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Whitehaven’s Winchester South coal mine would wreck water, kill koalas, contribute to climate crisis

Notorious environmental vandal Whitehaven’s planned Winchester South thermal and metallurgical coal mine would have a devastating impact on water, threatened species like the koala, and the climate, according to the company’s environmental impact statement released today.

The project’s EIS reveals it would produce about 11 million tonnes of coal each year for 30 years, of which nearly half is thermal coal (ref P. 55), leading to over half a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over the life of the mine.

The project, which is located on the Issac River floodplain, would also drain local groundwater at an average of 183 million litres each year, with a potential maximum rate of 352 million litres each year into the mine pits.

As well, the company’s EIS reveals it plans to leave four unrehabilitated pit voids (giant holes where mining has occurred) at the end of the mine's life. These pits will continue to drain water from the surrounding area and concentrate heavy metals and salts in the voids. 

Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said recent comments from Palaszczuk government ministers cheerleading in favour of the project were concerning when the EIS assessment process was supposed to be independent.

“Political praise of Whitehaven is seriously misplaced - the company is currently awaiting sentencing for stealing water from farmers at the height of the drought and illegally clearing vegetation in NSW. These are just two of a long list of environmental and industrial offences the company has been prosecuted or fined over in recent years.

“Whitehaven’s plan to leave four unrehabilitated pit voids flies in the face of the Palaszczuk government’s own claims that it is taking action against Queensland’s woeful mining rehabilitation record. Voids should not be allowed - they should be backfilled especially so close to the Issac River floodplain. 

“There is also a serious risk Winchester South, if built, will become a stranded asset as the world turns its back on coal in favour of zero-carbon alternatives. Total greenhouse gas emissions for this project would be well over half a billion tonnes of CO2 - equivalent to Australia’s entire GHG emissions each year. 

“Even fellow coal miners like South32 are baulking at investing in coal mines in CQ due to climate and social responsibility concerns, as it did at the Eagle Downs mine, which neighbours Winchester South.”

“The Winchester South project would also neighbour the Olive Downs coal mine proposal, which has come under scrutiny over its impacts on the Issac River, and itself is facing an ongoing legal challenge from local landholders.

“Financial backers and other mining companies are turning away from coal, as are Australia’s major trading partners as they implement net-zero carbon commitments. 

“Local communities need protection for their clean and plentiful water and agricultural land, along with plans for regional economic diversification – not more projects that are trapped in the past and which tie economies to a single industry.

“This mine is simply madness at a time when the International Energy Agency has said that there is no need for new or expanded coal approvals globally as the world moves to cleaner alternative energy sources*.”

Lock the Gate Alliance will be making a submission opposing Whitehaven’s Winchester South coal mine.


Key Impacts revealed in EIS

  • 15.6 million tonnes CO2e scope 1 and 2 emissions, that will contribute to Australia’s local GHG budget.

  • 513 million tonnes CO2e scope 3 emissions

  • Up to 352 million litres of water drained from local groundwater each year.

  • 4 pit voids that will drain groundwater in perpetuity - best practice mining is to back fill voids to avoid long term impacts on the surrounding area.

  • Gas from Arrow Energy’s Bowen Gas Project would be used at the mine site, further increasing emissions.

  • 90% of the workforce will be non-resident 

IEA quote: "No new coal mines or extensions of existing ones are needed in the NZE as coal demand declines precipitously. Demand for coking coal falls at a slightly slower rate than for steam coal, but existing sources of production are sufficient to cover demand through to 2050." (source pp 103)

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