Whitehaven Coal has been issued a cease and desist letter over alleged illegal construction and use of a pipeline to transport groundwater from nearby farming properties it owns to its Maules Creek mine in drought-ravaged north west NSW.
The state’s water watchdog, the Natural Resource Access Regulator, announced it was investigating the pipeline last month, however so far no action has been taken.
Late last week, the Environmental Defenders Office issued Whitehaven Coal with a cease and desist letter on behalf of Lock the Gate Alliance.
Lock the Gate NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said it was the Alliance’s view that the construction of the pipeline was illegal as it was well outside the approved mine project.
“The properties the mine is taking alluvial groundwater from are outside the approved mining area and therefore should not be used to supplement the company’s water,” she said.
“When the impact of the Maules Creek coal mine was being assessed, the company never said it would be buying up local farms and piping productive groundwater to the mine.
“The mine’s water use was modelled for a range of climatic conditions and Whitehaven never planned to use alluvial water for washing coal and suppressing dust.
“Whitehaven is a rogue operator, running a mine in a parched landscape at a time when farmers in the region are struggling against this severe drought.
“Whitehaven Coal has already outbid multiple farmers for groundwater allocations, paying exorbitant prices that farmers simply can’t compete against. It has been found to be illegally taking surface water, and now we have this unauthorised groundwater pipeline.
“Locals in the area are at their wits’ end. The bores Whitehaven is extracting from were for farming and irrigation – never for mining.
“We demand Whitehaven immediately stop using these bores to extract water and call on the government agencies to prosecute this company for its blatant breaches of environmental law.”
This latest development also comes after community group Leard Forest Research Node called on the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) to enforce its own laws on the company to make it stop taking water from the drought-stricken region, however the Department reportedly wiped its hands of the situation.
Compliance framework “impotent”
Lock the Gate Alliance has slammed NSW mining compliance framework as “impotent” after mining Whitehaven Coal lodged a modification application for its Maules Creek coal mine apparently to get approval for two already-built and highly contentious water pipelines.
“This decision by Whitehaven Coal to lodge two applications to modify its development consent for the controversial Maules Creek coal mine seems to be an admission by the company that it did not have approval for construction in the first place,” said Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods.
Notice was posted last week by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment of two applications by Whitehaven to modify its approval at Maules Creek. One concerns a “Roma and Brighton Water Pipeline” and the other an “Olivedene Water Pipeline.” Lock the Gate Alliance wrote to the Department of Planning a month ago to alert it that the two pipelines were under construction in breach of the company’s development approval. No substantial response has been received from the Department, but Lock the Gate understands that a compliance investigation is underway.