THE validity of Shenhua's Watermark Coal Mine project has been called into question by one of the state's leading hydrogeologists.
Former University of NSW professor, Ian Acworth, has 45 years of experience in the field, and an intimate knowledge of the Liverpool Plains, and said he believed the project should not be allowed to go ahead.
"When I looked in detail at the old NSW Department of Water Resources bore holes, I realised the groundwater modelling that has been done for Shenhua has left out what I consider to be an absolutely critical factor," Professor Acworth said.
"What I think has been overlooked is there is an old Mooki River channel going up Mystery Road and meeting the old channel that goes from Lake Goran through and around Breeza.
"When that channel was cut, we don't exactly know when that was, it cut right the way down into the coal measures.
"A lot of the farmers in that area are pumping almost 70 megalitres a year out of the Gunnedah formation through various bores, but if you were to pump from the coal measures, which is essential for the southern pit, you have to assume there would major impacts on the Gunnedah formation and in turn onto the farmers."
Professor Acworth said it would be "difficult to predict how widespread" the environmental impacts would be if the mine were to go ahead.
"This point seems to have been entirely missed by all of Shenhua's water modelling or any of the other agencies involved, which I found as a professional hydrogeologist very disappointing," he said.
"However, Shenhua have made, as far as I can see, no attempt to investigate the groundwater conditions to the south of the southern or eastern pits."
The future of the project is currently waiting on the approval of its mining application, which is before the NSW Government.
"In my professional opinion, the best way to limit the damage this mine would cause is to not allow it to go ahead at all, certainly not the southern pit and a lot more investigation should be done into the eastern pit," Professor Acworth said.
"Basically, all the groundwater modelling that has been done needs to be thrown out and done again because they haven't represented the geology in anyway correctly. It's totally unacceptable and it's why I offered up my professional services pro-bono."
A Shenhua spokesperson hit back at the criticism saying the company had "been diligent in ensuring we adhere to the rigorous planning and environmental approval processes, as set out by state and federal governments".
Basically, all the groundwater modelling that has been done needs to be thrown out and done again because they haven't represented the geology in anyway correctly.Former University of NSW professor, Ian Acworth.
"The project has already received a State Development Consent which was approved by an independent planning panel," the spokesperson said.
"The mine has been approved under national environmental law subject to many of the strictest conditions in Australian history, which fully implement the advice of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development.
"We continue to work with relevant government agencies to meet the required technical approvals, including for items like the water management plan."