Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced his government’s approval of the Shenhua Watermark coal mine on July 4. If it receives final approval from the NSW Government, this controversial mine near Breeza in the Liverpool Plains is expected to produce up to 268 million tonnes of coal over a 30 year period.
Shenhua is a state-controlled Chinese company.
The Liverpool Plains are one of the richest agricultural areas in the nation. For years local farmers, with fears about the impact of this industry on their livelihoods and the future viability of the area for agriculture, have been campaigning strongly against the mine.
A major concern of the farmers is the damage that this huge open cut mine – 35 square km in the middle of the plains – will have on groundwater. Coal mines use water but the issue for local farmer Tim Duddy is not the water they extract for their operations but the likely damage the mine will do to the groundwater which is vital to local agriculture.
Health impacts are another concern for locals – something that is obvious in other areas such as the Hunter Valley where there are large open-cut coal mines.
There is also the loss of remnant native vegetation and the biodiversity that relies on it - a significant 789 ha of an endangered ecological community and 148 ha of other woodland.
Federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce, in whose electorate of New England the mine will be, slammed the Environment Minister’s approval of the project. He is now hoping that the NSW Government will not issue its final approvals and the mine will then not go ahead. Given the state government’s track record on approving coal mines (including their expansion), it seems a forlorn hope for Joyce. It is likely that he will be under considerable political pressure in his electorate.