The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) has announced today it is prosecuting notorious repeat offender Whitehaven Coal for stealing water at the company’s controversial Maules Creek mine, following a Lock the Gate Alliance instigated investigation.
NRAR confirmed this afternoon it would prosecute Whitehaven Coal in the Land and Environment Court for two alleged breaches of section 60A(2) of the Water Management Act 2000 for taking water without an access licence over a three-year period between 2016 and 2019, or in the alternative section 60C(2).
The decision comes more than two years after Lock the Gate first raised concerns. It also comes as the Independent Planning Commission public hearings get underway for Whitehaven’s planned Vickery Project, which the Department of Planning admits has insufficient water available “to satisfy demands in prolonged periods of dry conditions (Vickery coal project Final Assessment Report page 37).”
Boggabri farmer Dave Watt said he was deeply concerned about Whitehaven’s Vickery expansion, even before taking the company’s dismal track record into account.
“People in the north west know that Whitehaven cannot be trusted,” he said.
“Whitehaven is a repeat offender that views the many fines it has received for environmental vandalism as simply the cost of doing business.”
Lock the Gate Alliance recently sent legal advice to the NSW Resources Regulator arguing there is a prima facie case that Whitehaven Coal’s conduct at its coal mines in north-west NSW has been so poor as to warrant a decision under the Mining Act that it is not a "fit and proper person" to hold mining titles.
Lock the Gate NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “This latest legal case against Whitehaven is vindication for farmers who have known all along Whitehaven was stealing water.
“We are pleased to see NRAR finally hold Whitehaven to account and look forward to the results of its investigation into illegal groundwater take at Maules Creek mine as well.
“This is also a huge red flag for the IPC about the risk of water-hungry mines in the Namoi and the environmental conduct of Whitehaven Coal. This company has shown time and time again that it does not respect environmental laws or the effect of its mining activities on rural communities.
“There’s simply no way that the Commission should allow the Vickery coal mine to proceed.”
Whitehaven behaving badly:
The company has been investigated or found in breach of environmental laws or conditions on more than 20 occasions since 2012, across five different mine sites.
Over that time Whitehaven has been fined or made to pay $235,000 in total for regulatory breaches.
Whitehaven has now been taken to court five times, once by the EPA, once by Maules Creek Community Council, currently by the Resources Regulator and NRAR and South East Forest Rescue.
Whitehaven has breached a range of conditions designed to protect the public and the environment over the 12 year period, including:
Allowing toxic blast fumes to drift over neighbouring properties
Polluting air and water
Illegal dumping of waste
Illegal clearing of bushland
Worker safety breaches