Sartor said the inquiry, to be chaired by former NSW Liberal leader Kerry Chikarovski, would examine the potential impact of mining in the surrounding Dooralong and Yarramalong valleys.
Korean Government owned Korea Resources Corporation (Kores) has lodged a preliminary application for an underground coal mine near Wyong, known as Wallarah 2.
The proposed longwall mine will have an annual coal production of 4–5 million tonnes of export quality thermal coal per year, over 42 years, with initial development coal expected to be produced in 2009 and longwall coal in 2010.
Wallarah 2 Coal Project (W2CP) environment and community manager Peter Smith told International Longwall News that there had been vocal environmental opposition to mining in the area but said the project concept addresses water catchments and subsidence issues.
“For example, there is no coal washery [therefore no tailings, coarse reject emplacements and significantly reduced water use] and the mine footprint will avoid the Wyong River, major water storages and water supply infrastructure," he said.
But campaign coordinator for the Australian Coal Alliance Alan Hayes told the Sydney Morning Herald that there was substantive and compelling evidence that the mine will impact on the integrity of the water catchment.
Sartor said the proposed mine is in a particularly sensitive area because of its location within the Mardi Dam catchment.
“I am aware of significant concerns about the potential impact of such an operation on surrounding rivers and streams – and on drinking water supplies,” the minister said.
“The panel’s findings will help set the ground rules before the Government considers a detailed application for Wallarah 2, should one be lodged.
“If we find that any coal mining operation would pose an unacceptable risk to water supplies it will not be allowed.”
The NSW Minerals Council (NSWMC) has welcomed the inquiry, saying the decision to pursue an independent view based on the best available scientific advice was a step forward on the debate over mining on the Central Coast.
“Community concerns must be considered as part of the overall assessment of any mining proposal. It is equally important that these assessments also take into consideration the science and the facts, to ensure that we achieved a balanced outcome for all stakeholders,” NSWMC chief executive Dr Nikki Williams said.
“There is a lot of passionate debate on the issue of mining on the Central Coast. But it’s a disservice to the silent majority that they are only made aware of one half of the story,” Williams said.
“The industry recognises that mining activities can have some impacts. The current water crisis means that concerns around potential impacts on water catchments are heightened.”
Williams said that the industry was genuine in its commitment to address community concerns around the impacts of mining.
“Where the potential impacts of specific mining projects are assessed as being unacceptable, proposals will be modified to minimise those impacts. The decision on whether to approve a mining proposal is ultimately one for the NSW Government.”
The panel includes mining subsidence specialist UNSW Associate Professor Jim Galvin, hydrology expert UTS Professor Noel Mervick, and Brian Elton, a social impact expert.
NSW Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald also welcomed the panel’s appointment.
The panel will examine and report on:
- Whether coal mining under the catchment for the Mardi Dam would compromise, in any significant way, the water supply of the Central Coast;
- Environmental impacts from any underground coal mining;
- Social and economic significance of any underground coal mining to the local community, the region and state; and
- Areas where mining should not be permitted, or if permitted the conditions under which it may proceed, having regard to the matters listed above and the NSW Government’s strategic planning policies that apply to the area.