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Winchester South mega mine approval a loss for Queenslanders, koalas, climate

Lock the Gate Alliance condemns the Miles Government’s approval of a brand new coal mine that will be responsible for more than half a billion tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution.

While the approval is not available online, stakeholders have received verbal confirmation from the department that it has occurred today (Wednesday February 7).

The Miles Government today approved recalcitrant criminal (offence list available here) company Whitehaven’s thermal and metallurgical Winchester South coal mine, despite the state’s coordinator general last year finding the project would “limit human rights” (PG 14) of children and the cultural rights of First Nations peoples. 

If Winchester South receives federal approval, Whitehaven will mine 17 million tonnes of thermal and metallurgical coal each year for 28 years. The project will be responsible for 583 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution - more than the entire annual GHG emissions of Australia - including 14.2 million tonnes of on site, or scope 1, emissions.

The project’s direct impacts include:

  • Clearing at least 2000 hectares of habitat home to endangered and threatened species including koalas, the Australian painted snipe, the ornamental snake, and squatter pigeon. The coordinator general’s assessment identified more koala habitat than Whitehaven originally noted.

  • Draining 155 million litres of groundwater on average each year, with a potential maximum rate of 280 million litres each year, into the mine pits.

  • Leaving three un-rehabilitated 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.

  • Dumping mine wastewater into the Isaac River. It is standard practice for Central QLD coal mines to release wastewater into nearby rivers, which ultimately flow into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

Environmental Advocacy in Central Queensland director Dr Coral Rowston said it was contradictory for the Queensland Government to approve a new greenfield coal mine so soon after announcing new carbon emission reduction targets.

“The Winchester South coal mine is completely contradictory to Queensland’s carbon emissions reduction target and the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan. It also poses unacceptable threats to ecosystems and Queenslander’s human rights,” she said. 

“The Queensland Miles Government can reduce the state’s emissions, or it can have new coal mines. It can’t have both.

“Central Queensland can have healthy ecosystems home to much loved species like koalas, greater gliders, and the Australian Painted Snipe, or the government can allow new coal mines to clear their habitats. It can’t have both.

“Let’s hope Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek can fix the Miles Government's poor decision making, and reject this koala killing, climate destroying coal mine.”

Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Ellen Roberts said Whitehaven’s long list of criminal offences in its home state of NSW was extremely worrying.

“The Miles Government has just given a NSW coal company with a notoriously long list of environmental offences in its home state permission to trash Central Queensland,” she said.

“Whitehaven has an extremely poor track record and has been found guilty or investigated for environmental offences at least 35 times. 

“We know Whitehaven treats fines and penalties as just the cost of doing business in NSW and we have no reason to believe it will behave any differently in QLD.”

“The International Energy Agency says (Page 103) there is enough metallurgical coal already in production to meet demand, and that the world no longer needs new coal mines - neither for power generation nor steel making. Instead of digging in behind polluting technologies of the past, the Queensland Government should be putting all its energy into clean, renewable alternatives.”


Media contact, 0447355565

Background: While Queensland Resources Minister Scott Stewart has described Winchester South as a “metallurgical coal mine”, 42 per cent of the coal will in fact be thermal coal used for power generation.

Whitehaven has previously greatly overestimated metallurgical coal production at its existing Maules Creek and Tarrawonga mines.

Page 103 of the IEA report “Net Zero by 2050” states:  “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.” 

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