Shenhua’s Watermark Coal project headed to the Planning Assessment Commission this week as more than 400 people took part in a protest march against the massive new coal mine.
The open-cut coal project, located on the Liverpool Plains in north-west New South Wales, will produce 10 million tonnes of coal per annum if approved, and employ more than 600 people.
The company said its 6000-page Environmental Impact Statement is the largest in state’s history, and has already won the approval of the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.
With an annual turnover of more than one billion dollars each year for its 30 year life-span, the mine is expected to deliver $900 million in economic benefits to the local region each year.
The Planning Assessment Commission is now the project’s last hurdle, and started hearing from 77 registered speakers on Thursday.
Opposition to the project is strong, with some locals concerned about the impact the mine could have on the highly fertile Liverpool Plains land, effects on groundwater and the impact increased activity will have to local infrastructure.
Around 400 people took to Gunnedah’s main street yesterday to protest against project’s approval, Namoi Valley Independent reported.
“This is in support of the sustainable agriculture of the Liverpool Plains. The community, as a whole, has enormous concerns about the agricultural viability of mining development if this project is allowed to go ahead on the scale that is proposed,” Caroona Coal Action Group spokesperson Tim Duddy said.
Duddy claims Shenhua’s water modelling is incorrect, calling it “half-baked” and “rushed”.
NSW Farmers President Fiona Simson also raised questions about the coal miner’s water studies.
“The Independent Scientific Expert Committee has raised enormous issues about the methodology, about how they’ve established whether or not there are cumulative impacts, about how they’ve determined the connection between the coal seam and the Great Artisan Basin – yet we see the Department of Planning’s response was just that Shenhua must buy water,” Simson said.
“We have huge concerns about that and we do not want a mine to go ahead in an area that will create impacts, not just on one or two generations, but many generations.”
Using data from more than 100 groundwater testing sites, Shenhua remains adamant that the mine will not have a major or lasting impact on aquifers.
Watermark’s project manager Paul Jackson said the mine is a good story for the Gunnedah region.
“I think we have struck the right balance between mining, agriculture and the environment,” Jackson has previously said.
“Technically what we’re proposing is no different operationally to what’s been done in the Hunter Valley, or any other parts of Australia or Queensland.
“The community should have confidence in the process.”
Jackson said community concerns have been taken into account in every aspect of the mine’s development, and have been thoroughly dealt with in the EIS.
“At the end of the day, people are going to have their opinions about this project,” Jackson said.
“We’ll rely on the science and we’ll rely on the facts, not the rhetoric.”
PAC hearings will continue on Friday.
Image: Namoi Valley Independent