DENDROBIUM BITES THE DUST – South32 cancels expansion plan

In a surprise announcement this week, South32 have abandoned their plans to expand the Dendrobium Mine. Workers at the mine were apparently told this news via text message.

While South32 has admitted the expansion did not stack up economically — a something POWA has been questioning for some time — its also clear that the strength of opposition to this expansion over the last 3.5 years in the Illawarra has played no small part.

POWA held a celebratory demonstration outside the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment office in Wollongong today.

A HUGE thank-you to all of you who helped in this fight ❤

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.