A $54,000 "compensation" payment from Idemitsu for water theft at its Boggabri Coal Mine during the peak of the worst drought in living memory falls far short of community expectations, and will not deter other companies from committing similar offences, says Lock the Gate Alliance.
The NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator yesterday published the details of an “enforceable undertaking” agreement it had reached with the mining company.
It comes nearly two years after Lock the Gate Alliance first wrote to the regulator, raising concerns that Idemitsu was in violation of its approval because it was unlawfully collecting and using hundreds of millions of litres of clean water on-site that should have been diverted around the mine into the local creek system. Lock the Gate believes Idemitsu had been stealing the water since at least 2017. (Complaint available here)
The enforceable undertaking also comes two years after Whitehaven Coal was prosecuted for a similar offence, and ordered to pay $200,000 in the Land and Environment Court. At the time, local farmers reacted angrily, saying $200,000 was just a “slap on the wrist” for a company like Whitehaven.
Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter, whose family was forced to destock and relocate due to the impacts of the drought, said the agreement between NRAR and Idemitsu was inadequate.
“While we and many other farmers were forced to destock or even sell up due to a lack of water, and the price of water was going through the roof, Idemitsu was syphoning hundreds of millions of litres out of this catchment illegally,” she said.
“This is less than a slap on the wrist. It potentially encourages coal mining companies to commit serious crimes like water theft with effectively no serious penalty.
“Taking precious water unlawfully, especially during devastating times like the last drought, must be punished in a way that sends a strong signal to the rest of the mining industry.
“The mining company took what it wanted without considering the local community or the environment. The NSW government let this happen, only investigated because Lock the Gate complained, and then struck a deal with the company that is not proportionate to the offence.
“Coal mining companies like Idemitsu make huge profits and when their environmental conditions don’t suit them, they break them with impunity.”
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW coordinator Nic Clyde said, “The Natural Resources Access Regulator has the power to dish out much more serious penalties than this. Its failure to do so in this instance sends the wrong signal, given we know this is not the only mining operation in the state that has illegally taken water.
“We also need the NSW Minns Government to really back authorities like NRAR so mining companies that commit serious crimes like stealing hundreds of millions of litres of water can be appropriately penalised. This is what the community expects.”