Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Court action to stop Springvale Mine polluting the Coxs River

Conservation group 4nature Inc has launched proceedings in the NSW Land and Environment Court challenging the NSW Government’s approval of the Springvale underground coal mine due to its pollution of Sydney drinking water catchments. See 4nature media release.
 
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Backgrounder regarding Springvale mine pollution of the Coxs River

Springvale Mine is owned equally by Centennial Springvale Pty Ltd (a subsidiary of the Thai-based company Banpu) and SK Kores Australia Pty Ltd. The mine is located 15 kilometres northwest of Lithgow and began longwall mining in 1995 and since then mining has extracted 18 longwall panels of coal from under Newnes Plateau.

In September 2015, a new project extending the mine was approved allowing the extraction of coal from another 20 longwall panels at a rate of up to 4.5 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) from the Lithgow Coal Seam for a period of 13 years. 

True to its name, the Springvale mine is a very wet mine. The underground workings require constant pumping of groundwater that would otherwise seep into the mine and as a result, the mine would discharge 19 megalitres/day (ML/day) of groundwater from Licenced Discharge Point 9.

The September 2015 consent for the Springvale mine extension allows the mine to release to local waterways in the Coxs River catchment large flows of waste water that is ecologically hazardous.  Although the 2015 consent requires future consideration of groundwater utilisation in the Mt Piper power plant, this is only proposed for consideration. This means that discharge of groundwater to the Coxs River catchment from the Springvale mine may continue indefinitely.

Where the discharge from this mine enters the river, the median flow of the Coxs River is approximately 13ML/day at the point. The discharge of groundwater from the mine is significantly greater than this flow, making dilution of the mine discharge impossible.

Under the State Environmental Planning Policy (Sydney Drinking Water Catchment) 2011, projects can only be approved where they will have a neutral or beneficial effect on the drinking water catchment. The discharge of mine groundwater to local streams in the Coxs River catchment is not compliant with the Sydney Drinking Water Catchment policy.  Discharge of untreated Springvale mine groundwater into the Coxs River catchment waterways is not a neutral or beneficial outcome for the drinking water catchment.

In considering whether a project will have a neutral or beneficial effect on these waters, the water quality without the project should be compared to the water quality with the project.  That was not done in the case of the Springvale mine extension.

Springvale mine - a brief chronology

July 1992 - Development consent 11/92 approves Springvale mine until 28 September 2014.

1995 - longwall mining commences.

2000 - 2012 - there have been 965 incidents of environment protection licence non-compliance at Springvale mine.

2002 - Springvale mine entered into a pollution reduction program with the Environment Protection Authority and proposed to provide a substantial part of the water needed by Delta Electricity for its power plant operations.

2005 - Springvale mine established the Springvale Delta Water Transfer Scheme (SDWTS) that transferred mine groundwater to the Wallerawang Power Station.

2010 - an Audit report by the former Sydney Catchment Authority recommends that the former Department of Environment Climate Change and Water review environment protection licence limits in the Upper Coxs sub-catchment for all licensed discharge points with a view to reducing the heavy metal and salinity concentrations and loads being discharged to the Coxs River catchment.

6 December 2013 - the then NSW Planning and Infrastructure department approved increased coal tonnage extraction of up to 4.5 MTPA for Springvale mine and an extension of time for DA11/92 up to 30 September 2015.

7 April 2014 - Centennial Coal releases an EIS on the proposed Springvale mine extension (SSD 5594)

November 2014 - Wallerawang Power Station permanently ceases operations and Springvale Mine resumes discharging into the Coxs River catchment.

April 2015 - the Department of Planning and Environment Assessment Report recommends approval of the Springvale mine extension, including discharge of inadequately treated groundwater to the Coxs River.

27 April 2015 - Minister Stokes requests a Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) review and public hearing on the mine extension project, removing the community’s right to any future merit appeals against the mine extension.

13 August 2015 - Minister Stokes requests a second PAC review and public hearing, including consideration of a revised Mining State Environmental Planning Policy.

21 September 2015 – Springvale mine extension (SSD 5594) approved days before the 30 September 2015 expiry of original development consent 11/92.

18 December 2015 – 4nature lodges a challenge to the Springvale mine extension approval arguing that the PAC failed to satisfy itself that the mine extension would have a neutral or beneficial impact on the Sydney water drinking catchment, as the law required it to.

12 February 2016 – first directions hearing for the case.

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