Community groups Illawarra Residents for Responsible Mining and the Lock the Gate Alliance have written to Federal Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Sussan Ley MP, urging her to reject Wollongong Coal Limited’s mine expansion under the EPBC’s environmental history test.
Wollongong Coal’s proposed mine expansion project would involve the extraction of up to 3.7 million tonnes of coal over five years using bord-and-pillar mining at the Russell Vale Colliery.
Previously known as South Bulli, the Colliery is one of the oldest coal mines in Australia and has origins dating back to 1887. During its first 100 years, the Colliery produced 58 million tonnes of coal. Russell Vale is one of the closest collieries to an urban residential area anywhere in Australia. The Colliery has been in ‘care and maintenance’ since 2015.
It’s projected the Russell Vale Underground Expansion Project will deliver a net economic benefit to the state of up to $174 million and create ongoing employment for 205 people.
However the proposed extension would take mining around and up to the shores of the Cataract Reservoir in the Schedule 1 Special Areas of the Sydney Water Catchment, a water supply upon which 5.5 million people of Greater Sydney and the Illawarra rely.
Wollongong Coal currently requires approval from the Minister under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) before mining at Russell Vale can proceed.
The New South Wales Independent Planning Commission recently gave the project the ‘go ahead’, despite concerns the project would threaten the drinking water of the Sydney and Illawarra regions due to its location beneath the catchment.
The Australian Government is now tasked with making the final decision under the EPBC Act, and submissions are open until 25 February 2021.
The letter and report to Minister Ley catalogue more than 30 penalties, warnings, orders and investigations related to Wollongong Coal’s failure to comply with mining conditions, standards and requirements.
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson, Nic Clyde, said the NSW planning commission could not take into account Wollongong Coal’s history in its assessment, but the Federal Government can.
“Wollongong Coal has over thirty past incidents of poor behaviour and legal breaches, which should be more than sufficient for the Federal Minister to refuse the Russell Vale project.”
Kaye Osborn from Illawarra Residents for Responsible Mining also commented: “Wollongong Coal’s Russell Vale coal mine has already had a profoundly negative impact on the local community. This company must not be allowed to do more damage to the Illawarra.”