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Issue #1636      April 30, 2014

Upper Hunter coal mine to run aquifer dry

The Lock the Gate Alliance has commissioned new research into the availability of water in the Upper Hunter following revelations that the Bylong Coal Project will not be able to meet its demand for water from an important alluvial aquifer.

Documents released with the “Gateway certificate” given to the Bylong Coal Project reveal that there is likely to be insufficient groundwater available to meet the demands of the controversial coal mine, proposed for the upper reaches of the Hunter Valley.

In a submission to the Gateway Panel, the NSW Office of Water said: “Whilst the proponent has acquired a large number of shares for the take of groundwater from the alluvial aquifer, there may be real constraints on the availability of water. As demand within the licences entitlement available in the water source increases, or under dry conditions, access to the full entitlement each year may not be possible.”

The Office of Water went on to say, “There is a substantial economic risk to the activity that there may not be sufficient access to alluvial groundwater to meet the indicated mine water requirements.”

The law currently prevents the Gateway Panel from recommending that a mine not go ahead, and the section of the Water Management Act that makes it an offence to interfere with an aquifer has not been brought into force.  

Mines use water to wash coal and suppress dust. If the water is not available, it is not clear whether dust suppression will be stopped, or mines will be forced to cease operating.

Lock the Gate Hunter Coordinator, Steve Phillips said, “This revelation should put a rocket up the NSW government. The NSW Office of Water thinks there will not be enough water in the aquifer to meet the demands of the proposed Bylong coal mine. It appears that the coal mines may be sucking the Valley dry.

“If the section of the Water Management Act that is supposed to protect aquifers from interference of this kind were in force, if the Gateway Panel had the legal power to recommend rejection of a mine proposal, this project would rightly be knocked off at the first hurdle.

“The mining proponent should stop wasting their money, and the Bylong Valley should not be put through the trauma of a drawn out assessment process: the government should reject this mine out of hand.

“Lock the Gate is taking this revelation very seriously. We are commissioning urgent research into the availability of water, and whether this region is about to be bled dry by the mines. In times of drought, not all licences will get water allocated. It could be that the region will be facing a man-made drought, thanks to excessive purchase of water by coal mines.”

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