Peabody Energy, proposes to extract a further 27 longwall panels from the Metropolitan mine under the last remaining undamaged reaches of the Waratah Rivulet and its tributary streams. The mining is proposed to finish under the Woronora Dam storage area itself. The panels responsible for the damage that has occurred are relatively narrow longwall panels, 158 metres in width and up to two kilometres long, but the proposed new longwall panels are likely to be more extensive and will be more damaging.
In addition, the Indian coke and coal giant Gujarat NRE Coke floated its Australian subsidiary India NRE Minerals in May 2007. At the same time, the new player also announced plans to return the historic NRE No.1 colliery into a 4 million tonne per annum, multi-seam longwall operation by 2012. The three main seams proposed for mining at the colliery are the Bulli coal seam, and the largely untapped Balgownie and Wongawilli seams. Gujarat also plans intensive longwall development of its extensive Avondale holdings to the south.
Meanwhile, BHP-Billiton released expansion plans for the Dendrobium mine January 2008. The longwalls panels will be 300+ metres wide under twenty-two endangered swamps and several streams in our water supply catchments and plans to advance towards the actual stored waters.
In 2001 BHP-Billiton's experts predicted damage that included surface cracking up to 250 mm wide, drainage of streams, the draining upland swamps, mining induced landslides and rock falls affecting 10 per cent of cliffs, death of native vegetation due to methane gas emissions and water pollution from the emergence of ecotoxic groundwater. The BHP-Billiton's experts are very clear that maximising coal extraction will cause severe damage to essential water supply areas, a view more than confirmed by the metre-wide surface crevasses and water in-rush events into the mine; damage that is way excess of predictions.
The Dendrobium mining approval set a precedent for mining that is now fifty per cent more intense than operations prior to 2001. That level of environmental abuse is now being taken up by the other players. Even the lower intensity mining caused considerable damage to water catchments and supply infrastructure, as described in the above table. The Dendrobium Mine should not been approved and the proposed Stage 3 extensions should be refused due to the damage that will be caused.
Only the risk of catastrophe prompted a reduction of the approved Dendrobium mine layout by one longwall panel in the first area mined, and for the longwall panels in second mining area to be relocated away from Lake Cordeaux, but the intensity of mining was not reduced. The concern of the mine regulators was to prevent Lake Cordeaux being drained, not to ensure adequate catchment protection. A regulatory approach that seems to only draw a line when exploitation verges on madness.
Damage must be prevented by creating protection areas where coal is retained to prevent surface subsidence. The coal mining industry must be required to protect the ecological integrity, including the preservation of water quality and flow, for these water supply areas upon which 4.5 million people depend. To achieve this goal, the regulatory environment must be vastly improved.