New Acland coal expansion blocked, 700 jobs at risk

New Hope Group’s expansion plans for the New Acland coal mine in Queensland’s Darling Downs region have received another setback.

The coal miner, which has been seeking approval for the New Acland mine expansion for the past decade, wants to invest $900 million at the site north-west of Toowoomba to increase annual production to 7.5 million tonnes (Mt) of thermal coal.

New Hope’s expansion of New Acland has been repeatedly met with resistance because of the uncertainty around the project’s impact on Darling Downs agricultural land, particularly how it would affect groundwater supplies

The Queensland Department of Environment and Science yesterday confirmed it had refused a New Hope application for an amended environmental authority to allow the stage three expansion.

The department said the decision to refuse the application was in line with the recommendation of the Land Court, which was handed down in May 2017.

“This followed 99 days of expert and lay witness testimony regarding the potential impacts of the project,” the department said in a statement.

The Land Court recommended last May that the New Acland leases and an Environmental Authority amendment for the stage three expansion should not be provided because of the potential impacts the operation could cause to the environment.

New Hope managing director Shane Stephen said the company was disappointed with the outcome and was considering its options in response.

“As previously advised a judicial review of the Land Court decision is underway,” Stephen said. “The company is committed to securing approval for this project and in doing so being able to provide ongoing employment for the circa 700 jobs reliant on the project.”

While the decision has delighted environmental groups and local farmers, the Queensland mining industry was not as pleased.

Queensland Resources Council (QRC) chief executive Ian Macfarlane said regional jobs in the state had been dealt a major blow by the department’s refusal.

“This very surprising decision handed down without any reasoning or explanation, puts at risk more than 700 jobs despite the project undergoing rigorous government assessment processes, including an examination by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee as part of the federal government’s approval,” Macfarlane said.

“This project is vital to the Darling Downs and would create a further 2300 indirect jobs and create $7 billion in economic benefits over the life of the project.

“Such a significant amount of job losses will have devastating flow-on effects to such a small community and the surrounding businesses that rely on the mine.”