Bylong coal mine in NSW inches closer to approval

New South Wales’ Department of Planning and Environment has referred revised plans for a thermal coal mine development 55km from Mudgee to an independent planning commission for approval.

Owned by South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), the proposed Bylong coal mine in Bylong Valley, west of the Blue Mountains, initially raised environmental and social impact concerns following the publication of a review by the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) — then called the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) — in July last year.

Its review cited concerns voiced by attendees of a May 2017 public hearing, resulting in a conclusion that “found uncertainty and incomplete information about the risks and benefits of the project”.

The Department of Planning has now passed on the revised plans to the IPC following subsidiary KEPCO Bylong Australia’s submission of revisions to its mine proposal in July.

Should it receive approval, KEPCO’s mine will have a proposed mine life of 25 years (including two years for construction) for delivery of 6.5Mt/y of run-of-mine (ROM) thermal coal, or 119.8Mt of ROM coal over 23 operational years.

KEPCO has so far invested over $700 million into the multi-billion dollar project. The project would feature a staff peak of 650 people during construction and 450 during operations.

Bylong is proposed to start with two open-cut mining areas for the first seven years of operation, at which point longwall underground mining will be introduced. The project will be managed by Australian engineering group WorleyParsons.

Environmental groups have been critical of the NSW Government’s decision. Carmel Flint, a spokesperson from anti-mining environmental group Lock the Gate Alliance, said the timing was particularly poor in the wake of a landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released yesterday.

“The recommendation to proceed with the Bylong mine shows the NSW Government is completely missing in action on climate change just as the IPCC warns warming beyond 1.5 degrees risks catastrophic heat and disruption,” she said.

“Not only will this mine put the climate at risk, but new research shows it will take South Korean mining giant KEPCO one step closer to destroying a magnificent valley with state significant heritage values.”

KEPCO Bylong’s chief operating officer Bill Vatovec also responded to the NSW Government’s decision, saying the revised plan was economically viable and that the mine would be “an economic and employment boon for the Mid-Western region”.

“Independent economic modelling has demonstrated the project will provide a benefit of $4.8 to $5 billion for the Mid-Western Regional Council local government area and $6.4 to $6.8 billion for the NSW economy,” he said.

“KEPCO Bylong Australia is fully committed to the project. The Bylong Coal Project will play an essential role in the future energy security of the Republic of Korea.”

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