All four of Whitehaven’s coal mines in the Namoi region of north west New South Wales breached at least one – and in some cases, several – of their licence conditions most years between 2010 and 2016, an investigation by Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) has revealed.
EJA, a public interest legal centre, requested documents through Freedom of Information in October 2016 after Whitehaven reported negative pollution concentrations near the company’s mines. The documents have finally been released to EJA.
The documents show Whitehaven provided authorities with minimal explanation for its non-compliance with licence conditions and often went on to breach the same conditions year after year.
The company caused excessive particle pollution from blasting, drill rigs and wheel dust, exposing neighbours to noise pollution levels exceeding licence limits.
Particle pollution levels as high as 91 micrograms per cubic metre were recorded, well above the national standard of 50.
EJA’s information search also unearthed seven Penalty Infringement Notices (PINs) issued to three of Whitehaven’s four coal mines (four issued to Tarrawonga, one to Rocglen and two to Narrabri).
The company incurred a $1500 fine for six of the PINs, but a larger fine of $15,000 when it exceeded the extraction limit for the Tarrawonga mine by more than 136,000 tonnes.
Neighbouring communities have been exposed to blast fumes many times, sending Pat Murphy, who farms immediately next to the Maules Creek mine, to hospital.
“Our analysis cements Whitehaven’s reputation as a rogue polluter and bad neighbour that flaunts environmental constraints,” said EJA researcher Dr James Whelan.
“Whitehaven only complied with their Environment Protection Licences for these four mines twice out of 24 reports.”
Whitehaven Pty Ltd is currently seeking approval to expand a fifth coal mine in the region: the Vickery coal mine.
“It would be negligent for the NSW Planning and Resources ministers to consider approving a fifth coal mine, when Whitehaven consistently disregards its environmental licence conditions and its neighbours’ health and welfare.”
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