Feb 05, 2021

South32 coal expansion plans blocked

South32 coal expansion plans blocked

South32’s planned $956 million project to extend the life of the Dendrobium coal mine in New South Wales has been blocked by that state’s Independent Planning Commission.

CFMEU Mining and Energy has described the decision as a blow to South Coast mineworkers, and says it will consult with members and stakeholders about next steps. 

“Dendrobium mine is a major employer and part of the lifeblood of our Southern District mining industry. It provides the coal for local steel production at Port Kembla,” South West District vice-president Bob Timbs said. 

“This expansion would secure 500 direct mining jobs for decades into the future, create hundreds more in construction and support many more jobs indirectly throughout the region.” 

The South32 mine provides coal for local steel production at Port Kembla.

South32 had sought planning approval to extend the life of its Dendrobium
mine near Wollongong until the end of 2048 and extract an additional 78-million tonnes of run-of-mine coal from two new areas.

The commission found the proposed mine design risked long-term and irreversible damage to Greater Sydney and the Illawarra’s drinking water catchment.

A whole-of-government assessment by the Department of Planning, Industry & Environment previously concluded that the extension project was ‘approvable’, finding its benefits outweighed its residual costs, and that it was in the public interest.

Risk of adverse impacts high says IPC

However, the Independent Planning Commission today (February 5) determined to refuse the significant development application, finding the risks of adverse impacts on the environment were high, and that those impacts were not appropriately manageable and were likely to be irreversible.

“After careful examination of all the evidence and weighing all relevant considerations, the Commission has found that the longwall mine design put forward by South32 does not achieve a balance between maximising the recovery of a coal resource of State significance and managing,
minimising or mitigating the impacts on the water resources and biodiversity and other environmental values of the Metropolitan Special Area,” the Commission’s Statement of Reasons for Decision reads.

“The level of risk posed by the project has not been properly quantified and based on the potential for long-term and irreversible impacts — particularly on the integrity of a vital drinking water source for the Macarthur and Illawarra regions, the Wollondilly Shire and Metropolitan Sydney — it is not in the public interest.”

South32 issued a statement saying that it was aware an assessment report from the Independent Planning Commission had been released recommending against approval of the Dendrobium Next Domain project.

“We are reviewing its findings and will continue to engage with key stakeholders including the New South Wales Government, relevant agencies and the community in relation to the Dendrobium Next Domain project ahead of providing further updates,” the company said.

South32, operator of the Cannington mine in North-West Queensland, also holds an interest in the Eagle Downs metallurgical coal project near Moranbah in Queensland.

It announced last month that the project had been placed on hold while the partners assessed options that may include the divestment of South32’s 50 per cent stake.