Pressure is mounting on the NSW government over an Illawarra coal company’s underground expansion plans in Sydney’s drinking water catchment.
Three government agencies have now criticised Gujarat NRE’s bid to modify a ‘‘preliminary works’’ project at its Russell Vale mine.
They identified potential environmental risks linked to the proposal and questioned the adequacy of an environmental assessment prepared for Gujarat. At the same time, the company said that approval for a new longwall would allow the mine to continue to operate and provide employment for more than 300 people. Its environmental assessment found any impacts were likely to be ‘‘minimal’’.
The dispute highlights tensions between environmental and mining interests in the catchment, which is also the setting of a proposed coal seam gas exploration project by Apex Energy.
Gujarat has applied to start work on a new longwall and underground access roads.
Seven swamps are located directly above or close to the project, while Cataract Creek flows nearby.
Last week, the Mercury reported the fears of the Office of Environment and Heritage, including about ‘‘potential loss of water’’ to Cataract Creek.
Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA), which owns the land, has also raised concerns.
‘‘Information contained in the ... report is inadequate for the SCA to be satisfied that the project will not have an adverse impact on Cataract Reservoir and its catchments,’’ its submission said.
SCA said ‘‘deficiencies’’ included inconsistent data, information about ground and surface water, inadequate monitoring data and uncertainty about subsidence predictions and impacts.
The NSW Office of Water said it could not support approval of the application.
‘‘The updated subsidence predictions are within the same range as the previous assessments, which were determined in 2011 to be deficient,’’ it said.
Gujarat’s head of corporate relations, Dr Chris Harvey, said the company had spent more than $4.1 million on studies and reports and was committed to working with government agencies.
‘‘We have more than three years’ worth of data on stream flows, ground water, aquatic ecology fauna and flora for sections of the catchment land covering our leases.
‘‘A number of key and sensitive features have been identified and the mine plan has been designed to afford protection to as many of these features as possible.’’
Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said the project would be determined by an independent panel.
‘‘Rest assured, potential impacts on Sydney’s drinking water supply ... will be front and centre of the department’s assessment,’’ he said.
‘‘The department has assured me it will not recommend approval for any project that will harm Sydney’s drinking water supply.’’