MACH Energy’s planned expansion of its Mt Pleasant open cut coal mine in the Hunter Valley must not proceed because it would add to already unacceptable levels of air pollution and further erode the social and economic resilience of Muswellbrook, according to Lock the Gate Alliance.
The mining company, a subsidiary of Salim Group, wants to increase coal production to 17mtpa. This would lead to the mine contributing 874 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere during its lifespan and extend its closure date to 2048.
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said, with submissions in response to planned expansion closing today, she hoped the Planning Department would break with its habit of approving all coal mines that came before it and send MACH Energy back to the drawing board.
“Residents of Muswellbrook are already suffering the health impacts of living close to so many large open cut coal mines, and this new proposal from MACH would add significantly to local air pollution,” she said.
“We know from the company’s own Environmental Impact Statement that Muswellbrook locals are more likely to die from respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses than people living elsewhere in NSW and children are more likely to have asthma.1
“This colossal project right on the edge of town is only going to make an already unacceptable situation worse.”
Air quality key facts:
The expansion of Mt Pleasant will lead to increased air pollution in Muswellbrook and will be most noticeable when the wind blows from the north west. The majority of prevailing winds in the area are from north west and south-south east.
According to national and state policies there are supposed to be no days when ambient average PM10 levels exceed 50µg per cubic metre. Yet, data from 2020 shows both Muswellbrook and Muswellbrook North West Monitoring Stations experienced 15 days and 14 days respectively that experienced above this level.
Of the 113 complaints received by the existing Mt Pleasant Operations in 2018, 58 related to air quality. In 2019, this had increased to 75 of the total 240 community complaints.
Ms Woods said the social and economic situation in Muswellbrook was challenging compared to other parts of the region and that even people employed in the mines were increasingly not living in the area because of the air pollution.
“Comments from community members cited in the Environmental Impact Statement indicate that the concentration of open cut mining around Muswellbrook is driving people out of town, driving up rents and driving out agricultural businesses. This project poses a very real threat to the resilience of a community that is facing big changes in the coming years," she said.
Ms Woods said the expansion would also lead to the further draining of the Hunter’s aquifer.
“The impact assessment shows groundwater drawdown in the productive alluvial aquifer in conjunction with the Dartbrook mine of 10 metres," she said.
“Mt Pleasant’s contribution to this is roughly a fifth of that impact. This is a considerable and unacceptable impact on a productive and reliable river system that will endure well after mining ceases and will continue to affect both the environment, society and existing and potential economic activities.
“Hunter communities and farming businesses that rely on this water should not be muscled out simply because a coal mining company wants its already draining and polluting mine to grow bigger.”
1 Environmental Impact Statement. Appendix R. Human Health Assessment. Table 3.2 indicates 55.9 people per 100,000 die of respiratory ailments in Muswellbrook compared to 49.6 in NSW in 2017/18. Rates of adolescent asthma in Muswellbrook are 16.4% compared to 13.1% in NSW.