TEC targets longwall mining inquiry

ENVIRONMENTAL group the Total Environment Centre has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the Sugarloaf controversy and more generally, into the damaging impacts of longwall mining and government decision-making on approvals.
TEC targets longwall mining inquiry TEC targets longwall mining inquiry TEC targets longwall mining inquiry TEC targets longwall mining inquiry TEC targets longwall mining inquiry

The now dry riverbed of Waratah Rivulet, cracked, uplifted and drained by longwall mining in 2006. Courtesy Total Environment Centre

Max Pichon

A large section of Sugarloaf State Conservation Area in the lower Hunter was destroyed by massive subsidence from Glencore's West Wallsend Colliery.

TEC executive director Jeff Angel called for a NSW parliamentary inquiry to investigate the impacts of longwall mining as well as mining company ability to predict the damage and so-called remediation. It also wants it to also investigate the roles of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure and Mines when approving mine plans.

"We will be providing suggested terms of reference to MPs,” Angel said.

"The environmental damage that has befallen Mt Sugarloaf's waterways (cracking, draining and subsidence) is routinely taking place in longwall mining leases across the NSW coalfields with remediation a joke. The industry makes much of its 'social licence to operate' but that's exactly what is now under serious question.”

According to Angel, drained swamps and massive cliff collapses are littering the Newnes Plateau in the Blue Mountains, while farms in the Hunter Valley have been rendered unviable as waterways cease to flow.

"The issue also calls into question the government's pro-mining consent policy championed by Mines Minister Chris Hartcher. It will make it all the harder to impose environmental controls," he added.

Glencore was quick to issue a response in which it noted, “we are fully committed to work with all parties to remediate impacts in a remote area of the Sugarloaf State Conservation Area (SSCA)”

“Glencore’s underground mining operations within the SSCA are undertaken in accordance with a Part 3A Project Approval received from the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DP&I) and its approved Extraction Plan / Subsidence Management Plan (SMP),” said the statement by Glencore.

It noted that despite extensive planning and geotechnical studies prior to mining in the SSCA area the subsidence impacts were greater than originally predicted as a result of 'abnormal geological conditions'. The subsidence impacts, the magnitude of which is a rare occurrence in longwall mining, were identified and reported to authorities.

"The remediation plan to address these impacts will be implemented in consultation with the NSW Department of Planning & Industries (DP&I), the Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH) and the NSW Division of Resources & Energy (DRE)."

Meanwhile an unrelated grouting spill in the same area, which has also been identified and reported to authorities, will be removed in accordance with a remediation direction issued by the OEH.

“We are deeply disappointed and regret that these incidents have occurred despite our careful and comprehensive management plans, and we are fully committed to remediating these areas,” the statement added.

Glencore has vowed to continue to monitor the active subsidence zone to ensure the ground is stable enough for works to be safely carried out.

In 2011, state officials from the environment department raised concerns that the mine could damage creeks in the conservation area and urged Xstrata, now Glencore, to avoid mining areas at a low depth in the government-owned conservation area.

After the events had unfolded last Friday, NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher ordered a report into mining activity that damaged the conservation area in the lower Hunter.

"I am concerned by the effects of subsidence remediation in areas of the Sugarloaf State Conservation Area," Hartcher said in a statement.

"I have requested from the Department of Trade and Investment’s division of resources and energy a full report on Glencore Xstrata’s subsidence management plan."