Wambo Coal has received a $60,000 fine following a blast mishap that sent an orange dust plume blowing towards Jerrys Plains in the NSW Hunter region in 2014.
The nitrogen oxide (NOx) gas blew from the Warkworth colliery northwest into Jerrys Plains, with reports of residents experiencing a ‘rotten egg smell’, itchy eyes, coughing, and difficulty breathing, according to the Newcastle Herald.
The offence was not in the blast, rather, in the fumes blowing from the premises; as the prosecutor noted the company “had full responsibility for monitoring the weather conditions, and making the decision to detonate the blast”.
Following concerns raised by the community, the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) commenced an investigation of the blast, requesting a report from the company as well as video footage of the blast.
The Land and Environment Court found that although the fumes affected nearby residents, the impacts were not severe, as the fumes ceased after 25 minutes.
The judge gave the company, a subsidiary of Peabody Australia, a discount on the initial $90,000 fine by one third due to its early guilty plea and its attempt to improve its practices, and its remorse – taking the fine down to $60,000. They were also ordered to pay Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) costs.
Some residents were angered over the ruling, calling it a ‘slap on the wrist’, as the company was previously fined for blasting issues in 2012. This incident had them convicted, fined $13,000 and ordered to pay costs of $24,000 by Singleton Local Court.
One Jerrys Plains resident who did not want to be named said, “They don’t care. It will happen again, $60,000 is nothing to them.”
A Wambo Coal spokesperson said the company accepted the decision and offered an apology to nearby residents.
“Wambo Coal takes its environmental obligations seriously and continues to work closely with the Department of Planning to improve its blast management practices and enhance community protection,” she said.
Peabody Energy is planning to expand the Wambo project following the release of the environmental impact statement on the joint Glencore and Peabody United Wambo mine. The company is seeking approval for the extension of the mine by combining it with existing coal reserves at the nearby United underground coal mine – a joint venture between Glencore and the CFMEU – which is currently in care and maintenance.