Whitehaven Coal will have to dismantle an illegal dam and construct a new water management system as part of a humiliating and expensive undertaking agreed to with the Natural Resources Access Regulator.
A sentencing hearing has been underway this week and will conclude this afternoon after the company’s Maules Creek coal mine pleaded guilty to stealing more than a billion litres of water over three years. The water theft occurred during the height of the recent record breaking drought in the Namoi district.
The water was captured by a dam illegally built by the company on a stream, and by several other dams on the mine site.
It was revealed in court that just prior to the hearing on August 12, Maules Creek signed an enforceable undertaking agreeing to dismantle the illegal dam and restore the natural drainage gully it intercepted. The company also agreed to construct clean water diversions to redirect catchment water around the mine site and ensure that the mine was not unlawfully taking water from the catchment of Maules Creek.
“It is outrageous it has taken this long for Whitehaven to be forced to tear down and rebuild its Maules Creek water management system so that the mine complies with the law and its own development approval,” said Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods.
“Astonishingly, the two new diversions Whitehaven is now being forced to construct were part of the original environmental conditions for the Maules Creek coal mine, but were never built.
“The Department of Planning appears to have taken no action whatsoever against this company for this extraordinary failure to comply with its planning approval.
“We’re pleased the Natural Resources Access Regulator is taking firm action to enforce New South Wales water law in the court this week, but the Department of Planning needs to explain why it didn’t take action under planning law for flagrant breaches of conditions.
“It beggars belief that a mine as controversial as Maules Creek could be built with a completely different water system to that which was approved” she said.
The latest revelations come less than a week after Whitehaven’s last sentencing in the Land and Environment Court, when it was fined $372,500 for illegally clearing land, creating illegal access tracks, and failing to rehabilitate at its Narrabri Underground coal mine.
Lock the Gate’s dossier that outlines more than 35 breaches and non-compliances and roughly $1.5M in fines Whitehaven has received for its many other crimes since 2012 is here.