Communities from the Illawarra to Sydney are celebrating this morning after South32 revealed it would not proceed with its dangerous Dendrobium coal mine expansion.
The company had faced sustained pressure from locals since it first announced its plans to expand the coal mine due to concerns about the project’s impact on Sydney and the Illawarra's drinking water catchment, cultural heritage sites, greenhouse gas emissions, and unique upland swamp ecosystems.
The Independent Planning Commission (IPC) originally rejected the proposal for these reasons in 2021, but political interference led to the NSW Government labelling the expansion a “state significant infrastructure” proposal, and the mining company was encouraged to resubmit plans for an expansion.
However even that scaled down proposal would have had significant detrimental effects on Sydney and the Illawarra’s drinking water supply, and WaterNSW recently wrote a scathing submission in response to the revised expansion, noting:
“The submitted proposal is considered unacceptable to WaterNSW in its current form due to impacts on water quantity, water quality and ecological integrity within the Metropolitan Special Area.”
Deidre Stuart, secretary for Illawarra and Sydney based environmental group Protect Our Water Catchment Incorporated said it was fantastic news.
“This is a terrific outcome for all those who spent many hours working to stop what was a clearly unacceptable proposal from the very beginning. It was never in the public interest,” she said.
“The ‘state significant infrastructure’ declaration was an assault on good governance and on communities.
“It’s a great shame that many politicians were lining up across the political spectrum to undermine the original Planning Commission ruling. Thank goodness common sense has prevailed.
“POWC remains very concerned about the lack of remediation on not just South32-owned mines but across all the mines in the Illawarra escarpment, as well as the ongoing legacy problems of methane emissions.
“The community would be nowhere without the support of the groups including EDO who are willing to work for us pro-bono to defend the IPC refusal in the court.”
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Nic Clyde urged South32 not to cut and run from its existing coal mine in light of its decision not to proceed with the expansion.
“South32 must rehabilitate the land at Dendrobium as mining at the site comes to its natural end. Gradual rehabilitation once the mine closes will give workers ongoing employment, and it will protect the water catchment area from further degradation.
“We’re calling for the NSW Government to guarantee that it will not allow this expansion plan to be handed on to another mining company, and will instead legislate to finally protect Sydney’s drinking water catchment from any new or expanded coal mining.
“The drinking water catchment for 5 million people is an incredible asset that needs protection - it’s past time, and the NSW Perrottet Government must act now."
The Australian Government’s Independent Expert Scientific Committee said the Project would result in “severe, long-lasting and irreversible” impacts to “near-pristine water resources in the restricted catchment of Sydney’s drinking water supply” that would reduce “water quality and inflows to Sydney’s drinking water storage”.
The IESC summarised their advice by declaring - in effect - that South32’s longwall project should not go ahead, finding that “the project’s impacts will be severe, irreversible and persistent, and that longwall mining methods are not appropriate in this context.”