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Russell Vale expansion in doubt

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World Coal,

A second review of the Russell Vale coal mine expansion by the New South Wales Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) has thrown doubt on the project.

Despite acknowledging the short-term benefits of the project – which includes the provision of 300 jobs for five years, about AUS$23 million in royalties to the state government and AUS$85 million in CAPEX and other direct and indirect flow-on effects – the PAC concluded that these were “most likely outweighed by the magnitude of impacts to the environment”.

In particular, the PAC identified the risk of water loss, risk to upland swamps, noise impacts on nearby residents, potential hydrogeological impacts and a loss of ecosystem functions.

In response, Russell Vale’s owner, Wollongong Coal, said it “worked tirelessly for several years to ensure the proposal met the requirements of government policies,” noting that the New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment had already recommended approval of the project.

Wollongong Coal added that it would now “review the PAC’s report in detail before it determines its future course of action.”

The Russell Vale mine has been operating since the late nineteenth century and is currently in care and maintenance.

It is located in Sydney’s water catchment areas, leading utility, WaterNSW, to warn that extension of mining there could significantly deplete the reservoirs that supply Australia’s largest city.

The PAC also noted concerns from the Office of Environment and Heritage that the project could drain upland swamps known to be home to the protected giant dragonfly.

The PAC report might through a number of other mine expansion projects in the Illawara region into doubt, including South32’s plans to expand mining at Dendrobium and the expansion of Peabody Energy’s Metropolitan mine.

"The NSW government should act now to protect the Special Areas [of Sydney’s water catchment] from any further mining by refusing the submitted plans for more mining at Dendrobium and the soon to be submitted plans for the next stage of the expansion of the Metropolitan mine," Dr Peter Turner of the National Parks Association told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Hitting back at detractors, however, Wollongong Coal said it considered its assets – including Russell Vale – to be a “critical component to an integrated long-term economic plant for the [Illawara] region.”

“While the PAC is correct in its assertion the project is short term in nature, its approval was part of Wollongong Coal’s longer-term strategy to re-establish a stable and sustainable operation with benefits extended far beyond those of the Underground Expansion Project,” Wollongong Coal concluded.

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