Clarence Coal fined $1m for coal slurry spillage in Blue Mountains

Clarence Colliery has received a fine of more than $1 million for a coal slurry spillage that affected the Wollangambe river and the Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park.

The NSW Land and Environment Court convicted the company of two offences and imposed more than $1,050,000 million in penalties after more than 2300 tonnes of coal material leaked from the site’s coal storage area on 2 July 2015.

Clarence Colliery, a joint venture between Centennial Coal (85 per cent) and SKA Energy Australia, is located near Lithgow in the Western Coalfields of NSW.

The colliery was prosecuted by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for “negligently causing the escape of coal material in a manner that harmed the environment” and prosecuted by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) for causing damage to the National Park.

The first charge incurred a $720,000 penalty and the second a $330,000 penalty.

This a record fine for the EPA, as the largest penalty for a single prosecution. The total penalty is set to reach nearly $1.5 million once legal and investigation costs are taken into account.

“The penalty is on top of more than 12 months’ work and $2 million Clarence Colliery paid to clean up the impacts of the incident,” EPA chair and CEO Barry Buffier said.

“Clarence Colliery’s management of the storage area was negligent, resulting in significant impacts to the neighbouring environment.”

Earlier this year, a Western Sydney University study found the toxic discharge from the colliery was affecting the Blue Mountains area. It identified elevated levels of zinc and nickel in the Wollangambe river below the discharge area and identified pollution from the mine extending for around 22km downstream.

When delivering the judgement, Justice Robson said, “I find that Clarence Colliery’s conduct caused both substantial actual harm and likely environmental harm and that the areas adversely affected were areas of high environmental and conservation value which were specifically preserved and clearly intended to be relatively free of pollution”.

The EPA issued Clarence Colliery clean up notices and supervised a clean-up activities which involved 44 inspections and more 600 helicopter trips to remove 214 tonnes of the discharge from the river.

“Following clean-up, at the sample locations only trace amounts of coal remain in the environment and river, and areas that were impacted are showing signs of recovery,” Buffier added.

The colliery was also required by the EPA to stop all activities and transfer the coal slurry to an alternate facility to prevent the incident happening again. However, the colliery decided to stop using the facility to store coal slurry.

The court also ordered Clarence Colliery to fund five projects proposed by the EPA and OEH, which will benefit the environment around Lithgow and Blue Mountains National Park conservation activities.

OEH chief executive Anthony Lean said, “This penalty sends a clear message to the community that companies unlawfully causing damage to a park will pay a high price for their actions.”

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