Wednesday 2 September 2015

Werris Creek coal mine cracks aquifer

On Monday, NSW Greens MP, Jeremy Buckingham, posted a YouTube video showing water spraying out from an aquifer cracked by mining activities at the Werris Creek mine near Tamworth, NSW.

He said: 
Yesterday, I was astonished to see the Werris Creek coal mine madly spraying water into the air to try to evaporate it after the coal mine intersected an aquifer.
The coal pit is filling with water from the aquifer, while nearby farmers are seeing their bores run dry and soil lose moisture as it all flows into the mine. This is exactly what farmers on the Liverpool Plains and elsewhere are concerned about. Once you break an underground water source, it is impossible to fix. Coal mining is no longer necessary and certainly not worth the risk in prime agricultural areas.

Sunday 5 July 2015


EPA not ruling out legal action over Lithgow coal mine pollution

Centennial Coal could face legal action after admitting the collapse of a wall at its Clarence Colliery in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, resulted in the contamination of the Wollangambe River.

Lithgow pollution downstream

Read the full story here
and more here

Sunday 21 June 2015

Pope Francis calls for action on climate change

Last week, in the first papal document, or encyclical, dedicated to the environment, Pope Francis demanded swift action to halt impending environmental ruin, and urged world leaders to hear 'the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor' and halt the 'unprecedented destruction of ecosystems'.

said the time had come for parts of the world to accept decreased growth. He advocated a change of lifestyle in rich countries steeped in a 'throwaway' consumer culture and an end to an 'obstructionist attitudes' that put profit before the common good.

He took on big business, appearing to back 'what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products' in order to force companies to respect the environment.

Noting also the 'remarkable' weakness of political responses to climate change, Pope Francis accused sceptics of cynically ignoring or manipulating the scientific evidence:

There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.
We know how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity.
On the subject of fossil fuels, he wrote:
There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced – for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies.
We know that technology based on the use of highly-polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay. Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions. But the international community has still not reached adequate agreements about the responsibility for paying the costs of this energy transition.
On the subject of water, he wrote:
Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls...
Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.

Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use. Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.

Sunday 31 May 2015

Good news! The largest sovereign wealth fund in the world has just agreed to divest from coal

In what is set to be the largest divestment from fossil fuels ever made, the Norwegian parliament has issued a unanimous recommendation to divest its country’s sovereign wealth fund from the coal industry. This happened just hours after a coalition of groups delivered nearly 50 000 signatures and thousands Tweeted for Norway to divest.

As global climate group says: 
Norway's parliament agrees to divest its $900 billion oil fund from coal. This is the largest fund to make a divestment – ever. The Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global is not only the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund; it is also one of the top ten investors in the global coal industry. This recommendation asks the government to exclude companies deriving more than 30% of their revenues or their power production from coal. With all parties endorsing the recommendation, it’s widely expected to be formally adopted by parliamentary vote on June 5. expects that Norway’s Pension Fund investments in companies like Germany’s RWE, China’s Shenhua, Duke Energy from the Unites States, Australia’s AGL Energy, Reliance Power from India, Japan’s Electric Power Development Corporation, Semirara Mining from the Philippines and Poland’s PGE will, for example, all be shed. Read more about it here

For some more background, Greenpeace Norway, German environmental organisation urgewald and Norwegian group Framtiden i vĂ¥re hender have also co-published a report on Norway's divestment: 'Still dirty, still dangerous'.

(The Guardian newspaper, however, has a more sobering take on the news, saying ‘World’s richest sovereign wealth fund increased its investments in coal despite high-profile pledge to dump fossil fuels, financial analysis shows’. You can read the full article: 'Norway's sovereign wealth fund accused of “pretend divestment”’ here.)

Centennial to drill four test sites in 2015

Centennial has received a budget to drill four sites in in the 'inglenook' exploration area in 2015.

These sites are still to be determined, which means Centennial will be approaching at least four landholders to sign an access agreement.

Should you be approached and want some clarification on your rights and the correct procedure, please contact the RSWUA committee at

Below are some notes from Centennial's presentation to the last CCC, in March 2015.

Company update:
• The coal industry is continuing to experience a significant downturn in the international coal market.
• Restructures in the Northern and Western region have been implemented and redeployment has been used to minimise retrenchments.
• Angus Place mine has moved to care and maintenance as from 28 March.

Project update:
• No exploration drilling since the last CCC meeting.
• Exploration License (EL) Renewal documentation submitted for EL7431, EL7432 and EL7442.
• Surface water and groundwater monitoring undertaken quarterly under existing agreements. Incidents: Nil.

Activities for 2015
• Limited Exploration drilling planned for 2015 (in fact, 4 sites have now been approved, as noted above).
• Exploration drilling budget for 2015 yet to be approved. If approved the CCC will be notified (this has been done: 4 sites).
• Ongoing access agreement negotiations for environmental monitoring and drilling activities.
• Continuation of surface water and groundwater monitoring.
• Ongoing flora surveys.

Monday 4 May 2015

News from Bylong Valley Protection Alliance

BVPA's Craig Shaw has let us know that ABC’s Australian Story will feature Bylong property Tarwyn Park in this evening’s program, titled “The Battle for Tarwyn Park”. The iconic property has been described as being of national significance, and was recently (by all accounts reluctantly) sold to mining company Kepco.

There has been quite a bit of media coverage about Tarwyn Park and Bylong in recent days:

  • There is a story about Tarwyn Park in Saturday’s Newcastle Herald.
  •  And a report in ABC news today in which a University of Newcastle study calls for Tarwyn’s heritage listing. 
  •  A couple of weeks ago Premier Baird was invited to visit Bylong, meet the locals and have a guided tour of Tarwyn, hosted by owner Stuart Andrews. The response from his office was that he was too busy. The invite and the “no thanks” generated a bit of media interest, given the Premier’s commitment to become an “expert” in mining issues and his visit to Bulga:

If you feel like writing a short note to the Premier saying you think he should reconsider and visit Tarwyn after all, it’s very easy to leave a message via his contact form, or you can write to him at GPO Box 5341, Sydney 2001, or phone him on 02 8574 5000.

Sunday 22 March 2015

NSW Planning to Move the Coal-Posts

(Material below courtesy of The Australia Institute.)

The NSW Planning Department is secretly working with the mining industry to change economic assessment guidelines which would make it easier for unviable mines to get approval.

Centennial Coal referred to the new guidelines in a response to The Australia Institute’s submission on the company’s Airly Mine proposal in the Capertee Valley, north of Lithgow. The Australia Institute's submission pointed out that the cost benefit analysis of the Airly project didn’t actually discuss any of the costs or the main benefit – revenue – of the mine.

Existing NSW guidelines state that economic assessment should look at 'all major costs and benefits to whoever they accrue', before then looking at what costs and benefits are relevant to the NSW community. It is important for decision makers to have an understanding of the total costs and revenues of a project, because if a project isn’t financially viable, it won’t provide jobs and royalties to the state.
Centennial should know this, because just months after consultants to the company’s Angus Place mine expansion estimated that project had a total economic benefit of $770 million, Angus Place was closed because it wasn’t making any money.

Despite their estimates on Angus Place being wrong by at least $770 million, Centennial’s consultants defended their approach by saying: 'The fact that the Department of Planning and Environment is now developing [new] guidelines … demonstrates that different approaches are relevant'.

So sure, Centennial’s assessments don’t comply with existing guidelines (a fact confirmed by Planning’s own review). And sure, assessment done the way Centennial does it means a mine that’s going broke can claim hundreds of millions in benefits. But that doesn’t matter, because Planning is making new guidelines that make this all OK.

The Australia Institute spoke to Planning about these new guidelines. They are being drafted in collaboration with mining companies, their consultants and the Minerals Council to make sure they are 'fit for purpose'. Once the new NSW government has approved them, then they will go on display for public comment. We can’t wait.

Friday 13 March 2015

Marie Bashir says 'Protect our farmland from mining'!

"The sale of our farm land, and the destruction of our farm land, must stop," Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir, former Governor of NSW.

We are less than three weeks from the state election and the destructive impact of coal mining is firmly on the agenda.

The widely respected and much-loved former Governor of NSW, Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir was on the cover of the Sydney Morning Herald on March 10, making an impassioned plea that our farmland be protected from coal mining. 

We know Premier Mike Baird and his colleagues in the NSW Government listen when Dame Marie speaks, so the significance of this bold call cannot be overstated. Take a look:

Marie Bashir

You might like to watch Dame Marie's full speech (it's inspirational!), you can check it out here.

This comes just a fortnight after leaked reports revealed that mining companies have prepared plans for as many as 16 new or expanded coal mines in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley. These are plans that our government knew about but kept secret from the community.

Mining companies often talk about rehabilitating land once mining is done but now the devastating truth has been revealed: mining in the Hunter Valley could leave a legacy of more than 10,000 hectares of land consumed as 'final voids' (giant holes) and could cost $15 billion to clean up!

Further north, the NSW government gave the green light to Chinese state-owned mining company Shenhua to put in a massive new open-cut coal mine on the Liverpool Plains. But local farmers are fighting back.

Never before have we seen open-cut coal mining on such a scale. The mines are getting bigger than ever before and closer to our homes, farmland, forests and water catchments. But right around the state communities are standing up to say enough is enough.

Our Land, Our Water, Our Future is running a campaign to tell MPs how the community is feeling about goal and gas mining. You can click here to find out about it

(Thanks to Our Land, Our Water, Our Future for this content.)

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Clean air, clean water, and land to grow clean, healthy food: These things are priceless

Have a look at this wonderful new video from Our Land, Our Water, Our Future. It's about everyday people who are juggling the everyday commitments of work and family with the added challenge of standing up to protect our land and water, because they know how much is at stake.

People in communities across the state are doing what they can, when they can. Take Rosemary. Rosemary is a farmer from the Liverpool Plains where she produces crops including mung beans, faba beans, sorghum, wheat, and grazes Black Angus and Wagyu cattle. She's also an inspirational leader in her region's fight against coal and gas.

"We should be just producing food,” she says, "But now we're spending our lives fighting for our existence."

Rosemary is one of the women in the new video, made to showcase some of the stories of people in our communities who are standing up to demand protections for our farms, forests, water and communities.

Please watch the video and share it with your friends.

Thursday 8 January 2015

Huge new coal mining projects going ahead in Australia in the face of a new study that finds it should stay in the ground

In the Guardian Australia today: 'Australia is pushing ahead with huge new coal mining projects, just as a new study has calculated that more than 80% of the world's current coal reserves must remain in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change.' 
Read the full article here.

Sunday 4 January 2015

RSWUA submission to Warkworth PAC Hearing 18/12/2014

Below is the text of the submission presented by RSWUA Secretary, Jolieske Lips, at the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission’s public hearing into the future of the Warkworth and Mt Thorley Continuation Project in Singleton on 18 December 2014.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this PAC hearing.

I should not be here. I repeat, I should not be here. This mining application has already been rejected in the courts twice. The current proposal is just a variant of the original proposal. It is an insult to our system of law, to the Australian sense of fairness and justice and to the people of Bulga. That the Dept of Planning even accepted another application means the community can no longer have any faith whatsoever in the whole planning process. What is it about the word no, a very simple word, probably one of the first concepts a child learns, that Rio Tinto does not understand? No means No.

Members of our association are so incensed about this whole process that I have made the three hour journey to come to speak here today.

Running Stream is almost due west of here, on the other side of the Great Divide. The area includes Mt Vincent, a basalt topped plateau, identified as Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land. The water source is hundreds of springs that sustain a vibrant agricultural (primarily beef) community. These springs are also the source of eight major creeks, six of which flow west to the Darling. The other two flow east to the Hawkesbury. The Association was formed 22 years ago when the first coal mine threat appeared. Five years ago three more exploration licences were granted over the area. Mining under such an important water resource is madness and we are fighting to protect our precious water for future generations. Our slogan is Coal for a Decade or Water for Life?

RSWUA therefore has taken a keen interest in the processes involved from the granting of exploration licence through to mine approval. We have watched other communities battling to preserve their livelihoods, their health, their community and their ability to pass on to future generations truly sustainable ways of living. What we have learnt, in particular about the planning process and how government operates, makes for a great deal of anger, disgust and cynicism.

What we have learnt is that the law is a changeable feast at which the rich and powerful dine.

I grew up believing I lived in a country ruled by law – that somehow this was fixed, immutable and gave security to everyday living. How naive I was! I now understand that society makes the laws, and as society’s values change, so the law changes. But that is not where the naivety lay. The naivety lay in not realising that in many cases it is the rich and powerful that change the law, not society as a whole. This is exactly what has happened in Bulga’s case.

Some decades ago society decided we should live under the principles of Ecological Sustainable Development, the foundation principle of which is that equal weight is given to economic, social and environmental factors when setting policy and making decisions. As far as I know there has been no open, transparent discussion in the public arena that this foundational principle should be scrapped. Instead a powerful multinational company, following a rebuttal in the court system heavies the government to change the law – this has happened twice now – first the Caroona case and now Bulga. So the SEPP gets changed and in addition behind closed doors conditions are changed so promises made by the mining company to safeguard a community and important remnant biodiversity become null and void.

We no longer live in a democracy but a plutocracy. If you are not familiar with that word, a plutocracy is a society ruled by the small majority of the wealthiest citizens. But we actually need to coin a new word: corpocracy, a society ruled by international corporations – they are not even citizens!

So what RSWUA has learnt by following the Bulga and other cases, is that if you don’t have lots of rich people in your community helping you, and you are not part of a multi-billion dollar (read horse racing) industry, you will be rolled. The mining company can get away with incomplete studies, incorrect EIS, sometimes reports written by compliant consultants who produce what the mining company wants and undertakings and promises that will not be carried through. You cannot believe what they say. It is, to use the Australian vernacular, a load of bullshit and the planning process is a farce!

However we are also optimists and so we continue to fight to maintain our valuable agricultural land so we can still produce food into the next century and beyond, long after the coal has gone or, as society sees the climate writing on the wall, long after coal has lost its value.

So that is the first point I want to make – I should not be here.

Limited time prevents me from addressing all the other issues: biodiversity, flaws and mistakes in the EIS, including incomplete studies and lack of data, the list goes on. So RSWUA totally supports the submissions of other groups and individuals arguing the case for the rejection of this application (yet again). In my remaining time I will address just three concerns; adverse impact on water resources in the area, the proposed final void, and the shifting of costs to the private sector and future generations.

Impacts on Water: These have not been adequately addressed:

  • The proponent relies on flawed water modelling. Computer models are only as good as their input data and as very little water studies have been done, the lack of data can only mean the modelling is inadequate. It does not reflect the true situation.
  • Removal of Wollombi Brook catchment, which is a stressed river fully allocated under the relevant Water Sharing Plan, is not properly acknowledged. Over the proposed life of the mine some 3 billion megalitres of water will not flow into the Wollombi Brook. As the Brook makes a serious contribution to the water for the Lower Hunter this will have an adverse impact on the Lower Hunter as well;
  • The groundwater assessment for this project showed that in 2035 that there would be “river leakage from Wollombi Brook and groundwater flow towards the pit.” (2014 Groundwater Assessment) This is another unacceptable impact on this important waterway, which is crucial to the life, economy and culture of this part of the Hunter Valley.
  • The mine does not have adequate water and needs to buy more entitlements. Scarcity of water in the Hunter Valley is an issue as a result of increased mining water demand. We are aware the NSW Government is looking at this issue and undertaking research. This research must be finished with its findings translated into policy before any further mining approvals are given that will increase demand on the River, or remove or divert water from the alluvial aquifers of the region.
  • It appears that in one section of the Hunter River alluvial aquifer the mine will encroach so close that it will cause a 5 metre draw down. This is far in excess of the minimal impact criteria in the Aquifer Interference Policy and must not be allowed.
  • Impacts on Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems due to increased salinity have not been adequately addressed.

A Final Void of 950 hectares is totally unacceptable. 950 hectares may be difficult for people to imagine. It is nearly three times the size of my property which incorporates a small valley and its surrounding hills. A void at this scale is outrageous and totally untenable for the following reasons:
  • Already there are (or will be) 26 other such mining voids in the Hunter Valley.
  • There has been no study of the cumulative effect of the number of voids that have now been approved. The lack of any such data and the fact there is no requirement to take into account cumulative effect clearly demonstrates how flawed the current planning process is. Decisions are made in a vacuum of knowledge. One void might be accommodated – 27 cannot be.
  • The proponent argues a 300m deep void will have no effect on the aquifers. This may be true in the short-term, but intergenerational equity means we need to consider the long term. Eventually the hydraulic pressure will force contaminated water into aquifers and thence into Wollombi Brook and the Hunter. This is unacceptable.
  • There is ongoing contamination from the heavy metals associated with exposed coal seams – this has not been addressed. There are already a huge number of derelict mines in existence with major environmental impacts. I give just two examples: the acid drainage from closed mines in the nearby Cessnock Kurri area and the infamous Woods Reef asbestos mine at Barraba.
  • It is time the mining industry stopped leaving a toxic legacy on this huge scale for future generations to deal with. There must be no residual void and I quote the Independent Expert Scientific Committee which considers “that best environmental practice is to backfill voids” (Advice to decision-maker, 1 Feb 2013, Moolarben Stage 2 development application.)
  • The company argues it is too expensive to fill the void. Well, hello, welcome to the real cost of coal mining. The cost of remediating mine affected land must be included as part of the mine plan. This brings me to my third point.

Shifting of costs to the private sector and future generations is unacceptable. This shifting of costs is never considered, but it should and must be. We are sick of hearing of how coal produces the cheapest energy. It is so called “cheap” because flawed accounting ensures many costs associated with coal are never accounted for in any cost benefit analysis. Some of these hidden costs include:
  • Health costs, both physical and mental. There is a huge amount of literature demonstrating the detrimental health impacts of coal mining – who pays these? Not the multinational corporation! It is the individual. Who ever tallies the cost of the mental stresses of ongoing uncertainty, let alone pay for it?
  • Financial costs– even if properties are bought, decades of planning, dreams and labour are never fully compensated. A sixty year old cannot reproduce the efforts of their younger selves if they try to start out again somewhere else.
  • Cost of stranded assets – the people next door to the property bought by the coal mine. The coal mine won’t buy their property, nor will anyone else. This another cost passed on to the individual.
  • Cost of lowered property values - even before mine approval, as soon as the exploration licence is granted (unless you are Eddie Obeid) the value of your property falls. Already people at Running Stream have suffered such a loss.

Costs Shifted to Future Generations: No-one talks about this! Who pays to remediate the acid drainage? Who will pay when the void starts to contaminate aquifers or overflows and poisons surrounding agricultural land? Who pays for the damaged health of kids? Not the multinational corporation – they will have long gone.

In Conclusion RSWUA recommends that this proposal be rejected. The old furphy of jobs, jobs will be trotted out. Yes there are jobs involved, the number usually over inflated or double accounted and never balanced against the jobs and businesses lost. Yes, there are jobs, but they are insecure jobs as many in the Mudgee region have discovered - a downturn in the coal price and many of the jobs are gone. Let’s instead keep the jobs and communities which we have and which can continue into the next century.

However, acknowledging the power of the mining lobby, should this project be approved the following vital conditions must be attached:
  • The scale of the continuation is reduced.
  • Water needs are met within existing allocations currently owned mines.
  • The Deed to protect the Warkworth Sands Woodland is reinstated, enacted and enforced.
  • Best environmental practice is undertaken resulting in no final void.
The Dept of Planning has recommended this project goes ahead with certain conditions and the proponent has agreed to a number of ameliorating actions. But what guarantees are there that any of these will in fact happen? Why should we have any faith that Rio Tinto will do what it promises, given it has broken promises in the past? And what guarantees will the Dept give that the imposed conditions will be met and not simply altered when it is discovered they haven’t been met?

No should mean No.


This media release on the EDO website gives some background on the Warkworth case, and there is a report on the hearing in the Singleton Argus.