Coal Rocks On, Features

Shenhua pushing forward with destructive coal plans at Breeza

Fossil Fool Bulletin • 21 January 2020

By Eve Sinton

Chinese coal company Shenhua is pushing along with exploratory and environmental management plan works to have all its assessments done, and its Watermark mining lease application submitted, by the June 30 deadline of its current two-year extended exploration lease.

Located in the middle of a sensitive area for koalas and on the fertile Breeza Plain, the project has the farming community worried about long term impacts on the water upon which the local cropping industry is so dependent.

Lock the Gate Alliance is calling on the NSW Government to show political leadership and seize the upcoming opportunity to stop the destructive Liverpool Plains coal mine.

Under the terms of Shenhua’s coal exploration licence, which was renewed in 2018, the NSW Government created an opportunity to cancel the licence if the multinational mining company failed to apply for a mining lease by 30 June 2020. The company is yet to make an application for a mining lease and is required to pay the NSW $200 million when it does so. 

The company is also yet to complete eight vital environmental studies needed before the mine can be approved.

Lock the Gate NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods urged the government to listen to farmers and Gomeroi people on the Liverpool Plains and cancel Shenhua’s proposal.

“This project should never have been approved by this government. It is incompatible with the agricultural future of one of the most important food bowls in the country,” she said.

Koalas likely to perish

“The mine would also displace a significant koala population and that poor species needs all the protection we can give it after so many have perished in the bushfire crisis.

Caroona Coal Action Group president Susan Lyle said the Shenhua coal mine’s threat to koalas was often reduced to a side issue, but it should take centre stage.

Shenhua proposes to relocate the koalas from the mine site, but experts point to the high mortality rate of translocation.

The company planted 2,500 trees at the end of 2019, to create a tree corridor for koalas.

Lyle said the trees were currently only six inches high and would struggle to survive the drought.

“That doesn’t pass any sort of pub test; they’re just ticking a box,” she said. “If they were really concerned about koalas, they should’ve planted trees five years ago.”

Water wars erupt

Competition for scarce water has intensified since Shenhua was first awarded its exploration licence in 2008, especially as other nearby mines have been outbidding farmers.

Over the past 12 months there have been cease and desist orders and investigations by the Natural Resources Access Regulator, as competition for water emerged between farmers and Whitehaven (the operator of Maules Creek and Tarrawonga mines and the planned Vickery mine extension).

Around Shenhua, south of Gunnedah, farmers’ main concerns are the potential drawdown of the water table due to the planned depth of the pit.

Farming newspaper, The Land, said: “When the government makes its decision later this year, it won’t just be making a decision about whether to give the go ahead to a new mine, but also a decision about the future of agriculture on the Breeza Plain.”

Lock the Gate’s Georgina Woods said, “This was always the wrong place for a new thermal coal mine, but now it is very obviously the wrong time. This mine will contribute to the disastrous impacts of climate change such as the bushfires that have swept across the country.”

The mine is expected to produce up to 10 million tonnes of coal each year over its 30-year lifetime.

Shenhua playing with livelihoods

Woods said Shenhua was playing with the livelihoods of NSW communities that would be impacted by its proposed mine. “For fifteen years, local farmers and Gomeroi people have fought to protect this region and stop this destructive coal mine on the Liverpool Plains,” she said.

“Shenhua seems ambivalent about going ahead with this mine, but public opposition to it has not abated and is stronger than ever in the wake of the devastating fires of this summer.

“We are calling on the Berejiklian Government to cancel Shenhua’s coal exploration licence when its time expires in July and make clear laws to protect New South Wales’ productive farmland and water resources from coal mining.”

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