The inquiry was launched by the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure to address community concerns about the effect of longwall mining on natural features, including rivers and cliff lines, in the region which includes the Sydney catchment area.
Subsidence is believed to be responsible for forming cracks in riverbeds, redirecting the flow of waterways and fracturing rock bars.
The most obvious example of subsidence damage is the drying of the Cataract River in 1998 as a result of the cracking of the waterbed.
In its submission to the five-person inquiry panel, the NSW Nature Conservation Council said the loss of water going to the catchment, water contamination, damage to cliff lines and impacts on ecology were sufficient factors to call for the total ban on longwall mining.
About $31 billion worth of coal lies beneath the coal fields and is currently being excavated by companies including BHP Billiton and Centennial, with numerous future applications for extraction expected to be launched next year.
The environment organisation has stated it is against the coal industry in NSW as the industry’s expansion undermines attempts to switch the state to clean energy. It also says monitoring of mines by the Department of Mineral Resources is inadequate and should be placed in the hands of the Department of Environment and Climate Change or the Sydney Catchment Authority, or that mining should be banned altogether.
However, the group has demonstrated some willingness to compromise by insisting the inquiry at least impose a 1km buffer zone surrounding rivers and creeks in the Southern coal fields. It said it would support mining companies being required to post large bonds as a financial incentive to protect the environment.
These bonds would be forfeited if the company was found to have caused damage and provide funds for recovery processes.
Professor Bruce Hebblewhite, head of the School of Mining Engineering at the University of NSW and executive director of Mining Education Australia, will chair the inquiry.
The four members are subsidence expert Professor Jim Galvin, groundwater expert Col Mackie, aquatic ecology expert Associate Professor Ron West and social and economic analyst Drew Collins.
Submissions to the inquiry officially closed on July 30; however, late entries may be accepted and a public meeting is scheduled on September 17 in Camden.