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Freedom of information: Farmers fed bulldust over Maules Creek water worries

North west NSW farmers and Lock the Gate Alliance are calling on the NSW Government to prosecute coal mining company Whitehaven after the company was found to have acted unlawfully and engaged in unethical behaviour.

The Alliance is also calling on the government to halt new coal and gas developments in the region as the full severity of the water crisis triggered by the Maules Ck coal mine becomes apparent, even as farmers grapple with an unprecedented drought.

The call comes as freedom of information documents* reveal Department of Planning staff kept Maules Creek farmers in the dark about serious problems the government water agency with the company’s groundwater reporting and modelling. 

The documents reveal that Department of Industry Water (DOIW) staff concluded that:

1) Monitoring data showed the alluvial aquifer was likely to be draining into the coal seam, not the other way around as assumed by Whitehaven’s water model.

2) There were multiple failings with how Whitehaven Coal was self-assessing the water impacts of its operation at Maules Creek.

Maules Creek farmer Rick Laird said Whitehaven’s activity was having a devastating impact on landholders around Maules Creek.

“At least 13 families clustered around Maules Creek have already had to deepen their bores or put down new ones.  These are bores that they have been used in some cases for three generations and they are all within a stone’s throw of the mine,” he said. 

“And yet I sat through a meeting where Department staff told me that they couldn’t find any problems and Whitehaven was not at all to blame for our bores going dry.

“But this was all based on what the mine told them.  There needs to be an independent investigation into how the mine’s activity has impacted on bores in the region. 

“Whitehaven has absolutely no social licence left in our region and we call on the government to shut it down.”

The revelations are just the latest in a string of controversies for the mining company, which also include:

  • Allegations it has been taking surface water illegally, according to the NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator

  • The company buying up additional groundwater from the market to use in its mine, paying three times what farmers can afford

  • An exploration licence for the Narrabri coal project being suspended due to alleged breaches of conditions

Lock the Gate Spokesperson Georgina Woods said the NSW Government must reassess its approach to mining and gas development during the severe drought.

“Farmers are battling an unprecedented drought, and to lose groundwater at a time like that is devastating. To be kept in the dark by the government about the mine’s potential role in that water loss just adds insult to injury,” she said.

“It’s clear from the disastrous impact the Maules Ck mine has had on both groundwater and surface water that the NSW planning system is failing to protect rural communities.   

“Whitehaven must be prosecuted to urgently prevent any further illegal harvesting of water and to send a message to the rest of the mining industry that these types of actions will not be tolerated.  

“The NSW Government also needs to hit the pause button on damaging new resource projects like the Vickery coal mine and the Narrabri CSG project because something is clearly going very very wrong.”

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