Water catchment mining ‘making mockery’ of the system

Underground impact: An example of creek bad cracking, in the Waratah Rivulet, nearby coal mining areas. This is not the area subject to the report in question.

Underground impact: An example of creek bad cracking, in the Waratah Rivulet, nearby coal mining areas. This is not the area subject to the report in question.

Allowing longwall mining in special areas of our drinking water catchment – without proper assessment – makes a mockery of environmental protection, Illawarra green groups say.

And miner South32 has been warned of the “high risk” of continuing its longwall mining plans near the Avon Dam area.

Environmentalists and the catchment body WaterNSW have called for changes after a new study showed major impacts on the surface above Area 3B of South32’s Dendrobium coal mine.

The report, by consultants PSM, concluded there is not enough certainty about water losses above longwall mine areas. That is, predictions relied upon by miners are not accurate enough.

WaterNSW, which owns and protects the drinking water dams, spoke out on Wednesday to endorse the report's recommendation for “more stringent monitoring conditions being imposed on mining companies”.

WaterNSW said longwall panels should be reduced in height, width, and proximity to the surface, and also warned about the “high risk” of proceeding with Dendrobium longwalls 16-18 in its controversial Area 3B.

Dendrobium, which is entered from Mt Kembla, had its Area 3B sector approved without an adequate water impact assessment in 2013.

But the PSM study revealed new cracks extending to the surface above 3B, raising concerns of water loss.

National Parks Association mining projects science officer Peter Turner said the assessment which gave permission to the mine was deeply flawed.

“It isn’t possible to have confidence in the system as it stands,” Dr Turner said.

“It’s utterly what you would not expect from a government in NSW that claims it makes evidence-based decisions and has an open approach to government. It makes a mockery of all those things.”

Dr Turner said this mine’s history had multiple examples of water reports not being made public – and even being kept from government agencies.

“The Government allows miners to withhold information from Planning, WaterNSW, the Office of Environment and Heritage and the public - so putting the miners’ interests ahead of the public interest,” he said.

WaterNSW said there are concerns about “connection” between mined areas and Cordeaux and Avon dams – that is, cracks from underground potentially draining the dam.

It said no further expansion of longwall coal mining should be allowed adjacent to the drinking water dams.

South32 said it was examining the report.

“We will continue to engage with government agencies and other key stakeholders to ensure continued compliance with consent conditions ...” a South32 spokeswoman said.

The Planning Department did not respond to questions before deadline.

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