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BHP's legacy in the Hunter: a toxic dam the size of Sydney?

BHP Billiton must be forced to fill in legacy voids from the Mt Arthur mine coal mine at Muswellbrook to avoid putting the Hunter River at risk for hundreds of years into the future, according to the Lock The Gate Alliance.

The company's planned “final voids” at the mine – one of which will be larger in than the Sydney CBD and 180 metres deep – will act as toxic groundwater sinks, reducing river flow and increasing salinity for generations into the future, Lock The Gate's Hunter Coordinator, Steve Phillips will tell a NSW Planning Assessment Commission meeting in Muswellbrook today. The PAC is meeting to assess BHP's plans to extend the life of the mine by four years, to 2026, and increase the size of the mine by 260 hectares.

"BHP Billiton plans to get as much coal out of the ground as possible and then get out of the Hunter Valley,” said Phillips. “The company's legacy in the Hunter will be a massive toxic lake, hundreds of metres deep and several kilometres long, that will continue to pollute the Hunter River for the next 250 years.

"The NSW government must not allow BHP to leave us this toxic legacy. This is the biggest coal mine in Australia, and one of the richest mining companies on the planet. Surely it is not too much for the public to ask BHP to fill in the holes at the end of the mine's life.”

Lock The Gate will present the PAC with the findings of it's new report Unfair Shares: How coal mines bought the Hunter River on the cumulative impacts of the region's coal mines on the quality and quantity of water in the Hunter. One of the report's eight recommendations is that the NSW Government discontinue its practice of approving new and expanded coal mine proposals even when a mine proponent has failed to show there is enough water available for the project.

“Mt Arthur is a very thirsty coal mine,” said Phillips. “It consumes 6.5 billion litres of water per annum, most of it used to wash coal, with 1.8 billion litres used in dust suppression.”

"When the next big drought strikes and general security water licences are reduced to zero, as they were in 2007, our research shows that BHP Billiton may not have enough water to operate the Mt Arthur mine. Does this mean the company will skimp on its dust suppression regime, or cease operations?"

"How can the state government keep approving new and expanded coal mines without proof there is enough water to keep the operations going?

Among the recommendations of Unfair Shares is that rehabilitation bonds collected by the state government be increased to equal the full costs of rehabilitation, including the infilling of mine voids and the restoration of original landscape contours.

"If it is too expensive for a multi-billion dollar global mining company to fill in the hole when they finish a coal mine – then that mine is uneconomic and should not go ahead. It's that simple," said Phillips.

A new aerial photograph of the Mount Arthur mine is available here.

The PAC meeting begins at the Muswellbrook RSL Club at 9:30am.


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  • Paul Balding
    commented 2020-03-25 00:33:48 +1100
    Fill it up with water at the end of coal production. Will make a great dam site.