Community group Quipolly Water Action Group was today granted access to documents on the regulation of groundwater at Whitehaven Coal’s Werris Creek coal mine near the Liverpool Plains in north-west New South Wales.
The Quipolly Water Action Group, which was named after a nearby creek, appealed to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal against the Department of Primary Industries Water’s decision to withhold groundwater information.
DPI Water decided not to act on a previous recommendation from the government’s Information Commissioner, which ruled the groundwater data should have been made public. DPI cited the information’s commercial and sensitive nature to justify withholding it.
The local community will now be able to find out how well their groundwater is being protected
The NSW Environmental Defenders Office, acting for the Quipolly group, appealed to the Tribunal against the DPI Water’s withholding of the information.
At the Tribunal, Whitehaven consented to the request to release the information.
Neighbouring farmers blamed the mine when their bores ran dry in 2015, prompting a call for compensation and the release of documents relating to groundwater monitoring data and relevant correspondence about the issue between Whitehaven, government and independent experts.
Environmental Defenders Office chief executive Sue Higginson said the ruling could increase transparency around government’s auditing of resources projects.
“Naturally we’re delighted for our client. The local community will now be able to find out how well their groundwater is being protected,” Ms Higginson said.
“This is a significant win for everyone in NSW. With the release of this information, we’ll gain invaluable insight into the ways that DPI Water regulates the impacts of coal mines across the state.”
Under compliance regulations state government is required to monitor indicators for extractive industries, which could include groundwater bore measurements or dust emissions, for example.
“The decision will hopefully affect future requests for information on natural resources and the impact that mines have,” Ms Higginson said.