Leaked environmental report pre-empts longwall changes

A LEAKED draft report into the environmental impacts of coal mining in New South Wales has environmentalists up in arms, but for coal operators it gives an interesting insight on what is in store for environmental regulations and compliance.
Leaked environmental report pre-empts longwall changes Leaked environmental report pre-empts longwall changes Leaked environmental report pre-empts longwall changes Leaked environmental report pre-empts longwall changes Leaked environmental report pre-empts longwall changes

The NSW Hunter Valley, near Mudgee.

Angie Tomlinson

The Environmental Protection and Regulation Group Coal Mining Research Report is a summary of known and emerging environmental issues surrounding coal mining for the Department of Environment and Climate Change to address.

The draft report outlines ways in which the DECC can take a greater role in the planning stages of coal mining development and provide greater input into environmental management provisions as a land manager and regulator.

“There are many ways in which the environmental performance of the coal mining industry can be improved," EPRG said.

In the report the EPRG looks at environmental factors including subsidence, loss of biodiversity, disturbance or damage to Aboriginal cultural heritage, greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution, noise and vibration, land use conflicts, and issues related to transport, waste and rehabilitation.

The two areas highlighted include subsidence management and management of greenhouse gas emissions.

DECC plans to approach the Department of Planning to recommend including greenhouse gas emissions in Environmental Assessments for Development Assessments for major project applications, including those for coal mines.

“Greenhouse gas emissions are still not addressed adequately in the development assessment process and mine companies are not made responsible for their greenhouse gas emissions," the report said.

“DECC may be able to present a strong position for the inclusion of greenhouse gas mitigation on EA requirements following the decision on the Anvil Hill case. DECC does plan to engage the Department of Planning to include greenhouse gas emissions in development assessments.

“Further, provisions could be made during the planning stages of mines to incorporate measures like pre-mining drainage of methane from coal seams. The uptake of this may be related to the financial benefits which companies may be able to access, eg carbon credits."

Recommendations include an ecological risk-based decision model already developed as part of the Southern Coalfields Inquiry into longwall mining as a base when considering subsidence impacts.

“DECC could negotiate with DPI about more stringent provisions relating to mining in sensitive areas, particularly around and below watercourses and for the exercise of a precautionary principal approach if impacts are not acceptable,” the report said.

EPRG also highlighted the importance for mining companies to undertake an analysis of actual versus predicted subsidence impacts.

EPRG called for better strategic planning, such as conducting studies of entire areas where coal mining is underway or will take place, so environmental impacts can be viewed in a holistic way.

“In undertaking a holistic approach to planning, it may also be appropriate to plan and manage environmental impacts based on a whole of lease basis. This would ensure that cumulative impacts on a mining lease area are addressed as a whole instead of through piecemeal planning," the report said.

“Underpinning strategic planning, there needs to be dialogue between the coal mining industry itself and all relevant government agencies.

“This dialogue should occur early in the planning phases to achieve the best environmental, economic and social outcomes. DECC in particular needs to be consulted even before mining approval has been granted, through the approval phase."

On rehabilitation, the report said the focus for underground mines should be on how subsidence impacts should be avoided or mitigated.

“Rehabilitation of sites has had limited success. Although rehabilitation plans are predominantly managed by DPI, DECC should have an advisory/approval role in this process to ensure that rehabilitated sites are managed well and that land is rehabilitated to an equivalent or better state than it was previously."

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