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BHP's Caroona coal mine fails Gateway tests

Date

Peter Hannam

'Autobahn' not Gateway, says local farmer Tim Duddy.

'Autobahn' not Gateway, says local farmer Tim Duddy.

A major coal mine planned by BHP Billiton for north-western NSW would have "direct and significant impacts" on the productivity of rich local farmland, an independent panel has found.

The NSW Mining and Petroleum Gateway Panel found the Caroona Coal mine proposed for a site near Gunnedah failed all six main criteria assessed for biophysical impacts on agricultural land. It gave the project a “conditional” certificate.

The panel identified a range of impacts linked to expected subsidence from the proposed underground mine, including loss of surface water into cracks and salinity. It also called for more site studies and detailed groundwater modelling to “improve the certainty of any predictions”.

“Of concern to the panel is the potential cumulative impact on the ‘highly productive’ Upper Namoi alluvial aquifer,” the report said.

Tim Duddy, a farmer whose house sits on top of the proposed mine, said the panel should have the option to reject a proposal rather than give it a green or amber light.

“It’s not a gateway, it’s an autobahn - get there as fast as you can,” Mr Duddy said, adding the report highlighted all the issues the community had been raising for years that are yet to addressed.

Jeremy Buckingham, Greens NSW spokesman on mining and agriculture, said the panel’s findings indicate mining in the area would be “a terrible idea”.

“The Gateway Panel report is damning and clearly fails this mine proposal as totally unviable if we want to protect our best agricultural land on the Liverpool Plains,” said Mr Buckingham.

A spokeswoman for the Planning Minister Pru Goward said the approval process still has a way to go: “The department will consult further with the Gateway Panel during the formal assessment process to ensure the matters in its conditional certificate are adequately addressed."

BHP, the world's biggest miner, said the Gateway Certificate would allow the company to progress to the Envionmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Development Application stage for the mine.

“BHP Billiton will incorporate the Gateway Panel and Independent Expert Scientific Committee’s recommendations in the EIS, which is expected to be submitted in early 2015," Peter Sharpe, NSW Energy Coal Asset President, said.

“BHP Billiton will only develop the project if strict environmental requirements can be met and real benefits for the economy and community can be demonstrated.

One opponent of the mine - and another nearby - is local federal MP, agricultural minister Barnaby Joyce, whose family used to own land nearby.

"There's no better place in the country for farming," he said. "I can't do anything about it - it's the role of the state government".

As proposed the Caroona Mine would have a capacity of as much as 10 million tonnes of thermal coal production annually, and create as many as 400 jobs. The nearby Shenhua Watermark coal mine, of a similar scale, is closer to approval, having won approval for its Environmental Impact Statement.

The overall coal industry is facing tougher times, however, with companies responding to tumbling coal prices to shed jobs and close some mines in Australia.

Fiona Simson, president of NSW Farmers, said the panel’s report vindicated the community’s concerns that have been held since the mine was first proposed about eight years ago.

“Since 2006, the community has been in upheaval,” Ms Simson said. “It’s just not fair.”

The panel should have no option but to recommend the mine be stopped but instead, is basically powerless, she said. “It is literally a legislative hoop that the project goes through.”

 

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