New freedom of information documents reveal the lengths the NSW Perrottet Government is willing to go to to make it easy for Whitehaven to continue digging coal despite a clear conflict with its own climate change promises.
The government correspondence reveals Whitehaven was granted exploration licences immediately adjacent to its recently approved Narrabri Underground expansion project that, if developed, would allow the company to keep mining coal until 2059 (see page 2 here).
Despite the Perrottet Government's goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, there is no consideration or even mention of climate change in the decision by the Coal Resource Operational Allocation Committee (see here) to approve the exploration licences.
Even before emissions from coal beneath the new tenements are considered, the now approved, Narrabri Underground Stage Three expansion would be responsible for about half a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, including about 30 million tonnes of on-site, direct CO2-e.
But these documents show Whitehaven would increase coal production at the new tenements at an even higher rate of production than what it plans at the yet to be built expansion - from 5.4 million tonnes per annum to 8Mtpa (see page 9 here).
They also reveal Whitehaven's application was first flagged as “high risk” based on the company's shocking environmental record (see page 7 here), but this rating was changed to “satisfactory” without explanation in the final decision (see here).
The Perrottet Government has already faced criticism over the release of the land, known as “Gorman North”, because, and unlike in other parts of the state that were earmarked for future coal mining, the local community was not given the opportunity to scrutinise the plan.
Farmers are opposed to its release because Gorman North sits atop a southern recharge zone for the Great Artesian Basin, and mining coal in the area threatens the ongoing supply of groundwater vital for local agriculture.
Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said, “Locals are worried about coal mining moving so close to Narrabri, along the main highway to the town, and through the Great Artesian Basin recharge zone.
“We have beautiful natural areas for recreation and tourism and more coal mines will spoil this.
“No one wants to have to drive through kilometres of ugly coal mines.”
Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Ellen Roberts said, “Behind closed doors, the Perrottet Government is waving through coal proposals that would make it impossible for the state to reach its existing carbon reduction goals.
“There is no way the government could reach net-zero by 2050 if Whitehaven continues to expand thermal coal mines until 2059. It’s just fantasy stuff from the government, and it exposes how far removed its actions are from its climate change rhetoric.
“The climate crisis is here, and it is impacting communities in the form of worse than ever floods, droughts, and bushfires. The Perrottet Government needs to stop sacrificing water and farmland for an industry that is the main driver of dangerous climate change.”
2020: Then Deputy Premier John Barilaro releases the government’s strategic statement on coal, which identifies land which would later become “Gorman North” for potential future mining.
April 1, 2022: Whitehaven’s Narrabri Underground Coal Mine expansion received Independent Planning Commission approval.
May 2022: The Government withdraws the Hawkin-Rumker coal mine release area near Rylstone from consideration following community opposition.
September 2022: The government grants Whitehaven coal exploration tenements over large areas within “Gorman North”, directly bordering the planned Narrabri Underground expansion.