The bitterly disappointing approval of Whitehaven’s Vickery coal mine near Boggabri in north west NSW is an indictment of the Berejiklian Government’s failure to protect farmland, communities, and water resources.
Whitehaven has previously indicated that due to plummeting global coal prices, it will not make an investment decision on the project this year, leaving a pall of uncertainty hanging over the heads of locals.
The Vickery plan was publicly opposed by the Narrabri Shire Council, with the council listing concerns around the social and economic impacts of this new coal project in the Namoi Valley.
Following this approval, if the company decides to proceed with the new 10 million tonnes per annum coal mine, it will irreparably alter the social fabric of the Boggabri farming community and hurt agriculture in the district.
Whitehaven would dig up 1,284 hectares of land - much of it either fertile farmland or remnant woodland - for the project.
Serious questions remain about how the mine will supply the up to 1,750 megalitres of water it will consume annually. As outlined by the Department of Planning in its final assessment report, landholders are deeply concerned that in times of prolonged drought, the company will not have enough water to run its operations.
This will again lead to it buying up further agricultural water licences or breaching environmental laws to take water unlawfully, as Whitehaven is alleged to have done at the nearby Maules Creek mine.
The mine would be located close to the property and homestead “Kurrumbede” which was the inspiration for several Dorothea Mackellar poems including the famous ‘My Country’. There are fears blast activity at the mine will harm the historic homestead and outbuildings.
Whitehaven is also a notorious repeat offender, and has been taken to court six times, with the latest charges announced only yesterday for alleged illegal drilling at its Narrabri Coal Mine.
Previously, it has been taken to court by the EPA and Maules Creek Community Council, and is currently before the courts due to action by the Natural Resources Access Regulator over alleged water theft, the Resources Regulator for workplace safety breaches, and South East Forest Rescue over its unfulfilled biodiversity offset obligations.
The company has also been fined many times including for allowing toxic blast fumes to drift over neighbouring properties, polluting air and water, illegal dumping of waste, illegal clearing of bushland, and worker safety breaches.
Maules Creek resident Ros Druce said given Whitehaven’s horrendous track record, it should never have been allowed to apply for a new mining licence in the first place.
“The NSW Berejiklian Government has rewarded Whitehaven for its litany of offences and the damage it has done to our community,” she said.
“It is disgraceful that a company with this horrendous track record of environmental crimes can be given approval for another highly destructive coal mine.”
Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said in light of the sheer number and strength of the arguments opposing the Vickery Mine, it was clear the NSW Planning Department, which originally listed the project as "approvable" before referring it to the IPC, had failed to act in the public interest.
“Boggabri will now essentially be hemmed in from all sides by large coal mines. It will no longer be a farming community in any sense, but a coal mining service centre,” she said.
“Families have left, and the social fabric of the community is being torn apart.
“Farmers near the mine will struggle to compete with Whitehaven for access to water, and the dust and noise will create major issues.
“It is clear the Planning Department and Berejiklian Government has favoured the greed of a coal mining company over what’s best for the people of NSW and our community will be paying the price for that for years to come.”