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Narrabri Underground

Narrabri Underground Coal Mine Stage 3 Expansion

The Narrabri Underground coal project is located south-west of Narrabri.  It is owned by Whitehaven Coal via a subsidiary (Narrabri Coal Operations Pty Ltd). 

The current underground mine was approved to extract 11Mtpa of coal until 2031, but Whitehaven is now seeking an expansion which will allow it to continue until 2044.

This mine expansion will have a severe impact on cultural heritage sites important to Gomeroi Traditional Owners, groundwater bores relied on by farmers, the mighty Pilliga forest and the plants and animals which occur there, as well as the social fabric of the surrounding region.

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The expansion was approved by the NSW Planning Commission in April 2022 but that approval is now being challenged by Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action in the Land and Environment Court of NSW.

The challenge has been lodged on the grounds that the approval was unreasonable due to the contribution that the expansion will make to climate change.

Under Federal laws, the project has not yet been approved by the Federal Environment Minister. However, the Narrabri expansion is one of a number of coal mines for which a reconsideration request has been submitted by the Environment Council of Central Queensland under national environment laws.

Image Credit: NWPAdvocacy

They argue that the indirect impact of the project on national environmental values, like World Heritage areas, due to the negative effects of climate change on them has not been properly considered. 

Federal laws have so far only considered direct impacts of the project on the local environment, not the impacts nationally from climate change.

Draining water, cracking stream-beds

The mine will cause at least 17 bores, and probably a lot more, to lose water.  These water bores are relied on by farmers in the region who do not have access to surface water and are totally reliant on bore water. 

Local landholders say many more bores will be ruined by the project, and this will render their land worthless.

There is a risk that the deep underground mining will lead to the cracking of the Pilliga Sandstone aquifer – which forms part of the recharge area of the Great Artesian Basin.

The subsidence and groundwater drawdown is predicted to lead to subsidence and potential cracking of watercourses like Kurrajong Ck and Tulla Mullen Ck, as well as the potential loss of groundwater dependent ecosystems.

It is predicted that after mining, it will cause a reduction in base flow to the Namoi River of at least 200 million litres each year.

The mine also plans to re-inject toxic brine waste back into the goaf (the space left behind after longwall mining), which poses a major risk of contamination in the future.

Image Credit: Cloudcatcher Media

Cultural and social impacts

The mine is predicted to possibly undermine and destroy two culturally important grinding groove sites and other cultural sites

It threatens the Pilliga Forest, a landscape of incredible significance to Gomeroi Traditional Owners, and which is home to many unique and amazing creatures like the Pilliga Mouse, Eastern Pygmy Possum and Corben’s Long-eared Bat.

Economic and social impacts

The land will undermine 500 hectares of the highest quality agricultural land mapped by the NSW Government – designated as Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land. 

Along with the severe threats to water and the definite groundwater drawdown, this will lead to major economic impacts, ruining family farm businesses and leaving the region in turmoil.

A social survey of neighbours and other landholders in the local area revealed that Whitehaven coal has no social licence to operate.  The survey found that:

  • 95% of local respondents disagreed that Whitehaven is a good neighbour
  • 90% of respondents disagreed that Whitehaven listens and responds to community concerns
  • 82% disagreed that Whitehaven contributes to and cares about the region

Image: Narrabri farmers concerned about coal mining impacts on the Great Artesian Basin

Whitehaven’s shameful environmental history

Whitehaven’s behaviour has repeatedly shown that it is incapable of abiding by conditions which are set for it by the government.

It has now been investigated, fined or prosecuted on more than 21 occasions for breaches of environmental laws or conditions. You can find out more about Whitehaven’s shocking environmental record here.

In particular, it was found guilty of illegally taking surface water during a drought from the nearby Maules Ck coal mine and was found guilty of unlawful exploration activities near the current Narrabri Underground mine.

The mine will be a major polluter

At a time when the world needs to drastically reduce emissions to prevent runaway global warming, this mine will produce 479Mt of carbon emissions which is more than three times NSW annual emissions. 

Climate change puts Australian’s at risk of extreme weather including heatwaves, droughts, fires and floods.

The mine proposes to vent methane from the mine directly to the atmosphere, which would make it one of the worst-emitting thermal coal mines in the country and would make it number 50 on the list of Australia’s top 100 emitters of greenhouse gases (Scope 1).