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Commissioners urged to flush draining Dendrobium expansion plan

A coalition of groups fighting to protect the greater Sydney region’s drinking water from coal mining beneath the catchment are desperately urging the Independent Planning Commission to reject South32’s destructive Dendrobium expansion.

Commissioners are due to hold a three day hearing into the proposal this week, beginning tomorrow (Wednesday). If approved, the longwall mining operation would drain up to an additional 5.2 million litres of water each day from Lake Cordeaux and Lake Avon.

Last week, WaterNSW staff met with IPC Commissioners and again slammed South32’s current proposal, noting, “this project was likely to have unprecedented impacts on the catchment”.

Particular concerns raised by the agency included the threat posed by the proposal to endangered ecological swamps, the sheer amount of drinking water that would be drained from the catchment, and the likelihood of extensive stream fracturing, 

WaterNSW also argued South32 had not “sufficiently considered alternative mine designs that would reduce the height of fracturing” and there “are still outstanding questions about whether the groundwater model which provides the predictions of surface water losses actually provides accurate worst case predictions”.

As well, the decision by South32 to proceed with a plan to conduct controversial long wall mining is at odds with a recommendation made by the former version of the IPC, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission. It recommended against fellow catchment mining company Wollongong Coal’s longwall project at nearby Russell Vale due to the risk of subsidence posed by the controversial mining method in 2016. Wollongong Coal has since pledged never to propose longwall mining inside the catchment again.

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Nic Clyde said the loss of so much drinking water as a result of a coal mine expansion was unacceptable.

“South32’s plan to rip coal out of the ground beneath the catchment area will mean we will lose drinking water as if it’s going through a sieve,” he said.

“An independent umpire like the IPC must surely realise that this is not in the interests of the wider population, or the fragile swamps that sit above the Dendrobium mine.

“So much damage has already been done to these precious and unique environmental areas - Commissioners must not allow more irreparable destruction.”

Protect Our Water Alliance spokesperson Rada Germanos said, “Longwall mining causes cracks and subsidence that will have a devastating impact on the water catchment. 

“Subsidence can also cause problems for built infrastructure like dams, roads and buildings. South32’s application means that there will be longwall mining 300 metres from Avon Reservoir and less than 700 metres from Cordeaux Reservoir.”

Illawarra Residents for Responsible Mining spokesperson Deidre Stuart said, “If the Dendrobium expansion goes ahead, most of the coal mined will be exported. Yet our main export markets are likely to dry up, because these countries have set ambitious climate targets. Global prices for both thermal and metallurgical coal are also volatile. These factors mean that mining jobs are becoming insecure and in decline. 

“We are seeing more and more workers being put onto short term contracts, and an erosion of pay and conditions. Mine expansions aren’t the solution to this problem. 

“People in Wollongong are backing the shift to renewable energy – we could have a future with green hydrogen and green steel. Wollongong is proud of its mining heritage, but we need to secure our future.”


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