BHP Billiton has admitted its proposed Caroona mine will cause subsidence and would impact one aquifer, however claims it will not affect farmers in the long term or the productivity of important, strategic agricultural farmland.
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The mining company last week released its proposed mine plan for the Caroona Coal Project as part of the Gateway submission to the State Government. It is the first step in the approvals process.
It was met with anger from local farmers who say the mine will affect highly productive aquifers and lucrative farmland on the Liverpool Plains.
It seems that the definition of a floodplain has caused a dispute between the two parties.
The farmers say the mine plan takes in some of the floodplain as defined in the Mooki River Water Sharing Plan, however BHP said it does not under guidelines provided by the State Government.
“We’ve been given a definition of a floodplain by the NSW Government, so we absolutely did not define that,” BHP Billiton NSW Energy Coal Asset President Peter Sharpe said.
“Our mine plan has worked within that definition. We would not long wall anywhere under a floodplain.”
BHP has rejected claims of potential damage to crucial water resources and strategic farmland, and that the issue of inter-connectivity is such that it doesn’t trigger any major impacts under the government’s Aquifer Interference Policy.
The Gateway process – under a new system introduced by the State Government – is about demonstrating highly valuable and productive country known as Strategic Agricultural Land, within two kilometres of mining areas, will not be harmed.
Mr Sharpe said water modelling carried out by expert Noel Merrick, shows the highly productive alluvial aquifer – in which more than 80 per cent of water is drawn for agricultural use – will not be affected.
“This work we’ve done is about understanding impacts on highly productive aquifers related to strategic agricultural land and the indications are there will not be an impact.”
There are two other two highly productive aquifers – the Liverpool Range basalt aquifer, which Mr Sharpe said won’t be affected, and the older Spring Ridge Jurassic rock aquifer which doesn’t have a lot of water drawn from it, but is expected to see impacts, however not until 2040.
He said if left to it’s own device, there would be depressurisation which means water levels would drop in that aquifer, but the company would work with farmers and water modelling at least two years beforehand to mitigate any effects.
“We would ensure no farmer would realise an impact,” Mr Sharpe said.
Potential options to prevent any long-term affects would be drilling another bore, dropping the depth of an existing bore or providing an alternative source, however the company will need to work with farmers prior to that, as well as in the lead-up to the submission of its Environment Impact Statement in 9-12 months time.
Mr Sharpe said the aquifer will not be destroyed or the water lost, but that the water will seep into the underground and it will be pumped out for use.
Farmers though, aren’t convinced, claiming where BHP intends to mine on the ridges is an important source of groundwater and it is all interconnected.
“At the end of the day, there shouldn’t be a mine in this valley,” Breeza farmer Andrew Pursehouse said.
“There’s plenty of other places in Australia where there is just as much coal.
“You don’t go near the primest of farming country. It’s quarry versus food. We just cannot risk it. You can’t put it back together.”
Landholders have also raised concerns about subsidence which BHP admits is likely to occur.
“We do expect some subsidence in the region where the actual location of the longwall panel is,” Mr Sharpe said.
“The modelling doesn’t indicate there will be any impacts that would be long term. Any impacts to agriculture productivity would be short term and easily managed.”
Mr Sharpe said that could include the possibility of fencelines that need restraining, contour drains and regrading and the decision not to plant a paddock for a season.
Landholders on the Liverpool Plains have been calling for the area to be declared of national agricultural significance however BHP said the mine is an opportunity for jobs, growth and state royalties.
“This is a state resource,” Mr Sharpe said.
“It’s very valuable for the state, the local community, employment and diversification of industry.
“We need to be able to get it right to be able to co-exist.”
The company is planning to extract its first coal in 2019/2020 with construction set to begin in 2018.