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Huge Narrabri underground coal mine approval given to Whitehaven day after company prosecuted for polluting Murray-Darling Basin

Namoi Valley farmers and their supporters are incensed following the Independent Planning Commission’s decision to grant approval to Whitehaven’s water draining, greenhouse gas polluting Narrabri Underground Coal Mine extension.

The decision comes a day after Whitehaven was prosecuted and fined $158,000 in the NSW Land and Environment Court for a pollution event involving the uncontrolled release of small styrofoam balls used in explosive mixtures at a mine just 25km from the new approval.

Whitehaven has an appalling environmental record, having been investigated or found guilty of legal breaches more than 35 times in the last decade (see shame file here). 

The underground expansion, would produce nearly half a billion tonnes of carbon emissions (page 34, paragraph 151), drain at least nine water bores relied on by local farmers (page 27 paragraph 106) and cause subsidence in the Pilliga Forest - including at culturally significant sites for Gomeroi people (page 24, paragraph 84).

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said approval conditions placed on Whitehaven meant little given the company’s repeated criminal behaviour.

“We know that Whitehaven has no problem violating the conditions placed on its mining operations. The conditions imposed by Commissioners are cold comfort and hold no credibility,” she said.

Ms Woods said it was appalling commissioners had only tentatively acknowledged the harm burning coal has caused to the planet (Page 34, paragraph 174) and had approved the expansion during a month when catastrophic flooding left a trail of destruction in the state’s Northern Rivers region. 

“East coast communities are suffering cataclysmic, ongoing devastation due to recent floods which were made worse due to the burning of fossil fuels. Every tonne of greenhouse gas is making this danger worse, let alone close to half a billion tonnes," she said.

“People are reeling from the impacts of the climate crisis right now, and the time available to prevent global warming reaching catastrophic levels is a matter of a few years. 

“Climate change is costing Australians untold emotional and physical damage but this seems to have had no impact at all on the Independent Planning Commission. It’s unfathomable. 

“No perceived benefit from opening a new coal mine or expanding an existing one can possibly compare to the devastation the climate crisis is already wreaking on Australia.”

Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said Namoi Valley communities were sick of seeing Whitehaven rewarded for its illegal behaviour. She said locals would bear the cost in terms of drained water bores and degraded landscapes.

“Not only was the company just yesterday fined mere chicken feed for serious pollution, but it has now been rewarded with approvals for an entirely new and destructive expansion,” she said.

“It beggars belief this company can commit serious crimes and instead of being appropriately punished, it is given more land to destroy, more water to drain, more lives to upend.

“This is a disgraceful decision by the Independent Planning Commission and will haunt our region and New South Wales for generations to come.”


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