THE NSW Planning Assessment Commission has approved Wallarah 2 coal mine despite conceding the risk of serious and irreversible damage to the Central Coast’s water supply is real.
The commission ended a 22-year saga to approve the controversial mine on the Central Coast/Lake Macquarie border with a decision on Wednesday that repeatedly acknowledged the risk of “unplanned early mine closure” because of the uncertainty facing global coal.
The commission signed off on 89 conditions that include the ability to shut down the mine if adverse impacts are beyond those anticipated, and a statement of 101 commitments required of Wallarah 2 owner Kores, owned by the South Korean Government and Korean and Japanese mining interests.
The approval, which includes a future proposal for Kores to discharge 300 megalitres of treated mine water into the Central Coast’s water supply in the event of water loss from the catchment due to underground mining, was slammed by community and environment groups.
“The decision shows that NSW mine approval laws are inadequate and need to be urgently overhauled,” said Australian Coal Alliance spokesman Alan Hayes and Lock the Gate Hunter coordinator Steve Phillips.
Mr Hayes said court action would be considered to stop the mine which was strongly opposed by the community because of the risks posed to the region’s drinking water catchment.
“The NSW Government is more interested in appeasing the coal industry than in the welfare of the Central Coast community,” Mr Hayes said.
“Wallarah 2 coal project is completely unacceptable and completely unwanted.”
Wallarah 2 coal project is completely unacceptable and completely unwanted.Australian Coal Alliance spokesperson Alan Hayes
Mr Phillips said the mine was risky because of its threat to the safe drinking water supply of more than 300,000 people, and “has been knocked back by a previous state government for that very reason”.
"The Coalition came to power promising to end mining in sensitive drinking water catchments. They promised to stop this very coal mine – Wallarah 2 – but now they’ve given it the green light,” Mr Phillips said.
The Planning Assessment Commission approved the underground mine to produce up to five million tonnes of coal for 25 years. The coal would be exported to Korea and used in “local domestic power stations”, it said.
It noted that demand for coal for 25 years and the acceptability of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the end use of coal remained “significant uncertainties for the project”.
The commission acknowledged subsidence of up to 2.6 metres beneath a state forest area; increased flooding impacts for more than 170 property owners that could require lifting or relocating homes and increased flooding impacts affecting 15 bridges and roads.
It also acknowledged that “economic costs and benefits of the project are finely balanced, with inevitable uncertainties about demand for thermal coal 20 years in to the future”, after Kores’ economic benefit estimate of $1.56 billion to the state was reduced to $32 million in a report commissioned by the Department of Planning.
The commission said it was satisfied impacts on surface and groundwater, and the Central Coast water supply, could be “acceptably managed”.
“The commission has found there is a small risk of impacts including to the drinking water catchment, and a small level of scientific uncertainty to these. On that basis the commission is satisfied the threat of serious or irreversible damage is very low”.
“Any potential loss to the water availability from the aquifer of the Central Coast water supply would be compensated by the applicant providing 300 megalitres a year of treated water to the catchment,” the commission said.
The underground mine would provide 450 jobs during construction and 300 once operating, and any risks could be “appropriately managed and contained” by a “rigorous framework of conditions, management plans, monotiring programs and independent audits”.