Farmers in the Namoi Valley region of northern New South Wales have condemned the Independent Planning Commission’s decision on (IPC) April 1 to approve Whitehaven Coal expanding its Narrabri mine.
The decision came one day after Whitehaven was prosecuted and fined $158,000 in the NSW Land and Environment Court for pollution — there was an uncontrolled release of small styrofoam balls, used in explosive mixtures at a mine.
Whitehaven has been investigated or found guilty of breaches more than 35 times in the last decade.
The mine’s expansion is estimated to produce nearly half a billion tonnes of carbon emissions, drain at least nine water bores relied on by local farmers and cause subsidence in the Pilliga Forest — including at culturally significant sites for the Gomeroi people.
Lock the Gate Alliance (LGA) spokesperson Georgina Woods said the IPC’s conditions meant little given Whitehaven's repeated criminal behavior. “We know that Whitehaven has no problem violating the conditions placed on its mining operations.”
Woods criticised the commissioners for acknowledging, albeit tentatively, the harm of burning more coal and approving the expansion during the catastrophic flooding in the Northern Rivers.
“East coast communities are suffering cataclysmic, ongoing devastation due to recent floods which were made worse due to the burning of fossil fuels. Every tonne of greenhouse gas is making this danger worse.” She said climate change is costing “untold emotional and physical damage”.
Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said Namoi Valley communities were angry that Whitehaven was being rewarded for illegal behaviour. She said locals would bear the cost in terms of drained water bores and degraded landscapes.
“It beggars belief this company can commit serious crimes and, instead of being appropriately punished, it is given more land to destroy, more water to drain, more lives to upend. This is a disgraceful decision by the IPC, and will haunt our region and NSW for generations to come,” Hunter said.
Whitehaven has also applied for two new coal exploration areas at Gorman North, south of Narrabri. LGA is campaigning to stop these and is encouraging email submissions by April 20.