of rural communities, loss of unique bushland and a significant loss of Aboriginal cultural heritage are all irreplaceable cumulative impacts that have not been assessed in their entirety or costed.

The ongoing cumulative impacts while the mines are operating include increased air, noise and water pollution.

The NSW government is continuing to sacrifice the Hunter Region by allowing more and larger final voids to be a toxic legacy of the coal industry forever.

Bev Smiles, convenor, Hunter Communities Network

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