Green Steel and the future of the Illawarra

In October 2020, Protect our Water Alliance and Lock the Gate co-hosted a webinar on the future of a steel industry without coal – Green Steel.

Tony Wood from the Grattan Institute says government should commit to funding a green steel project powered and fed by hydrogen. The Prime Minister has just announced that low-carbon steel is one of five priority technologies that will receive targeted government investment.

Could a green steel project be built in the Illawarra? How many jobs would it create? What are the challenges and opportunities? And if the future of steel-making in the Illawarra is coal-free, how do we create new opportunities for people currently employed to mine coal under our drinking water catchment?

MC: Tim Buckley, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis


Dr John Pye is a senior lecturer at the Australian National University. Recently, he has joined an ANU ‘Grand Challenge’ initiative named Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific, with the proposal to develop pathways for the fully carbon-neutral production of iron and steel.

Tony Wood, Energy Program Director, Grattan Institute. Tony is one of Australia’s best-known commentators on energy policy. He is also co-author of a recent study called ‘Start with steel: A practical plan to support carbon workers and cut emissions’

Media release: Residents protest at Russell Vale Mine, as Independent Planning Commission gets underway

Wollongong, New South Wales — Residents are this morning blockading at the Russell Vale Colliery, as the beleaguered mine’s expansion proposal heads to the Independent Planning Commission later today. Protect Our Water Alliance is joining local residents and Knitting Nannas to demonstrate in-person opposition to the mine, before the virtual IPC proceedings take place today and tomorrow. The coal mine is seeking a five-year extension of operations, to mine further beneath the Special Areas of the Greater Sydney Water Catchment. 

Protect Our Water Alliance (POWA) spokesperson Rada Germanos said “The IPC is online due to COVID restrictions, but we are stepping out and stepping up in our opposition to this terrible project. It is crucial that we as a community do not let this project go ahead.”

If Wollongong Coal’s proposed expansion at the Russell Vale Mine goes ahead, it will be one of the top 100 emitters of Scope 1 greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. Furthermore, the mining expansion will drain both surface and ground water from the Cataract Reservoir catchment, part of the catchment’s Special Areas that forbid public access because of their sensitivity and strategic importance. In recent weeks a spotlight has also been shone on extensive damage to Aboriginal cultural sites in the Escarpment from coal mining.

“Our communities won’t see any benefits of this project, only a wrecked water catchment and warmed climate for generations into the future. There is also mounting evidence that the Aboriginal cultural heritage of the area is being trashed, with heartbreaking images of extensive and irreparable damage to sites such as Whale Cave from previous mining. It’s clear from these mining approval processes that there is a complete disregard for Aboriginal cultural heritage, and there will be more such important sites forever damaged should this mine’s expansion go ahead”

“POWA will continue to oppose the Russell Vale mine expansion, and all mining in our water catchment. Wollongong Coal cannot continue to rip up coal and ship it out overseas to its parent company. We are taking a stand and drawing a line in the sand. Mining is not compatible with preservation, and it is not compatible with a drinking water catchment. We demand an immediate and permanent ban on mining underneath our water catchment.”

POWA is a grassroots community group committed to defending the water security of our region. For more details about this campaign visit –

The Independent Planning Commission proceedings can be publicly viewed via


Rada Germanos

0411 378 923

Have your say: make a submission to the IPC opposing the Russell Vale Mine expansion



Make a submission to

– The deadline to register to speak at the public hearing is 5pm AEDT on Monday 12 October 2020. The public hearing will be held on 19 and 20 October 2020.

– The deadline for written submissions is 5pm AEDT on Tuesday 27 October 2020.

Make your submission a ‘unique’ submission

Our recommendation is that you write a short, unique submission which explains why you oppose this project. ‘Unique’ submissions tend to carry more weight with the NSW IPC than ‘form’ submissions. To help you, we have created this submission guide. You may choose to include some (or all) of the points below depending on your personal views about this project.

Wollongong Coal’s Revised Underground Expansion Project for Russell Vale:

I object to the Wollongong Coal Ltd’s Russell Vale Revised Underground Expansion Project (Major Project 09-0013).

Some of the reasons for my objection are:


  • Risky Mining in our water catchment
    The mining will take place in the Special Areas of the Greater Sydney Water Catchment – areas that forbid public access because of their sensitivity and strategic importance – and up to an area underneath the shores of the Cataract Reservoir.
  • Triple seam mining
    It is particularly risky mining – despite being bord and pillar method, not longwall – because a third seam of coal is being mined beneath two previously mined seams. Triple seam mining has little precedent and impacts are difficult to predict.
    • NEW INFORMATION shows that subsidence may be much greater than originally portrayed
      The transcript of a meeting between the Resources Regulator and the IPC Panel on 13 October 2020 reveals that the subsidence impacts of the proposed mining may be much more serious than the Dept of Planning has portrayed. It appears that subsidence has continued above longwalls 4 and 5; what was reported several years ago as 1.4 metres of subsidence (still nearly 5 times the predicted subsidence of 30cm) is now 1.78m of subsidence. A subsidence engineer expressed concern that the cumulative effect of the new project beneath two previously mined coal seams could trigger instability of “marginally stable pillars” in the overlying Bulli Seam mine. The expert makes several concerning statements before the meeting was cut short for private “internal” discussions of the IPC commissioners and staff present. These include:
      – “It’s a substantial effort ….. to control the risk hazard of those marginally stable rock masses, because the – by nature, by definition, they do not need a lot of external force to become non-stable.”
      – “Importantly, without a reasonable understanding of this key risk factor” [the state and location of the marginally stable pillars in the Bulli seam] “we are in the dark in making decisions in relation to Russell Vale Colliery’s proposed revised underground expansion project. That’s an important message.” (1)

Wollongong Coal admits that instability in the overlaying old Bulli seam workings may cause pillar collapse and subsidence of the surface of almost 1 metre. It is unacceptable for the NSW government to allow such risky mining in the water catchment for 5 million people of Greater Sydney in a time of increasing drought.

  • More damage and water loss in our catchment
    Although the bord and pillar mining method could be expected to lead to less damage than longwall mining, the approval of this expansion would also reactivate a lapsed approval for longwall mining, enabling 25m of longwall mining close to the upland swamp, CCUS4, to extract the abandoned longwall machine in longwall 6. This longwall mining should not be allowed to go ahead. Previous mining of Longwall 4 resulted in subsidence of 1.4 metres which was nearly five times the predicted subsidence (2).
  • Ecosystem degradation
    The mining expansion will drain both surface and ground water from the Cataract Reservoir catchment. This dewatering, exacerbated by drought and climate change, will impact the biodiversity in the area. As the area dries out, it loses the ability to sustain native plants, animals, birds, reptiles and insects in the area.
  • Increasing bushfire risk
    The draining of ground and surface water caused by the mining will make the Cataract Reservoir catchment area, one of the few areas of unburnt bushland in NSW, drier and more flammable. This increases the bushfire risk, not only around Cataract Reservoir, but also along the heavily treed Illawarra Escarpment.


  • Ongoing water treatment requirements will cost future generations

The project will further the loss of ground and surface water from Cataract Reservoir and its catchment, adding 131 ML/year of ground water and 10 ML/year of surface water to losses from previous mining damage. This is estimated to bring the total ground and surface water loss from the project to 298 ML/year (3). This is the equivalent annual water usage of over 4,000 people.

  • Unending mine water discharge at the Illawarra Escarpment
    After the project is finished the mining void will fill up with water. The water will keep rising until it reaches the adit (mine portal) in the Illawarra Escarpment in about 2057. The water will overflow through the adit and the outflow will slowly increase, reaching 0.3ML (300,000 litres) per day in 2179 (4). WCL’s modelling shows that the volume of water outflow at the adit above Russell Vale will continue to flow, even beyond 2179. In other words, there will be escalating water discharge from the adit for at least 160 years… perhaps, in perpetuity.
  • The Planning Department’s failure to protect our water
    The outflow will need to be managed and treated and Wollongong Coal is proposing a commitment to do this for 10 years. The company, as the current mining lease holder, not generations of NSW taxpayers should be responsible for all future discharge. The Planning Department’s recommendation that Wollongong Coal be required to merely “make a plan” for outflow management is ludicrous; it is indicative of the Department’s failure to protect our water through decades of mining the Greater Sydney Water Catchment.


  • More mining around Cataract Reservoir
    The Dept Planning confirms that the purpose of this proposal is to pave the way for a much larger expansion of mining around Cataract Reservoir and to its west (5). It is reckless and lacking in forethought for the NSW government to further jeopardise the integrity of the water catchment. Cataract Reservoir area has been extensively mined already and the ground was still moving 25 years after a project in the 1990’s longwall mined around and under the Reservoir (6). The Special Areas of Greater Sydney Water Catchment should be declared off limits to mining. They should be protected, not only on the surface, but to the centre of the earth.


  • Proximity to Residential Areas

The colliery site at Russell Vale is closer to dense residential areas than any mine in Australia. Residential communities have suffered the impacts from this mine over many years, including noise and particulate pollution. In this day and age, Russell Vale is not a suitable location for a colliery and “mitigation” measures will not remedy this.

  • Coal Processing Plant Onsite
    Wollongong Coal plans to build a coal processing plant at the Russell Vale Colliery and process coal on site. The Russell Vale mine is the closest mine to any built up residential area in Australia and is not a suitable area for coal processing. Moreover, the proponent has been unable or unwilling to comply with many conditions of past approvals (7) and the NSW government has proven to be unable or unwilling to enforce compliance. Residents have no confidence in “conditions” or “commitments” to operate the processing plant according to safe and suitable standards.
  • Coal Trucks are a traffic hazard and pollution risk
    The coal would be trucked along Bellambi Lane, past people’s homes onto the Northern Distributor to Port Kembla Coal Terminal. The mine proposes to produce up to 1 million tonnes of coal plus 0.2 million tonnes of fill material per annum. The maximum truck frequency leaving the site will be 17 loaded trucks per hour, that is 34 truck movements per hour, or 1 truck every 1 minute 45 seconds (8). The Northern Distributor is already at capacity in peak hour with regular traffic jams; this large number of coal trucks will delay and endanger drivers on the main arterial road of the Illawarra’s growing northern suburbs. The coal trucks will also cause coal dust/particulate pollution along the trucking route.
  • Particulate Pollution
    The colliery is too close to residential areas, with homes bordering the colliery site on 3 sides, just 225 m from coal stockpiles and schools located just several hundred metres away. The colliery is a major source of particulate pollution. It is well documented that coal particulate pollution increases human morbidity and mortality from respiratory and cardiovascular disease. In this day and age, Russell Vale is not an appropriate location for a colliery, and particularly not for a colliery that wants to expand.
  • Pollution from two new coal stockpiles
    Coal stockpiles have a large surface area that is prone to dust generation. This development proposes two new stockpiles, bringing the total number to three (9). This will increase the stockpiled coal surface area further and exacerbate the particulate pollution from the colliery.
  • Pollution from loading coal onto trucks with tractors
    The proposed new truck loading facility will not be operating for years (if ever!) and until then loading trucks off the stockpiles with tractors on unsealed roads will create more particulate and noise pollution. WCL was supposed to build a truck loading facility as a requirement of their previous approval, but the NSW government failed to enforce this condition, so we are now left with last century methods of truck loading and the local community will pay the price.


  • Short-changing NSW taxpayers
    The coal would be mined for supply of WCL’s parent company in India, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (10); this expansion is unrelated to steel making in the Illawarra. By selling to the parent company, WCL is unlikely to get the best price and therefore the people of NSW are likely to be short-changed on even the meagre royalties.
  • NSW government’s failure to respond to the company’s financial situation
    Wollongong Coal’s liabilities outweigh its assets by approximately A$1 billion. It cannot be expected to properly resource mining in the sensitive and strategically important water catchment. Furthermore, the company is no longer listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and therefore even the basic accountability requirements for ASX-listed companies do not apply (11). The NSW government has been investigating whether Wollongong Coal is fit and proper to hold a mining license for 4 years but has never concluded the investigation or released the findings. The investigation is still going on, with the government just saying that they can’t establish that the company is unfit and improper (12). This company is not fit and proper. They should not be allowed to mine the water catchment of the largest city on the driest inhabited continent on earth.


  • More Greenhouse Gas Emissions when we need to reduce emissions
    If the Russell Vale coal project goes ahead, an additional 304,600 t CO2-e per annum of Scope 1 and 2 emissions (13) will be added to the NSW GHG inventory at a time when NSW Government policy requires a reduction in GHGs of 35% by 2030 (14). In a recent submission on the Narrabri Gas project, former Chief Scientist of Australia Professor Penny Sackett stated that meeting NSW’s own 2030 GHG target “will require an annual new reduction of about 2.4 MtCO2-e per year, year on year” (15). The Russell Vale project would add about 0.3 MtCO2-e every year for the next five years, thus working in the opposite direction and nulling about 12% of the intended reductions in all other areas of NSW industry and commerce.
  • Top 100 GHG emitters for very little coal
    If approved, Russell Vale would be in the top 100 largest emitters of Scope 1 emissions in Australia. Russell Vale is a gassy mine, meaning a lot of methane would be released into the atmosphere during mining. Australia is already – by far – the largest exporter of metallurgical coal. Russell Vale would add only a very small volume of additional coal (about an extra 0.25% per annum) to export volumes but it would add a large volume of GHGs to NSW’s inventory.


  • Insecure employment and safety risks
    There’s a high risk that promised socio-economic benefits won’t be delivered or sustained given WCL’s inability to safely and profitably operate mines.
    • In April 2019, Wollongong Coal shut down operations at its Wongawilli mine throwing 45 people out of work after the NSW Resources Regulator identified “significant safety issues” (16).
    • In 2017 a ‘catastrophic failure’ of a diesel engine occurred at Wongawilli, which the Regulator said could have caused an explosion in the methane-rich underground workplace (17).
    • In 2014, 100 miners lost their jobs at Wongawilli after an expensive longwall machine was buried in a roof collapse (18). Workers were asked to take a pay cut to keep the mine going, but the company’s offer of $21.50 an hour combined with a loss of working conditions was voted down by miners. The miners were made redundant (19).
  • Wollongong Coal does not pay company tax
    Wollongong Coal has lost money every year since 2013 when the current majority owner took control. As the company has not generated a taxable income, zero company tax has been paid to the Australian Government since 2013. This is very unlikely to change in future.
  • It would cost the Australian government about $24,000,000 to offset the GHG emissions that Russell Vale will generate Wollongong Coal’s cost benefit analysis (CBA) overstates the benefits and understates the costs. For example, the CBA does not include the cost of offsetting emissions from Russell Vale. In September 2020, the Clean Energy Regulator paid an average of $15.74 per tonne of abatement to buy emissions reduction as part of their 11th Emissions Reduction Fund auction (20). Using this price as a guide, it would cost about $24M to abate the 1,523,000 t CO2-e of Scope 1 and 2 emissions that this project will generate in NSW over 5 years. As Wollongong Coal pay no company tax, they will likely contribute nothing towards the cost of abatement.

The proposed Russell Vale UEP is not in the public interest. We ask that you reject this application from Wollongong Coal and recommend a process to close the mine at Russell Vale permanently.


2 Gujarat NRE Coking Coal Ltd NRE No. 1 Colliery Longwall 4 End of Panel Report, p.15, Accessed 26.9.20 at

3 Russell Vale Revised Underground Expansion Project (MP09_0013) | Secretary’s Final Assessment Report, op cit, p. 48

4 Russell Vale Colliery – Underground Expansion Project, Russell Vale East, Revised Mine Plan Groundwater Assessment, GeoTerra, p. 97 accessed 26.9.20 at (p. 390 of whole document)

5 Russell Vale Revised Underground Expansion Project (MP09_0013) | Secretary’s Final Assessment Report, op cit, p. 14

6 Is there a 4th Dimension to Subsidence Monitoring? W Ziegler, Manager Mining Impacts, NSW Dam Safety Committee and H Middleton, Mining Regulation Officer, NSW Dam Safety Committee, Proceedings of the 9th Triennial Conference on Mine Subsidence, 2014, Accessed at


8 Russell Vale Revised Underground Expansion Project (MP09_0013) | Secretary’s Final Assessment Report, p.13, accessed at (“DPIE Final Assessment Report”)

9 Ibid, p. 13

10 Russell Vale Revised Underground Expansion Project (MP09_0013) | Secretary’s Final Assessment Report, op cit, p. 14



13 Russell Vale Revised Underground Expansion Project (MP09_0013) | Secretary’s Final Assessment Report, op cit, p. 66


15 Expert Report on the Greenhouse Gas and Climate Implications of the Narrabri Gas Project (SSD-6456), Professor Penny D Sackett Honorary Professor, Climate Change Institute, The Australian National University Advice Provided: 9 August 2020, p. 24, accessed at





20 11th Emissions Reduction Fund auction results, 18 September 2020
Accessed at:

Media release: Water Catchment Convoy draws over 40 locals to visit areas damaged by underground longwall mining

Wollongong, New South Wales — Over 40 people attended a convoy touring mining-related damage to the water catchment on Sunday February 2nd, organised by community group Protect Our Water Alliance (POWA). 

The community convoy started at Wollongong Railway Station, before travelling to Allan’s Creek in Unanderra, where over 5 million litres of water daily are discharged into the creek from the Dendrobium Mine in Mt Kembla. It then travelled to Redbank Creek in Picton, where longwall mining from the Tahmoor Colliery has caused extensive cracking in the rock of the creekbed. The convoy finished at Cataract Dam, where extensive mining operations have occurred beneath the reservoir since the 1970s. Cataract Dam is currently only 26% full. 

Greater Sydney is the only region in the world where long wall mining occurs beneath vital water catchment areas. In a time of severe drought, water restrictions and bush fires, reservoirs in the Catchment continue to dwindle – reservoirs in the Illawarra region are currently between 25 and 45% full.

POWA spokesperson Dr Rada Germanos, said “Underground longwall mining is causing subsidence and surface-to-seam fractures in rock. This has drained creeks and swamps, and is destroying carbon-capturing ecosystems, as well as sites sacred to Yuin and Dharawal peoples.”

“A recent report from the Office of the Chief Scientist estimated that just two of the mines operating in the catchment are causing the daily loss of 8 million litres of water. Other studies have estimated that the water loss from catchment mining is as high as 34 million litres per day. This poses clear threat to our region’s water security into the future.”

POWA is calling for a permanent ban on mining underneath the Greater Sydney Water Catchment. Unauthorised entry into the protected Special Areas can incur a $44,000 fine, however coal mines continue to operate beneath these areas. 

Two mines, Dendrobium and Russell Vale, are seeking NSW State Government approval for proposed expansions despite mounting community concern about their effects on the water catchment.

Water Catchment Convoy at Cataract Dam 2nd Feb 2020

What Wollongong Coal DIDN’T tell you at their latest community information session

Not long after Wollongong Coal was forced to shut down their Wongawilli mine due to safety and financial problems, they held a “community information session” on the proposed extension of the Russell Vale coal mine.

On the 25th of May – the same day a climate change rally was held in Wollongong – Wollongong Coal opened the doors of the Thirroul Community Centre to the public. The location choice was a bit strange, given that it was not held in suburbs that would be directly affected. Any Illawarra local worth their salt can tell you that parking in Thirroul on a sunny Saturday is a challenge. Perhaps just an oversight.

Upon arrival, locals were greeted by the cheerful staff of Umwelt. This is the Environmental Consultant Agency to which Wollongong Coal has no doubt paid a pretty penny, to chaperone each visitor through the presentation.

Each visitor was given a glossy booklet, complete with serene pictures of miners walking through the bush.

We were informed that the booklet was “more detailed” than the posters on the walls.

On further inspection, it seemed that several sections were omitted from the booklet – in particular the noise and dust contour maps.

Sure, they had pictures of them on the walls, if you could distinguish the dark blue contour lines from the dark green background. But unless you have a photographic memory, you couldn’t possibly recall the details of the maps.

Not to worry – we took our own pictures, and have provided them for you here.

Also missing from the booklet included the proposed colliery site plan. Not to mention proposed stockpile sizes for Run-of-mine coal , product coal and waste material.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there were zero attempts to estimate the Green House Gases that would be emitted by the expansion project.

Importantly for us, Wollongong Coal completely glossed over the issue of subsidence. Subsidence is the vertical shifting of earth which can cause cracks to appear in the surface, water loss and contamination. Although subsidence is much more prominent with longwall mining, is still occurs with bord-and-pillar mining. A simplistic diagram drawn up by geotechnical consultancy firm Strata Control Technology (SCT) seeks to show that the “typical” subsidence for first workings bord-and-pillar extraction is virtually none.

According to Department of the Environment [1] :

“Historically, this method of mining [bord-and-pillar first workings] was undertaken where the depths of cover were very shallow, the mine was small, or where the surface subsidence had to be limited” pg. 4

Note the key word; limited.

Bord-and-pillar first workings are not employed to eliminate any risk of subsidence, but rather limit the risk. In areas of the water catchment where an individual can be fined up to $44,000 for simply bushwalking, is it really acceptable that subsidence is merely limited?

Furthermore, the report [1] continues:

“where the pillars have been designed to be stable, the vertical subsidence is typically less than 20mm. Natural or seasonal variations in the surface levels, due to the wetting and drying of soils, are approximately 20mm; hence, vertical subsidence of less than 20mm can be considered to be no more than the variations that occur from natural processes and should have negligible impact on surface infrastructure” pg. 4

Firstly, the argument that mining companies should be able to deliberately cause up to 20mm of subsidence because similar variations may occur from natural processes – is a bit like an arsonist who feels it is quite within his rights to start a bushfire because they can also be caused by lightning strikes.

One would assume that there is a fundamental difference between changes in the “wetting and drying of soils” (which are presumably located in the top layers of the earth) and subsidence caused by the sinking of underlying strata.

This begs the following question, wouldn’t the 20mm of subsidence caused by underground mining simply be added to the natural variation that would occur in the soil, and not necessarily negate it?

Perhaps these are moot points when we consider that the 20mm subsidence figures are “best-case-scenario” estimations.

According to one researcher [2]; ‘Pillar design criteria based on field experience have met with mixed success

Not only do unexpected things go wrong but we also know from scientific literature [3, 4, 5] that significant levels of subsidence occur over time due to the eventual degradation of support pillars. The mining company is only responsible for the health of the area for a relatively short period of time and wouldn’t be held responsible for any damage that occurs in the distant future.

Given all of this information – do we really trust a company that has been in doubt as to whether it is even fit to hold a mining licence, to perform underground mining beneath our most precious resource?

Sydney is the largest city in the driest inhabited continent on earth. POWA believes our water is our lifeline, and needs to be protected at all costs.


[1] Department of the Environment, June 2014, Background Review: Subsidence from coal mining activities, Commonwealth of Australia

[2] Galvin, J. 2016. Ground Engineering: Principles and Practices for Underground Coal Mining.

[3] Bell, F.G. & de Bruyn, I. A. (1999), Subsidence problems due to abandoned pillar workings in coal seams, Bulletin of Engineering Geology and the Environment, 57, pp. 225-237

[4] Taylor, J., Fowell, R. & Wade, L (2013), Effects of abandoned shallow bord-and-pillar coal workings on surface development, Mining Technology, 109(3), pp. 140-145

[5] van der Merwe, J.N. (2003), Predicting coal pillar life in South Africa, Journal of the South African Institute of Mining and Industry, pp. 293-302