Residents fear Hume Coal mine could destroy aquifer

Residents from across NSW’s Southern Highlands packed the Exeter Hall on April 26, concerned about a proposed new coal mine — the first new mine in Sydney water catchment in more than 30 years. The meeting was organised by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment to discuss the environmental impact statement (EIS).

The community is almost wholly opposed to Korean steelmaker Posco’s Hume Coal Project. They fear their water supply will be contaminated, the increased noise from coal trains and trucks, particle pollution from coal stockpiles and the impact on businesses in towns such as historic Berrima.

However, their main concern with the EIS is the loss of bore water for the region’s farmers and landholders.

The project would give the state government just $120 million in royalties over 20 years. It would extract 3.5 million tonnes of coal a year, using a technique known as “pine feather” to extract 35% of the total deposit.

The coal will be extracted from shallow deposits, which will cause groundwater to fill the voids and cause the drawdown of a number of bores.

The meeting was told it could take as long as 73 years for the groundwater to recover. The EIS revealed the mine would cause 93 groundwater bores in the region to drop by anywhere between 2 and 80 metres, affecting 71 landholders.

The company offered to bring in new pumps or drill deeper bores for landholders. But planning representatives told locals they were concerned about the lack of detail on the company’s proposed mitigation measures.

The executive director of resource assessments David Kitto, told the meeting that the mine would not be approved unless the company provided more detail on how it would address the threat to bore water.

“The predicted number of bores affected is 90 odd, which is a significant number compared to other mining projects in NSW,” Kitto said.

“I don’t think the government will be approving significant impacts on a lot of bores like that unless there’s a lot more detail from the company on how it would be managed.”

Berrima berry farmer Bruce Robertson, a retired geologist with 40 years of experience in the mining industry, told the meeting the company’s claims do not stack up.

He said the mine would destroy a “world-class” aquifer that sits in Hawkesbury sandstone above the coal seam.

“These aquifers are in the Triassic sandstones and that’s why they’re so magnificent, and they don’t exist under the coal measures,” he said. 

“If they’re proposing to drill beneath the coal measures to actually source water, then that’s a fictitious statement. I can assure you, having developed mines and bore fills associated with mines, that what they’re saying is impossible,” he said.

Hume Coal project director Greig Duncan said he was “very confident” the coal mine would not adversely affect drinking water supply.

The president of the Battle for Berrima group, Ian Burns, said the mine’s low recovery rate and expensive method raised questions about its economic viability.

He said it would take just a slight drop in the price of coal for the project to become unviable. He fears locals would be left with a mess if the mine is approved and then abandoned by the company due to economics.

The EIS is on public exhibition until June 30 and the department has already received about 60 submissions.

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