Water Week

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Coal buried under Sydney’s catchment area may never be extracted unless it can be mined without disrupting the city’s future water supply

Posted by waterweek on 14 September 2007

Up to $31 billion worth of coal buried under Sydney’s catchment area may never be extracted unless it can be mined without disrupting the city’s future water supply, reported The Australian (15/8/2007, p.7).

SCA seeks tougher approval process for mining: While the Sydney Catchment Authority yesterday stopped short of proposing a moratorium on mining, it recommended a tougher approval process. In its submission to an inquiry into the future of underground coal mining on the southern outskirts of Sydney, the authority said limited information was available on the impact of the industry on the water supply.

SCA moderates tone for final draft: It is understood earlier drafts of the SCA submission took a harder line on the coal industry, with the tone moderated in the final draft submitted to the inquiry. Miners in the region include BHP Billiton, Centennial Coal and Peabody Energy, with up to five new development applications under the catchment expected to be made in the next year.

Environmental damage due to mining: Some underground mining in the southern coalfields has caused significant environmental damage to pristine rivers and creeks in the region. Sections of rivers and creeks have drained into large cracks and subsidence has been caused by operations hundreds of metres underground.

Loss of lows: Since 2004, longwall mining under the Waratah Rivulet has resulted in the loss of flows for approximately 2km caused by fracturing of the riverbed and rock bars. In 1998, the Cataract River went dry as a result of cracking of the riverbed. The damage has angered residents and activists. They have called for a moratorium on mining under the catchment and nearby rivers, questioning the viability of the industry.

SCA calls for delays, not bans: Submissions to the panel of five experts closed at the end of last month, with public hearings to begin next month. Significantly, the SCA submission to the inquiry did not oppose mining under the Sydney catchment, nor did it suggest the banning of mining under rivers or endorse the need for mandatory buffer zones. However, it said future approvals should be delayed or denied if there was insufficient information on potential impacts requiring either more detailed assessment or changes to mining practices and layouts. SCA chief executive Graeme Head said mining companies and the state Government needed to improve scientific understanding of the impacts and mitigation of underground mining to better protect Sydney’s valuable water supplies.

The Australian, 15/8/2007, p. 7

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