Have your say: make a submission opposing The Dendrobium Mine Extension Project (SSI-33143123)

Submissions close 14th June 2022have your say here

Our recommendation is that you write a short, unique submission which explains why you oppose this project.

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.

Background

Mining corporation Illawarra Coal Holdings (South 32) has a revised proposal for the expansion of Dendrobium Mine in Sydney and Wollongong’s water catchment. The Environmental Impact Statement for this project is now on exhibition.The Dendrobium Mine Extension Project (SSI-33143123) proposes 19 years of destructive longwall mining in the water catchment for Wollongong, Macarthur and Sydney.

The proposal seeks approval to continue use of the mine and infrastructure until 2041, and to expand longwall mining into Area 5, extracting up to 5.2 million tonnes of Run of Mine (ROM) coal each year until 2035.

This is despite predictions of the accelerated closure of the uncompetitive coal-fired power industry, [1, 2] and technological changes that mean the steel industry globally is in transition [3], making the future of the market for metallurgical coal increasingly uncertain.

Meanwhile, NSW and federal governments have pledged millions of dollars to Bluescope Steelworks in Port Kembla to support transition to low or zero carbon steel.

Illawarra Coal Holdings Pty Ltd had previously submitted a proposal for an even bigger expansion, and this was rejected by the NSW Government’s Independent Planning Commission. The Independent Planning Commission stated that the threat to the drinking water catchment was the main reason for their rejection of the project.

Since then, the mine expansion has been declared State Significant Infrastructure. This is the first time a coal mine has ever had the special status of State Significant Infrastructure. In effect, it means that the NSW Minister for Planning makes the decision as to whether or not to approve the project.


The rationale for State Significant Infrastructure Status is flawed

According to the NSW Government, the rationale for declaring the expansion of Dendrobium Mine in Sydney and Wollongong’s water catchment as State Significant Infrastructure is that the expansion of Dendrobium Mine is essential for the operation of the Port Kembla steelworks. However, Bluescope Steel had already made provision for purchasing and transporting coal from other mines [4], and has also secured considerable Federal and NSW Government funds to investigate transition to low- or zero-carbon steel production. [5, 6]

Damage to Sydney and Wollongong’s drinking water catchment

Sydney is the only city in the world that allows longwall mining in a publicly owned water catchment. The proposed mining is in the protected Special Areas of the water catchment upon which 5 million people rely for drinking water. There should be no mining in the Special Areas of Greater Sydney Water Catchment; this is the stated position of WaterNSW and the legislated purpose of Special Area protection.

Mining induced subsidence will damage the watercourses and swamps that feed our drinking water reservoirs. Despite the reduction in the overall size of the project, longwalls themselves proposed for Area 5 are still 305m wide.

South 32 predicts that 305 metre wide longwall panels may result in subsidence of 2m to 2.45m [7]. Previous mines of similar width have caused 2.5m to 3 m of subsidence, so South 32’s prediction may be conservative [8].

The expansion is not consistent with current land use of the area as a water catchment

The impact of this mine expansion will not be neutral or positive, it will leave the water catchment worse off in terms of both quantity and quality of water. Offsets in the form of the payment of money cannot replace a drinking water catchment. No matter how much water is recycled, or how many desalination plants we build before the next drought, our drinking water catchment is essential infrastructure, and should be prioritised over a privately-owned coal mine. 

The cracking and dewatering of watercourses, swamps and aquifers is expected to add the loss of many more millions of litres of water each day to the 10 million litres daily water loss from Dendrobium’s current and past mining. WaterNSW has been clear that mining in the Special Areas causes loss of yield to the reservoirs and the swamps and water courses that charge them.[9]

This mine expansion impacts on the ability of the water catchment to collect, clean, and store water and negatively impacts on the sustainability and resilience of the supply of drinking water for Sydney and Wollongong, in terms of both water quality and quantity. Water that enters and then flows out of mines picks up contaminants along the way. Current measures for managing this problem have been shown to be insufficient to prevent impacts on waterways [10].

The risk of pollution events in the catchment is real, and is not adequately addressed in the Environmental Impact Statement.

Should this proposal be approved, the mine will still come within 1000m of the Avon Reservoir. It will result in water losses from Avon, which is the only source of water supply to over 310,000 residents and businesses in the Illawarra region[11]. In dry years, the watercourses in the mined area that flow into Avon Reservoir are expected to totally dry up.

The southern catchment is vital to the sustainability and resilience of the supply of drinking water to Sydney and Wollongong. It supplies up to 30% of Greater Sydney’s water in normal times, and in times when Warragamba is compromised by water quality (for example the 1998 cryptosporidium and giardia water crisis, or the 2019/20 black summer bushfires which burned the Warragamba catchment) they may supply even more. 

DPIE’s report on South 32’s previous unsuccessful application to expand Dendrobium Mine noted that it will take 100 years for groundwater levels to stabilise in Area 5. Thus the drawdown/dewatering impacts of the mining will remain long after we are gone. This is a problem that we will hand down to future generations, descendants that will be more challenged by climate change, subject to more extreme weather events, longer and more severe droughts and more serious bushfire risk.

The discharge water from the mining will also need to be managed and treated, perhaps in perpetuity, and this is another burden that we leave for future generations.South 32 acknowledges that the mine will continue to discharge water long after that mine has closed. Their own estimate is that the mine will discharge 13 to 15 litres PER SECOND, for the foreseeable future, and certainly long after the mine has closed. 

South 32 have said that the size and location of longwalls in Area 5 is necessary for the economic viability of the mine. They provide no evidence or explanation as to why the profits of a private company should be prioritised over the drinking water supply of people living in Sydney and Wollongong. 

Water quality

According to DPIE’s report on South 32’s previous unsuccessful application to expand Dendrobium Mine, as water courses fracture due to mining induced subsidence, metals will be dissolved and leach into the water. This will lead to an increase in metals in the water courses and reservoirs. Furthermore, this increase will worsen in the 100 – 200 year period of groundwater recovery.

South 32 use a number of sediment ponds and dams as part of their operations. In the recently approved Modification 9, South 32 noted that management plans for sediment dams meet requirements determined by HEC (2022) in accordance with the Landcom(2004) and the Department of Environment and Climate Change (2008) guidelines, and that “[v]isual inspections of the drainage channels and sediment basins would be undertaken on a monthly basis and following rainfall events in excess of 89.7 mm in 5 days.” In March of this year, the Illawarra experienced rain events considerably in excess of 89.7mm, with a number of occasions on which rainfall exceeded 100mm in a single day.

As in the case of bushfire risk, it is essential that mine infrastructure and monitoring is adequate to the real world conditions that we have already experienced, let alone the predicted and modelled increase in heavy rainfall and flooding that could impact sediment ponds and dams as the climate impacts intensify. It is simply not enough to say that the project meets outdated technical requirements, rather than standing up to the conditions that we are all experiencing.  

Damage to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage

There are 31 Aboriginal Heritage sites in and close to Area 5, with 6 of these sites directly over longwalls. Sites named in the Environmental Impact Statement include: 13 axe grinding grooves, 8 shelters with art, 2 shelters with deposits, 1 shelter with art and deposits, 6 shelters with art and potential archaeological deposits and 1 isolated find.

Representatives of the Illawarra Aboriginal Lands Council and other Registered Aboriginal Parties have also reminded South 32 that cultural heritage cannot be confined to specific and isolated ‘sites’.

One comment from a Registered Aboriginal Party included in the report expresses it well: “From a cultural values perspective, a lot of importance has been placed on the item’s locations, but in terms of cultural values everything that is on the land holds relevance to Aboriginal culture. Sites are the story law, and everything that forms part of the land provides context to the story of the culture. It’s about whole of country rather than specific sites. Sadly, the mining company’s response to the impact of this mine expansion on Aboriginal people and Aboriginal culture and heritage is that further reducing the impact on Aboriginal culture and heritage “may be less economically viable”.  

South 32 provide no evidence or explanation as to why the profits of a private company should be prioritised over the cultural heritage of Aboriginal people. Monitoring of Indigenous cultural sites is required but there is no requirement to preserve or avoid these sites, and no penalties to South32 when it destroys them. It is reprehensible for mining interests to desecrate Aboriginal Cultural Heritage whilst the area remains out-of-bounds for the Aboriginal community. [12]

Impact on koalas and their habitat

Koalas have recently been declared Endangered in NSW. The Environmental Impact Statement notes that there are koalas living in the area that will be undermined, but includes no current survey of koala numbers or locations. There is no management plan for koalas who may be living in the ecosystems that would be cleared for infrastructure, other than offsetting that includes a bio-banking scheme that has not yet been negotiated, and payment to a government trust. It is hard to see how these future arrangements will prevent a devastating impact on actual, living koalas who may be present in land to be cleared for infrastructure. 

Water loss and impact on swamps and waterways means that the ecosystems of the catchment are ‘dewatered’. This is a real and devastating threat to plants and wildlife in the catchment, including a koala population that remains inadequately documented and studied. 

It is very difficult for independent scientists to get access to the Special Areas of the catchment to undertake peer-reviewed research of koala populations in the Special Areas. Access to the Special Areas for independent assessment and preservations of koala populations is an integral part of ensuring the survival of koalas as a species. 

Impact on Aquatic ecosystems

The mine expansion will impact on aquatic habitat and lifeforms, due to both water loss and contamination of water from mine outflows, and leaching of minerals into waterways.It is very difficult for independent scientists to get access to the Special Areas of the catchment to undertake peer-reviewed research of aquatic habitat and lifeforms in the Special Areas.  

Impact on Upland Swamps

The upland swamps of the Woronora Plateau play an important role in the water catchment by capturing and holding water, filtering it and in times of drought releasing it slowly into the creeks and rivers that feed into the reservoirs. These swamps are classified as Endangered Ecological Communities (EEC) and are significant in terms of their biodiversity.

The upland swamps provide a mosaic of permanently wet peaty soil within a dry sandstone landscape. Each swamp is a unique island community containing rare plants and animals. The specialised flora and fauna of the EEC also carry individual protection at species level.

Dewatering the swamps will result in local extinctions in breach of multiple layers of State and Federal legislative protection. In its scoping report South 32 claim to “protect significant stream features”. However, the proposed mining will undermine around connected feeder swamps and smaller streams. This is a concerning misunderstanding of how the ‘significant stream features’ function and how subsidence and cracking around them impacts water storage and flow.

There are 22 swamps in the mining area, with 15 swamps directly above proposed longwalls. When rock beneath upland swamps is cracked, water drains away from swamps into the mining void, the swamps dessicate, the flora and fauna die off, and dryland species take over. The swamps lose their capacity to hold water in drier times. They are more prone to erosion and more prone to bushfire.

Research shows that swamps that have been undermined are less able to recover after bushfire compared to swamps that were not undermined.[13]

Coastal upland swamps also provide carbon capture and storage ecoservices. [14] Neither South32 or DPIE have considered or estimated greenhouse gas emissions associated with expected swamp destruction, or loss of carbon uptake that the swamps currently perform.

Bushfire risk

Dewatering of the ecosystems of the catchment increases bushfire risk. The water catchment was one of the few unburnt areas of bushland in the 2020 fires and it needs to be protected from mining induced degradation. It is also close to the highly populated residential areas of Wollongong that are located along the Illawarra Escarpment. Making the catchment more fire prone makes the escarpment more fire prone.

The SEARS for this project specifically require that the mining company address climate impacts and hydrological changes in relation to bushfire management in its Environmental Impact Statement. The EIS notes that there are bushfire management plans in place, and discusses historical ignition factors involved in bushfire risk and reduction of fuel load. However it does not address climate or hydrological impacts. 

It is concerning that the plan does not specify what methods might be used for fuel reduction, leaving open the possibility that planned burns may themselves become a bushfire ignition risk or that fuel reduction may include further unmonitored clearing of habitat and ecosystems. 

Reference is made to the mitigation of methane emissions by ‘flaring’ of gas released from the mine. The bushfire plan does not discuss risk of ignition of bushfires from flaring of gas from the mine, or plans to mitigate this risk.

Impact on sustainable jobs

It is claimed that the project will maintain the existing workforce of 650, plus an additional 50 workers, with 100 additional temporary workers during the construction phase. We note that even the non-construction workforce will not have ‘jobs for life’, but jobs until the end of the lease in 2041, or, more likely, until the mine closes because it is uneconomic to operate.

The real employment argument for this mine has always been the purported ’10 000 jobs’ at Bluescope steelworks and other businesses in the supply chain for the mine and the steelworks. What this argument fails to address, however, is that sustainable industries such as renewable hydrogen production, renewable energy, recycling of rare earths from e-waste, conventional recycling, and low or zero carbon steel production will also support thousands of jobs, with considerable research indicating that sustainable industries will actually deliver more jobs directly and indirectly, when compared to the fossil fuel industry. [15, 16]

The question for those weighing up how to best ensure employment opportunities now and in the future is whether to continue to risk an essential resource, water, for the sake of a few more years of an industry that is already struggling to find markets for its products, and is putting workers onto short term contracts in order to reduce future liabilities when the mine closes, or whether to prioritise the transition to industries that will inevitably grow as support for the fossil fuel industry rapidly becomes economically unviable and socially untenable. 

Impact of coal wash, mine outflow and brine dumping on creeks, waterways, harbours and oceans

In April 2022, South 32 reported that it had stopped sales of coal wash material. This fact does not appear to have been reported in the Environmental Impact Statement. This directly contradicts assurances given in the Environmental Impact Statement that current approvals for the West Cliff Coal Emplacement Area will be adequate to the project because “IMC’s supply of coal wash for engineering purposes (e.g. civil construction fill), or for other beneficial uses, reducing the quantity of coal wash required to be emplaced at the West Cliff Coal Wash Emplacement Area”. [17]

It is concerning that Illawarra Metallurigcal Coal reported in April that it would be ceasing sales of coal wash, and yet allowed an Environmental Impact Statement that included sales of coal wash as part of its operations in an Environmental Impact Statement that went on exhibition in May. 

One fifth of the Dendrobium mine output is waste material that is trucked through the Special Area to another lease area and dumped into bushland. One million tonnes of coal wash per year will be piled at the head of George’s river in the West Cliff Coalwash Emplacement. Emplacement mounds will leach contaminated water into the headwaters of the Georges River. 

Expansion of this mine would mean an increase in water discharged from the mine into Allans Creek, Unanderra. This is the same creek that was recently identified as exceeding safe levels of heavy metals.[9]

Risk of damage from Phytophthora cinnamomi

Phytophthora cinnamomi is a mould. It is a soil-borne plant pathogen that can be spread on surfaces such as shoes or vehicles. It is not native to Australia, so our native plants have not evolved resistance. Any activity in the water catchment, including construction and mining, risks spreading this pathogen to as yet unaffected areas unless stringent infection control measures are used. 

Climate impacts

As the Project is proposing to extract from Area 5 which has “a higher gas concentration”, the Extension project would more than triple current direct (Scope 1) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

In total, the Dendrobium Extension Project would result in ~88 million tonnes CO2-e of GHGs. This is equivalent to the emissions of ~280,000 average Australian households over 18 years. The Extension would add between 12.2  – 15.5 million tonnes of CO2-e of direct Scope 1 and 2 GHGs to the NSW GHG inventory over the life of the Project. 

Based on the average Scope 1 emissions (assuming flaring) of 789,551 tonnes CO2-e per annum, the Dendrobium Extension could become the 4th highest emitting coal mine in NSW.

These emissions will primarily be fugitive methane emissions, which must be urgently reduced. The International Energy Agency – in their Net Zero by 2050 report – has called for the “elimination of all technically avoidable methane emissions by 2030”. 

It is pertinent to note that GHG modelling is only described during the life of the mine – i.e. estimations of ongoing fugitive emissions after 2041 have not been described in the EIS.

In 2020-21, 33 industrial facilities in NSW reported emitting more than 100,000 t CO2-e of GHG emissions (excluding electricity generation). Of these 33 facilities, 24 (~70%) were coal mines.[18].

Despite comprising a significant chunk of NSW’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, there is no effective regulation to drive down direct and indirect (Scope 1 and 2) emissions from coal mining.

The NSW Department of Planning admitted in February 2022 in its assessment of GHG emissions at the Narrabri Underground Stage 3 coal project, that “there is no clear guidance on how to assess potential mitigation or abatement measures (e.g. what measures are considered ‘reasonable and feasible’ or ‘best practice’), both for current and future activities”[19] 


REFERENCES

[1] Australia’s solar tsunami to trigger coal collapsehttps://thenewdaily.com.au/news/2021/02/25/alan-kohler-solar-coal/

[2] Solar Power Is Winning From the Energy Crisis. Wind Is Losinghttps://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2022-04-11/solar-power-is-winning-from-the-energy-crisis-wind-is-losing-out-to-red-tape?fbclid=IwAR0amleY8q_bGcdefprZDECZ964q4X4LOmu1iVEqVI-xkcSoBB75e2zmzwo

[3] Green steel tracker https://www.industrytransition.org/green-steel-tracker/

[4] Dendrobium mine expansion won’t threaten BlueScope’s existence, says Cr Cath Blakeyhttps://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/7543140/threat-to-steelworks-overblown-if-mine-closes-says-councillor/

[5] NSW hydrogen plan puts renewables on ‘level playing field’ with fossil fuels, gas producer says https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-14/nsw-hydrogen-strategy-slashes-green-hydrogen-price/100539342?fbclid=IwAR1uc_E9EuNcctwlqP6YkZfohhUgyDi4GBHX9JhQ3o22LQb-78Bjzv6icfY

[6] Wollongong industry, academia team up to tackle decarbonisationhttps://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/7725968/wollongong-industry-academia-team-up-to-tackle-decarbonisation/?cs=300&fbclid=IwAR2uGhRL7Blvgg3IOrnE6jaHz0b8U5XEzTK8Aai3XZnJ0yCtsgGnSfG-dos 

[7, 8] Subsidence Report for Dendrobium Mine, MSEC, 2019, pp 35 – 37, accessed at: https://pp.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/major-projects/projects/dendrobium-mine-extension-project

[9] MINING https://www.waternsw.com.au/water-quality/catchment/mining

[10] EPA fines Dendrobium Coal $15K for alleged water pollutionhttps://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/news/media-releases/2021/epamedia210401-epa-fines-dendrobium-coal-$15k-for-alleged-water-pollution

[11] ILLAWARRA WATER SECURITY PROJECThttps://www.waternsw.com.au/projects/greater-sydney/illawarra-water-security-project#stay 

[12] First Nations leaders urge NSW to adopt Juukan Gorge inquiry protectionshttps://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-19/nsw-government-urged-to-adopt-juukan-gorge-findings/100550518?fbclid=IwAR2uGhRL7Blvgg3IOrnE6jaHz0b8U5XEzTK8Aai3XZnJ0yCtsgGnSfG-dos

[13] Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Enquiry, p. 241, accessed at: https://www.dpc.nsw.gov.au/publications/categories/nsw-bushfire-inquiry/

[14] Cowley, K.L. & K.A.Fryirs (2020) Forgotten peatlands of eastern Australia: An unaccounted carbon capture and storage system. Science of the Total Environment. 730 (2020) 139067. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.139067

[15]Start with steel: A practical plan to support carbon workers and cut emissions https://grattan.edu.au/report/start-with-steel/

[16] Renewable Energy Employment in Australia https://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/our-research/institute-sustainable-futures/our-research/energy-futures/renewable-energy-employment-australia

[17] South32 cuts Illawarra energy coal sales as COVID, wet weather hit productionhttps://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/7714785/south32-cuts-illawarra-energy-coal-as-covid-wet-weather-hit-sales/?cs=300&fbclid=IwAR33DLH-DdX7QwE8yO8NlD5BX3SnS9VoUsNJvSfFGorSHwcPGlJXrXcXoSE

[18] The largest Scope 1 GHG emitting facilities in Australia (excluding the electricity sector) are covered by the Australian Government’s Safeguard Mechanism. Facilities that emit more than 100,000 t CO2-e per annum are required to report to the Clean Energy Regulator. 

[19] NSW DPE, January 2022, Narrabri Underground Mine Stage 3 Extension Project (SSD 10269) | Assessment Report , pg 55  

JOIN US: Don’t sell out to coal, Minister Roberts!

Friday 3rd June

8:30am

Department of Planning and Environment, 84 Crown Street, Wollongong

Minister for Planning and Homes, Anthony Roberts, now has the final say on the Dendrobium Mine Expansion. On Friday June 3rd at 8:30am we’ll be at his Department’s local office doors.

Never before in NSW has a coal mine been given this extra special red carpet to approval.

The NSW Independent Planning Commission already rejected this mine expansion, because of the permanent damage the mine is already causing in the Sydney-Illawarra Water Catchment. But, the NSW Government tore up that decision, replacing it with a political process where the Minister decides.

Let’s send a loud message to the Department of Planning (DPIE) that this mine is not supported by the community. Nowhere else in the world allows coal mines in a public water catchment.

Submissions to the Minister are open to the public until June 14. POWA will publish a submission guide later this week, stay tuned.

ACCESSIBILITY:
There is a large courtyard out the front of the Department of Planning. It is easily wheelchair and pram accessible.

COVID PLAN:
There is lots of space to spread out.
Please bring your mask and colourful signs/banners.

See you there water protectors!

Find the Facebook event here

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:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcudequrjopG9aZHbrrjMSpJkxd7NlyB4oJ


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.” 

Background 

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