Shenhua Australia today welcomed Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s approval of the $1 billion Watermark Project, subject to stringent controls under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999.
The $1.2 billion Shenhua Watermark coal mine has won approval despite claims by the peak NSW farm group that the open-cut project would blow “a 35-square-kilometre hole” in some of Australia’s most productive farmland.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he approved the project with “18 of the strictest conditions in Australian history which fully incorporate all advice” from an independent scientific committee.
The mine, to be located 25 kilometres south-east of the northern NSW town of Gunnedah, is owned by China’s state-controlled Shenhua Group. It is expected to produce as much as 268 million tonnes of coal during its 30-year life.
The company’s chairman Liu Xiang said the approval was the culmination of more than five years of unprecedented scientific scrutiny during the New South Wales and Commonwealth Government assessment processes.
“With the formal assessment now concluded, we can begin the next phase of the Project, to put in place the strict operating conditions required by both levels of Government,” Mr Liu said.
“Our immediate priority is to carefully review the Commonwealth approval conditions to determine if they will have any impact on the project’s technical feasibility and economic viability.”
Project manager Paul Jackson said Mr Hunt’s decision reflects advice from a number of independent experts, including the Commonwealth Independent Expert Scientific Committee, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission and specialist hydro-geologists.
“We know the Minister has taken this decision very seriously given he stopped the assessment process to seek advice of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee,” Mr Jackson said.
“Today’s decision to approve the Watermark Project is the final, irrefutable confirmation there will be no adverse impacts on the region’s ground water and impacts on sensitive ecological areas have been appropriately managed and offset.
“The Minister’s decision relies on one of the most comprehensive groundwater studies undertaken in NSW and demonstrates mining can coexist with agriculture while unlocking new opportunities for employment and economic growth in regional Australia.
“Mr Hunt’s approval is the final piece in an overwhelming body of evidence showing the Watermark Project will not harm the region’s valuable agricultural enterprises. After years of rigorous and scientific assessment, it is time to put aside emotive arguments and acknowledge the science clearly shows the project should proceed.”
Shenhua will now progress the development of a number of operating and management plans which demonstrate how the company will comply with the strict operating conditions imposed by both the NSW and Commonwealth Governments.
Many of these plans must be approved before any works can commence.
Barnaby Joyce Member for New England posted a Facebook status about the approval, calling it “ridiculous”.
“I’ve never supported the Shenhua mine. I think it is ridiculous that you would have a major mine in the midst of Australia’s best agricultural land,” he wrote.
“I’ve done everything in my power to try and stop the mine…
“I think the world has gone mad when apparently you cannot build a house at Moore Creek because of White Box grassy woodlands but you can build a super mine in the middle of the Breeza plains.”
Image credit: Namoi Valley Independent