Victory as Dendrobium coal expansion halted

August 24, 2022
Water is life. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Activists are celebrating after Australian mining company South32 announced on August 23 it will not seek to extend the Dendrobium coal mine under Sydney’s drinking water catchment.

Apart from threatening drinking water in Sydney and the Illawarra, the controversial mine expansion threatened cultural heritage sites and unique upland swamp ecosystems. It would also have increased greenhouse gas emissions.

The company told the Stock Exchange it would no longer pursue the expansion because the expected profit was not high enough to justify the investment.

Nic Clyde from Lock the Gate told Green Left he is “dubious” about that as coal prices are high.

Clyde said a “persistent, sustained and dedicated community campaign” had brought a lot of scrutiny to the proposed expansion. Opposition had also come from Water New South Wales, federal scientific experts and institutional investors. “In the end, it was a bit of a house of cards and it’s fallen over.”

South32’s original application was rejected by the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) last year, even though it was supported by the NSW Coalition government.

The IPC said the dangerous environmental impacts, including on drinking water, would be “long-term and irreversible” and that it was “not in the public interest”. The government responded by giving a revised plan State Significant Infrastructure status.

Clyde said South32 is the “only coal company in the history of NSW to have a coal mining project declared a State Significant Infrastructure project”.

Deidre Stuart from Protect Our Water Alliance also welcomed the company’s decision. “This is a terrific outcome for all those who spent many hours working to stop what was a clearly unacceptable proposal from the very beginning. It was never in the public interest,” she said.

“The ‘state significant infrastructure’ declaration was an assault on good governance and on communities," Stuart said. "It’s a great shame that many politicians were lining up across the political spectrum to undermine the original Planning Commission ruling. Thank goodness common sense has prevailed.”

Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann and independent MLC Justin Field also welcomed the decision.

South32 said it will seek to extend the mine’s life within its existing “approved domains”. Clyde says a danger remains that it will try to modify their existing approvals to continue production.

The IPC used to be the consent authority, but since this changed to the Department of Planning which, Clyde said, is “harder to contest”.

Clyde also pointed out that the Appin mine, also run by South32, is the most polluting coal mine in NSW in terms of Scope 1 emissions (those from the mining process itself). “There is not nearly enough scrutiny on those emissions.”

Between Appin and Dendrobium there is “need for ongoing scrutiny and campaigning for a while yet,” Clyde said.

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