Monday, February 02, 2015

Background briefing – New England’s environment wars 1: the Liverpool Plains and Watermark Coal

Employing some 150,000 people, Shenhua Group is a leading Chinese state owned mining and energy company.

In October 2008, Shenhua Australia Holdings Pty Limited and Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Limited were registered in Australia in October 2008 as subsidiaries of Shenhua Overseas Development & Investment Co., Ltd, which serves as a global vehicle for outbound investment and project development on behalf of Shenhua Group. In that same month, Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Ltd (Shenhua Watermark) was granted Exploration Licence (EL) 7223 by the New South Wales (NSW) Minister for Mineral Resources.

Watermark Coal map  Shenhau is now trying to develop a major coal project on the Liverpool Plains and is facing considerable trouble in so doing.

The Project

The company describes the project in this  way. 

“The Project is located approximately 25 km south-east of the township of Gunnedah and 3km to the west of the village of Breeza. The Project is approximately 282 km by rail from the Port of Newcastle.
The Project generally comprises:

  • The construction and operation of an open cut coal mining operation extracting up to 10 Million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of Run of Mine (ROM) coal for a 30 year period;
  • The utilisation of an open cut mining fleet of excavators and rope shovels, supported by haul trucks, dozers, graders, blast hole drills and water carts;
  • Progressive rehabilitation of all disturbed areas;
  • The construction and operation of:
                 o      Coal Handling and Preparation Plant to process the raw coal;
                 o      Administration building, workshop and related facilities;
                 o      Train loadout, rail spur and loop to connect to the rail line to Newcastle;
                 o      Mine Access Road off the Kamilaroi Highway including an overpass of the
                          rail spur;
                 o      Water management and reticulation infrastructure; and
                 o      Communications and electricity infrastructure.
  • A workforce of up to 600 full-time equivalent employees during construction and  an average of 434 full-time equivalent employees during the operation of the Project.”

So it’s not a small project.

The Problem

Aeons ago, sentiments were deposited in a shallow sea stretching up from the Sydney Basin up into Queensland in a geological event called by geologists the Hunter-Bowen orogeny. The end result was huge coal deposits.

The deposits under the Liverpool Plains form the northern extension of what would become known as the Northern Districts coal fields. These coal fields are important in historical terms for, until quite recently, the Northern Districts dominated Australian coal production. Coal production around  While coal production around Gunnedah was relatively minor compared to the lower Hunter, it has been a significant feature of the local economy.  

Liverpool Plains near Breeza The Liverpool Plains are one of Australia’s premier agricultural areas with significant ground water supplies. The photo shows the country around Breeza. I have to say that it is usually more colourful than this! This looks like drought time.

The combination of large coal deposits and rich agricultural land set the scene for a major battle spearheaded by Tim Duddy and the Caroona Coal Action Group between locals and environmental groups and the Watermark coal development.

This is just one of the environmental battles that I have talked about raging across the broader New England, battles that together form what I have called New England’s  environmental wars.

Recent Developments

Last week the Watermark development was approved by the NSW Government’s planning processes. Federal environmental approval has still to be obtained. Now the stage has been set for a new battle. I will look at this later in the week in my second post in this background briefing.  


Rod said...

Oh dear. That is where I did some of my undergraduate Honours study. It was only relating to coal and gas geology !!!! Last time I moved I threw out all my honours notes since I know that I'll probably never need them again.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good lord, Rod, and just when we need them!