Policy void: $15b pit hole legacy in the Hunter just the latest coal mining policy failure

Published: March 10, 2015

The Lock the Gate Alliance says failed NSW policy on coal mining voids is the latest in a series of policy voids that will leave the Hunter Valley with an expensive mess if coal mines continue to be approved without upfront controls and limits.

The Planning and Assessment Commission report on the Warkworth mine expansion, released last week, described the mine expansion as “approvable” but also said that Rio Tinto’s proposed final void was “unacceptable.” The Commission recommended that a study be undertaken as a matter of priority “to establish a policy position on voids for future mining projects and mine expansion projects” because “The commission does not accept that a mining legacy of large voids across the Hunter Valley is acceptable.”[1]

The Department of Planning told the PAC that there were 30 final voids approved for the Valley. In other documents released with the Warkworth report, a figure of $500 million per final void was quoted[2]. This means the industry is leaving the Hunter with $15 billion worth of unfilled holes.

Lock the Gate New South Wales Coordinator, Georgina Woods said, “This issue has been a literal and metaphoric running sore in the Hunter and Gunnedah Basin for many years. The Independent Expert Scientific Committee says that filling in mine voids is best practice and there have been urgent pleas from water users to make sure the voids are filled and do not become saline groundwater sinks, yet the Government has been letting the coal companies get away with approvals that leave these open wounds in the Valley.

“Many coal mine approvals have been issued in the last five years despite coal companies claiming they could not profitably operate their mines if they had to fill in the void. Now finally we have a dollar figure on how much it costs.

“The Government must draw the line and tell the industry that filling in mine voids is the cost of doing business for mining and an integral part of achieving a social license. That goes for all existing mines, as well as new and expanding ones.

“We do not want this to just join the list of overdue policies that are languishing while the expansion of the coal mines continues and communities suffer the impacts.

Recent policies promised but not delivered to control the environmental impacts of mining include:

  • a database of areas already set aside as offsets
  • a cultural heritage assessment methodology
  • development assessment guideline for impacts on human health from dust generated by mining and other activities
  • a cumulative impact assessment methodology to management cumulative health and amenity impacts of mining and coal seam gas proposals.
  • a review of the Industrial Noise Policy

Ms Woods concluded, “These promises are part of the unfinished business of mining reform in New south Wales. They must be implemented. Other industries have to accept regulation to minimise their impact on other people and businesses, its time the mining industry was made to operate in a way that did not leave a legacy of ruin and regret.”

Lock the Gate’s full policy platform for mining reform ahead of the NSW State Election is available here: http://www.lockthegate.org.au/nswvotes

Further comment: Georgina Woods 0437 405 932


[1] Warkworth Review Report.

[2] Warkworth Review Report Appendix 3 Summary of Meetings. 

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