WOLLONGONG COAL, RUSSELL VALE
Waterways affected: Cataract Reservoir catchment
The Russell Vale Colliery is an underground coal mine west of Russell Vale. The mine has been in operation since the 1880s – using various methods to mine different coal seams. It mines beneath the Special Areas of the Greater Sydney Water Catchment. It has been in care and maintainance mode since 2015.
Russell Vale Colliery is operated by Wollongong Coal Ltd (WCL), which has been listed on the Australian stock exchange, although it applied to be removed from official listing on the ASX in July 2020. The majority shareholder in WCL is Jindal Steel and Power Mauritius Ltd, which is in turn 100% owned by Indian company Jindal Steel and Power.
Wollongong Coal has been in the headlines regarding an investigation by the Resources Regulator into whether or not it is “fit and proper” to carry a mining license. The company was also forced to close its Wongawilli Coal mine in 2019 due to safety concerns after a “series of roof collapses”.
Russell Vale Colliery Underground Expansion Proposal
Wollongong Coal has approval from the NSW Independent Planning Comission for a 5 year expansion. They plan to mine a third seam of coal (Wongawilli seam) beneath two previously mined seams using a bord-and-pillar method, yielding 3.7 million tonnes of coal. This would be predominantly metallurgical (coking) coal, with some thermal coal as a byproduct. All of the coal is to be exported.
Wollongong Coal propose to mine a third seam of coal (Wongawilli seam) beneath two previously mined seams (Bulli and Bellambi seams). Multi seam mining has scant precedent and the outcomes are difficult to predict. Instability in the overlaying old Bulli seam workings may cause pillar collapse and subsequent surface subsidence of 1 to 2 metres.
A processing plant would be built on site to process coal. Coal would then be trucked from Russell Vale along the Northern Distributor to Port Kembla Coal Terminal. There would be up to 32 truck movements per hour, or one coal truck every 112 seconds on the Northern Distributor.
WCL has explicitly stated 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.
WCL’s consultants stated in 2019 “LOM [Life of Mine] of at least 5 years to provide sufficient time for necessary studies and approval process for mining in Wonga Central and Wonga/Bulli West areas.”*
This planned expansion could be much more destructive & must be stopped.
*RUSSELL VALE UEP, Revised Mine Plan: Presentation to CCC 06 June 2017, p. 7
RUSSELL VALE COLLIERY EXPANSION PROPOSAL
(Detailed) Reasons to oppose the Russell Vale Colliery Expansion
Triple seam mining and subsidence risks
It is particularly risky mining because a third seam of coal is being mined beneath two previously mined seams.
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
Subsidence impacts of the proposed mining could be much worse than admitted by Wollongong Coal, and a Subsidence Engineer from the NSW Resources Regulator raised serious concerns about this proposal in October 2020 (1)
Previous mining of Longwall 4 resulted in subsidence of 1.4 metres, which was nearly five times the predicted subsidence (2)
Ecological destruction and bushfire risk
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.
This drying effect will result in a higher bushfire risk to the Cataract Reservoir catchment and the Illawarra Escarpment
Destruction of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage
Wollongong Coal barely touches on Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in their planning documents.
The Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council (ILALC) opposes the proposal, and write:
To support our position on this matter we would like to draw attention to the findings in the original Environmental report which highlighted that over 200 sites were already recorded in the vicinity of the mining operation. Furthermore, the report identifies that no systemic evaluation of the landscape has occurred to confirm these numbers were complete. In addition to the potential damage to these sites we are concerned no assessment has been conducted in relation to the Aboriginal cultural landscape and the values, stories and belief structures that sit within this very important cultural area.
The report acknowledges that the archaeological significance of the identified Aboriginal sites was determined by their research value, representativeness, intactness and rarity and that on the basis of these criteria. While we agree with the high significance finding identified, we contest the reasoning and the process used for this rating. We assert the fact that Aboriginal people and our cultural history should not have its importance ranked by its research value, combined with structures that have been determined by a values position of non-Aboriginal people. Furthermore, we recognise that this landscape and area holds significance that can’t be constrained to scientific value. The destruction of this area will eliminate, without the potential for repair, a significant cultural and environmental landscape which has already seen the destructive hand of western values. We therefore demand that this continued destruction and undervaluing of Aboriginal history stop and that we rightfully be respected as the custodians of this land, as you cannot return what you continue to destroy.
131 megalitres/year of groundwater and 10 megalitres/year of surface water will be lost due to damage from the proposed mining
this is estimated to bring the total ground and surface water losses from previous mining damage by Russell Vale Colliery to 298 megalitres/year (3). This is equivalent to the annual water usage of over 4,000 people.
Perpetual water losses from the mine entrance
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.
Wollongong Coal is proposing a commitment to treat this water for 10 years only
Future plans to mine around Cataract Reservoir
Wollongong Coal and the NSW DPIE confirm that the purpose of this proposal is to allow access to the Wonga Central and Wonga West areas
This would lead to a much larger expansion of mining around Cataract Reservoir (5)
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).
Proximity to Residential Areas
The Russell Vale colliery is the closest mine to a residential area on this continent.
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.
Onsite Coal Processing Plant
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.
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.
There will be up to 32 trucking movements per hour, or 1 truck every 112 seconds (8) between 7am – 6pm Monday to Friday, and 8am – 6pm on Saturdays.
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.
This development proposes two new stockpiles, bringing the total number to three (9).
Wollongong Coal plans to build a coal processing plant at the Russell Vale Colliery and process coal on site.
There will be up to 32 trucking movements per hour, causing coal dust and diesel particulate pollution along the trucking route. This contribution to air pollution has not been modelled by Wollongong Coal
Greenhouse gas emissions
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.
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.
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.
2 Gujarat NRE Coking Coal Ltd NRE No. 1 Colliery Longwall 4 End of Panel Report, p.15, Accessed 26.9.20 at http://wollongongcoal.com.au/monitoring-r/
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 https://majorprojects.accelo.com/public/7f32dda24beaa9a6c18ea7d52be9c53d/RtPAC%20Second%20Review%20FINAL.pdf (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 https://moam.info/mine-subsidence_5c555997097c47034d8b45b0.html
8 Russell Vale Revised Underground Expansion Project (MP09_0013) | Secretary’s Final Assessment Report, p.13, accessed at https://www.ipcn.nsw.gov.au/projects/2020/08/russell-vale-underground-expansion-project (“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 https://www.ipcn.nsw.gov.au/resources/pac/media/files/pac/projects/2020/03/narrabri-gas-project/correspondence/edo/sackett-narrabri-gas-project-ipc-advice-revised_final.pdf
20 11th Emissions Reduction Fund auction results, 18 September 2020
Accessed at: http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/ERF/Pages/News%20and%20updates/News-Item.aspx?ListId=19b4efbb-6f5d-4637-94c4-121c1f96fcfe&ItemId=837