Update and explainer: Dendrobium SSI process, what you can do, and upcoming POWA community information night

This is an update to POWA supporters and allies about the latest developments around the Dendrobium extension project and how to intervene in the planning process to protect our water and environment. As part of our response to South32’s new extension plan, POWA will be holding a public forum on January 20. We encourage you to come along and participate. (See details below)

As you may be aware, the NSW Government has recently declared the Dendrobium mine extension as State Significant Infrastructure (SSI), in spite of the Independent Planning Commission’s (IPC) rejection of the mine’s extension as a State Significant Development (SSD) in 2021. In February, the IPC decided to block the mine’s expansion because it would have unacceptable impacts to water security as well as biodiversity, threatened ecological communities and cause irreversible damage to 58 identified Aboriginal cultural artefacts and values. It also found the mine would cause serious degradation to 25 watercourses and swamps in the Metropolitan Special Area and release significant amounts of greenhouse gases.

The IPC’s decision to protect the water catchment and the environment was an important outcome for numerous ecological campaigns and for POWA as the main group opposing the project. 

Overturning the Independent Planning Process

The IPC decision was immediately condemned by coal corporation South32 and criticised by prominent members of the NSW Government, who vowed to overturn it. South32 and the NSW Minerals Council have been lobbying the government for months to overturn the Commission’s decision. In early December, NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole and Planning Minister Rob Stokes announced they were pushing forward with the Dendrobium expansion. The decision to grant SSI status followed a motion on the issue in State Parliament, moved by One Nation, which was supported by the Liberals, the Nationals, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, the Christian Democrats, and the Labor Party. 

The Government has designated the mine State Significant Infrastructure due to its alleged role in providing coal for the Port Kembla steelworks. However, the IPC found that most of Bluescope’s coal came from other mines, the majority of Dendrobium coal over the next 20 years would be exported or transported elsewhere, and Bluescope’s preferred coal would not be mined by the expansion until almost 20 years into the project. Recently, BlueScope’s general manager of manufacturing David Bell told a ‘virtual town hall’ that work on the Port Kembla wharves would allow the steelmaker to bring in coal from elsewhere if need be. 

The IPC decision stated that the economic value of the water supply catchment and the costs of scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions was an equally important consideration as the coal & steel industry. The Government did not mention the water supply, environmental, or emissions concerns of the IPC in its statement about the SSI mine expansion plan. 

As POWA continues to highlight, what the Illawarra needs is renewable energy, green steel, and a just transition, not another coal mine. This is where sustainable jobs and incomes will come from.
The new plan would extend the life of the Mine to 2041 and would involve the extraction of millions of tonnes of coal each year. This is the first time that a coal mine has been declared State Significant Infrastructure in NSW and would set an alarming precedent.

Crucially, the SSI declaration removes the IPC and any independent decision-making body from the approval process, making the NSW Minister for Planning and Homes the consent authority for the project. The Planning Department previously recommended that the IPC approve the project and the planning minister has now given himself the power to decide on this project. The removal of independent oversight calls into question the role of IPC and the Department of Planning, Industry & Environment (DPIE) and suggests the ‘capture’ of the State Government and most NSW political parties by coal companies. It is untenable for the DPIE to do the assessment of this project since they previously backed the flawed claims by South32, which were rejected by the IPC.

Extension Impacts

The powerful campaign opposing extended mining at Dendrobium has resulted in a revised plan, which is less destructive than South32’s original proposal. Due to our collective efforts the proposed longwalls have been reduced by half, which would potentially involve less damage to the water catchment, and have a reduced impact on Aboriginal heritage areas, with six sites to be directly undermined, compared with twenty-two previously. Nonetheless, POWA continues to oppose any mining in the water catchment, as well as the other destructive impacts of the extension proposal. These impacts include – 
– Perpetual surface water loss
– Undermining of streams & swamp
– A range of other risks to local ecology and biodiversity
– Undermining of at least six Aboriginal heritage sites
– Greenhouse gas emissions
– Increased danger of bushfires

The SSI assessment process

When an application is made for the Minister’s approval for SSI, the Planning Secretary prepares environmental assessment requirements, or SEARs, for the project. The Department published the SEARs for the proposed extension just two days before Christmas.
The SEARs identify the information that must be provided in the mining corporation’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), including the matters that require further assessment and the community engagement that must be carried out during the preparation of the EIS. 
What preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) typically involves:
In normal process, the preparation of an EIS usually involves the proponent (in this case South32):
• Engaging with community
• Undertaking detailed technical studies to assess the impacts of the project in accordance with any relevant Government legislation, plans, policies & guidelines
• Refining the design of the project to avoid or minimise the impacts of the project.

The preparation of the EIS should involve a process of impact assessment and design refinement, development of mitigation measures & consultation with community, stakeholders and government agencies.
The Dendrobium Mine Extension Project must take into account the issues raised by the IPC in its refusal of the project and should be subject to a whole of government merit assessment in accordance with the requirements of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

Public exhibition & submissions

Once complete, the EIS will be checked by the Department before being placed on public exhibition for a minimum period of 28 days.
During the exhibition period, anyone can make a written submission on the EIS.
POWA has many questions and concerns about the Dendrobium SSI Process.
We remain opposed to the impacts on the water catchment and the environment as listed above.

Regarding this new and unprecedented process for mine approval, we think it is very important that the community has answers to the following questions:

1. Will NSW DPIE publish their final assessment report for the project and allow opportunity/time for the community to get expert critiques of the document prior to the Minister’s decision?  

2. Who will write the DPIE Final Assessment Report?   

3. Will the writer of the new DPIE Final Assessment Report assess South32’s EIS from an ecological sustainable development perspective as required by the NSW EP&A Act?

4. The economic analysis commissioned by the DPIE to assess the Dendrobium Expansion Environment Assessment was rejected by the IPC, particularly around the reliance of Bluescope Steel on the project. So, who will conduct the investigation and assessment of the importance of local coal supply to BlueScope Steel?  And what are the terms of reference for that?  

5. Who will conduct the economic costs/benefits assessment of the revised project? Will DPIE ensure that this work will go through a rigorous tender process where the credibility of any would-be contractor is thoroughly vetted?  Will DPIE ensure that it does not provide a biased brief or Terms of Reference to the contractor?  

6. Will the NSW DPIE uphold the current requirement of the koala SEPP 2020 for habitat value in its assessment of South32’s EIS?

7. Can the community be confident that the criticisms of the previous economic assessments (or economic assessment reviews) made by experts who appeared on behalf of POWA to the IPC, will be thoroughly addressed so that the same errors are not present?   

8. What are the community’s appeal rights related to any decision the Minister makes on the project?

What you can do

1) Contact Anthony Roberts, NSW Planning Minister’s Office
Phone – (02) 8574 5600
Request to leave a message for the Minister. Introduce yourself, tell the office staff what you are calling about and ask the person responding to record your concern.

DPIE Webform – https://tinyurl.com/2p88bdnm
The webform allows you to leave a message/enquiry. Use key words such as Dendrobium and State Significant Infrastructure in your title.

Here are some things you might wish to say/write:
– Tell the Minister/MP of your disappointment in this decision to change the Dendrobium coal mine expansion to State Significant Infrastructure (SSI)
– Demand a truly unbiased and transparent assessment of the proposal by DPIE, one that focuses on the public interest and the protection of the water catchment.
– Ask any or all of the 8 questions listed above 
– Seek assurance that all the criticisms, issues and concerns raised by experts in the IPC submissions process and by the IPC itself are addressed in DPIE’s assessment of the new proposal. 
– Ask for an independent economic assessment of the need for this project, including an investigation on how Bluescope Steel’s coal needs will be met while it transitions to zero carbon steel
– Demand adequate time for community and experts to prepare submissions on South32’s Environmental Impact Statement.

2) Prepare a submission on South32’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
It will help if you are ready to make a submission as quickly as possible during the EIS public exhibition period, whenever that may be. POWA will send out emails and messages on social media when the EIS becomes available and submissions are open.

3) What’s next for Dendrobium – Community Information Night
POWA is holding an informative online briefing for anyone interested in opposing the new mining extension proposal. The forum will be held on Thursday, January 20, 7pm. Please invite your friends/anyone who may be interested.

Register here:

More information is available on facebook here: – https://tinyurl.com/4pymachy

What do we know about the new Dendrobium Mine Extension proposal?

Information is taken from South32’s Scoping Report on the DPIE Major Projects website

  • South32 is seeking to extend into “Area 5” — the plan to mine “Area 6” has been abandoned
  • The proposal seeks to extend the life of the mine until 2041 (previously 2048)
  • South32 have redesigned the proposal to try and address concerns about impacts to the water catchment
  • Longwall width appears unchanged — previously proposed as 305 metres wide, with narrower longwalls identified as far less destructive but uneconomical for the mine
  • South32 will continue to undermine streams, upland swamps, and identified Aboriginal cultural heritage sites

While it is clearly undemocratic that this project has been given SSI status following clear opposition from the local and scientific communities, it is obvious that this has had a significant impact on this revised proposal.

The initial detail of these amendments to the proposal are as below — taken directly from the Scoping Report:

• approximately 60% reduction in longwall mining area;

• approximately 60% reduction in surface water losses (from the previous application);

• no predicted connective fracturing from the seam-to-surface when using the Tammetta equation;

• no longwall mining beneath 3rd, 4th and 5th order (or above) streams;

• approximately 50% reduction in the length of 1st and 2nd order streams longwall mined beneath;

• approximately 40% reduction in the number of swamps (listed as threatened) longwall mined beneath;   

• commitment to avoid longwall mining beneath identified key stream features;   

• reduction in number of previously identified Aboriginal heritage sites directly mined under from 22 to six sites (with the likelihood of direct impacts to these six sites expected to be approximately 1 in 10 based on extensive monitoring of subsidence-related impacts to heritage sites);   

• no longwall mining beneath previously identified high archaeological significance Aboriginal heritage sites;   

• increased longwall mining setback distance (at least 400 m) from the Avon River, Cordeaux River and Donalds Castle Creek;   

• minimum longwall mining setback distance of 300 m from the Full Supply Level of the Avon Dam;

• minimum longwall mining setback distance of 1,000 m from dam walls; and       

• use of existing infrastructure (namely the Dendrobium Pit Top, Kemira Valley Coal Loading Facility, Kemira Valley Rail Line, Dendrobium CPP, Shaft Sites Nos 1, 2 and 3 and the West Cliff Stage 3 Coal Wash Emplacement) which would reduce the requirement for additional disturbance

Media release: Community group condemns reclassification of Dendrobium Mine expansion as State Significant Infrastructure

Wollongong, New South Wales — Community group Protect Our Water Alliance is outraged at the NSW Planning Minister’s decision to grant South32’s Dendrobium Mine extension State Significant Infrastructure status. This backflip on the government’s own processes is unprecedented. It comes after the proposed 25 year expansion was rejected by the Independent Planning Commission in February, citing concerns about the impact of the expansion on the Greater Sydney Water Catchment. 

Protect Our Water Alliance (POWA) spokesperson Dr Rada Germanos said “How can our community trust in government processes? Reclassifying this proposal as SSI limits the community’s access to critical information, and extinguishes the right to appeal a decision.”

“Serious concerns about this project from the scientific community, local residents, and Traditional Owners have been voiced. These concerns were listened to by the IPC when they rejected this proposal. This decision by Minister Stokes has betrayed the local community, as well as the government’s own processes.”

The proposed 25 year expansion of longwall mining would see over 8 billion litres of water annually lost from the Greater Sydney Water Catchment, and over 250 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emitted over the life of the mine.

“We are only a month past the latest COP conference in Glasgow, and here we see the State Government again rolling out the red carpet for horrifically destructive mining companies. South32 will continue to rip and ship coal for private profits, while our communities suffer the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions and a trashed water catchment.”

“This area supplies water to 5 million people. Let’s talk about what is really significant here. We can’t drink coal. We shouldn’t be undermining this critical catchment.”

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

EDO clients Protect Our Water Catchment Inc apply to fight South32’s appeal in the Land and Environment Court

Originally posted on the EDO website, 02/07/2021

Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) clients Protect Our Water Catchment (POWC) have applied to join legal proceedings so they can defend the refusal of a coal mine extension south of Sydney. 

In February 2021, the New South Wales Independent Planning Commission (IPC) rejected the expansion application by South 32, to extend the life of its Dendrobium mine, near Wollongong. 

It found the controversial proposal, that was opposed by Water NSW due to its potential impacts on Sydney’s drinking water catchment, was against the interests of intergenerational equity. 

South 32’s subsidiary, Illawarra Coal Holdings Pty Ltd, lodged a NSW Land and Environment Court judicial review against the refusal decision in May.  POWC, represented by EDO, have applied to join the case and defend the IPC’s decision. 

EDO Managing Lawyer Sean Ryan said “Our clients POWC, join Water NSW and the wider community in holding serious concerns about the impact of this mine on Sydney’s drinking water catchment. 

“The people of Sydney and the Illawarra have already faced water restrictions twice in two decades due to drought. Climate change will mean more frequent and severe droughts for eastern Australia. 

“On top of that, the IPC found that the greenhouse gas emissions from this mine would be significant at over 250 million tonnes over the life of the project.  In POWC’s view, this is inconsistent with Paris Climate Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. 

“We are representing POWC in their efforts to join this appeal to defend the IPC’s decision, which correctly led to the refusal of this project.” 


The Dendrobium mine, near Wollongong, was approved in 2002 and can produce up to 5.2 million tonnes of ROM coal per year. 

South32 had sought planning approval to extend the life and footprint of its Dendrobium mine until the end of 2048 and extract an additional 78 million tonnes of coal. This would have resulted in over 250 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the project.  

Based on expert advice presented to the IPC, the IPC rejected the expansion plans for the coal mine finding that the proposed mine risked long-term and irreversible damage to the Greater Sydney and the Illawarra’s drinking water catchment. 

The IPC also found that the project’s subsidence effects were likely to be significant, resulting in the degradation of 25 watercourses and swamps in Sydney’s drinking water catchment, detrimental impacts to biodiversity and threatened ecological communities such as upland swamps, and negative impacts on Aboriginal cultural artefacts and values.   

The IPC decided that “the loss of good quality water for future generations of Greater Sydney and the Illawarra Regions, the loss of biodiversity and Aboriginal cultural heritage all combine to a significant loss that one generation would be passing on to future generations” was inconsistent with the principle of intergenerational equity. 

The IPC found that the greenhouse gas emissions from the project would be significant, although it refused the project on other grounds. 

Media release: Residents celebrate rejection of Dendrobium Mine Extension

Wollongong, New South Wales — Residents are this morning celebrating the Independent Planning Commission’s rejection of the controversial Dendrobium Mine Extension, holding a party outside of State Labor MP Paul Scully’s office. On Friday, the IPC rejected the proposed expansion within the special areas of the Greater Sydney Water Catchment, citing that “the risk of adverse events to the environment are high and likely to be irreversible”.

Protect Our Water Alliance (POWA) spokesperson Rada Germanos said “it is only through the hard work and commitment of our communities that this enormously destructive project has been stopped – if it weren’t for the hundreds of locals who wrote opposing submissions to the original EIS, this approval would have been rushed through. 

The IPC has made the sensible decision, the decision that protects priceless Aboriginal heritage, endangered ecosystems, as well as the water security of five million people. But this decision would not have been made if the community didn’t stand up and take action.”

Several state politicians, including Opposition Natural Resources Minister and Wollongong MP Paul Scully, expressed surprise and concern about the IPC decision, citing concerns for the job impacts in the Illawarra region. Deputy Premier John Barilaro has even vowed to attempt to overturn the IPC’s decision. This comes as the Peabody Metropolitan Mine in Helensburgh has halted production and locked its workers out for a further two months, citing a downturn in the global demand for coking coal. 

“It is clear as day that the Illawarra needs a transition plan – a plan to move us away from dirty destructive industries, and towards cleaner manufacturing technology such as Green Steel. If our politicians are genuinely concerned about jobs, then they should be focusing their energies on a just transition plan for mine workers, rather than just backing their mates in the coal lobby time and time again. The original Green Jobs Illawarra Plan was written in 2009 — and has sat on the shelf for the last decade.”

“The IPC has made a decision in the interests of the community, and the community will continue to fight to make sure this decision is upheld. POWA will continue to fight for a total ban on mining in the water catchment, a ban that will protect ecosystems, protect culture, and protect the water that we all depend upon.”

NSW Independent Planning Commission REJECTS Dendrobium Mine expansion

Independant Planning Commission’s (IPC) public engagement in late 2020 recieved 1550 unique written submissions, with 60% of those opposing the Dendrobium Mine Extension.

Ultimately, the IPC sided with the concerns of the community, and rejected the proposed expansion.

As an excerpt from the Executive Summary (p 4) explains:

“Significant concerns were raised during consultations undertaken by the Department [of Planning, Industry and the Environment] and Commission in relation to several key issues: mine design, subsidence, ground and surface water impacts, biodiversity and upland swamps, Aboriginal cultural heritage, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the ‘NorBE test’ and bushfire risk…

However, after careful examination of all the evidence and weighing all relevant considerations, the Commission has found that the longwall mine design out forward by South32 does not achieve a balance between maximising the recovery of a coal resourse of State significance and managing, minimising or mitigating the impacts on the water resources and biodiversity and the other environmental values of the Metropolitan Special Area,

For the reasons outlines in this Statement of Reasons, the Commission is of the view that the impacts of the Project outweigh the benefits from an approval, such that the Project should be refused. The Commission concluded that the level of risk posed by the Project has not been properly quantified and based on the potential for long-term and irreversible impacts — particularly on the integrity of a vital drinking water source for the Macarthur and Illawarra regions, the Wollondilly Shire and Metropolitan Sydney — it is not in the public interest.”

Read the IPC’s Statement of Reasons for Decision