IT'S GAME on for Shenhua’s Liverpool Plains coal mine following the release of a review report, but the same news could spell game over for mines like BHP Billiton’s underground operation just down the road at Caroona.
NSW’s expert approval panel, the Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC), recommended Shenhua go ahead today, in its Review Report – subject to some further review and extra detail on projected impacts to groundwater.
“The Commission considers that the mine is approvable, subject to some further water modelling to corroborate the predicted level of impact on water,” the report said.
NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson slammed the PAC’s report.
“Our members will be gutted," she said. "This report gives them and the community no certainty about their future and the future of the Liverpool Plains land and water.
“It effectively says: 'Shenhua, you keep revising your plans and getting more work done to suit the outcome you are seeking and eventually they will be accepted'”.
The NSW planning department will consider the PAC’s recommendations and then hand responsibility for final approval back to the PAC.
Typically, government accepts the PAC’s advice. However, there is a devil lying in the detail of the Watermark report which could potentially impact the future of mines such as the proposed Caroona project.
If the government accepts the PAC’s advice, it could potentially amend policies to ban mining on all black soil country.
In its report the PAC said it “acknowledges the significance and productivity of the black soil plains and agrees with the view that the (black) soil plains should be preserved for agricultural production”.
And, just to hammer the point the home, “the NSW government should undertake some more detailed work or refinements to identify and protect those highly valuable, fertile black soils where mining should be prohibited,” the PAC said.
Caroona, should it go ahead, would cause subsidence to 8500 hectares of land, including direct subsidence impacts to more than 2000ha of some of the country’s top cropping country, according to the NSW Gateway Panel, which assesses mining and gas projects on high quality agriculture land.
The Caroona project would cut coal from longwalls underneath at least 2103ha of paddocks identified as Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land, which the planning department defined as “land with high quality soil and water resources capable of sustaining high levels of productivity”.
If government accepts PAC’s recommendation for a zero tolerance approach to black soil mining, it wouldn't impact Watermark's future.
The report repeatedly notes mining activity would be confined to ridge country, above the black soil.
It said Shenhua should give up the black soil country, which is covered in the mining tenements it holds. This would not impact development of the project as Shenhua does not plan to mine the plains anyway.
Shenhua welcomed the PAC report.
“We have always maintained the project should be considered using fact and science and we hope the PAC review will satisfy any doubts there may be about the science underpinning our assessment,” said Watermark project manager Paul Jackson.
BHP declined to comment.