Muswellbrook Shire Council opposes the proposal to extend the life the Mangoola open cut mine saying 'enough is enough'.

Glencore's Mangoola mine near Muswellbrook (2016). Plans for a 13 months extension are subject to IPC hearings this week.
Glencore's Mangoola mine near Muswellbrook (2016). Plans for a 13 months extension are subject to IPC hearings this week.

It has been more than a decade since Muswellbrook Shire Council voiced its opposition to a coal mine project but it has come out strongly against the proposal to extend the life the Mangoola open cut mine saying 'enough is enough'.

The last time the Shire objected to a mine it was the greenfield project known as Bickham Coal located in the Upper Hunter Shire which was eventually refused by the NSW government in 2010.

This time the Council will not support the 13 months extension to an existing operation in its Shire stating Muswellbrook Shire Council opposes the grant of development consent to the Mangoola Coal Continued Operations Project during its February 24, 2021 meeting with the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).

This week the IPC is holding two days of public (virtual) hearings into the proposal by the mine's owner Glencore to extend the life of the mine located 20 kilometres west of Muswellbrook until 2030 to extract a further 52 million tonnes of coal in what is called the Northern Extension.

Approved in 2007 when its was known as the Anvil Hill Coal Project the mine began operations in 2010 and currently employs 400 people.

The company says if the extension is refused the mine would most likely cease production in 2025 although it has approval to operate until 2029.

At such time it would then be rehabilitated. However early closure would result in the potential loss of $408 million of economic benefit to NSW.

Despite the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment in its assessment saying the Project is in the public interest, and is approvable, subject to comprehensive conditions, Muswellbrook Council argues otherwise.

Speaking on council's behalf barrister Craig Leggatt SC detailed a litany of serious problems with the mine's impacts on flora and fauna, water contamination, the social and economic future of the Shire, and Glencore's "uncharacteristically poor" provision of information about the project.

He said, "Muswellbrook Shire Council has a history of working collaboratively with coal 40 mines in its local government area, and it's done that to achieve community outcomes that are beneficial to the community; however, the time has been reached, in the opinion of the council, with the Continued Operations Project that enough is enough."

"What I mean by that is council does not want the Continued Operations Project to proceed. Council wants the IPC as the consent authority to refuse to grant consent to the Continued Operations Project."

Mr Leggatt spoke extensively on the work undertaken by Cherie McCullough's including her comments about the final landform, the voids, mine closure planning, unassessed geotechnical contaminants and also impacts on biodiversity, flora and fauna,

He described Dr McCullough as a world expert who had also undertaken work for Glencore.

"In her words Dr McCullough described Glencore's assessment (for the project) as uncharacteristically poor," he said.

Map showing site of Mangoola mine. DPIE assessment report.

Map showing site of Mangoola mine. DPIE assessment report.

"It lacks depth and details and is based on a trust us approach when in fact it needs a detailed assessment."

"Usually Glencore has what I would describe as a proud and enviable reputation for carrying out the required assessments for projects like the Continued Operations Project; however, uncharacteristically for Glencore, that has not yet occurred on the Continued Operations Project.

"Now, Dr McCullough accuses Glencore of providing mere generalities of high level information. Dr McCullough's view is that the generalities are sadly lacking in the necessary and required depth of detailed assessment and depth of considered reasoning."

Of particular concern is the final void according to Mr Leggatt.

Glencore responded to the Council's statements to the IPC saying "We are surprised and disappointed by Muswellbrook Council's last minute decision to oppose the Mangoola Coal Continued Operations project."

"Council has declined numerous invitations from Mangoola and our Project team over the past 2 years to discuss the Project.

"We take the issues raised by Council very seriously and will be providing a detailed response for the IPC, noting that the Council's report does not appear to have taken into account the Project's entire Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or the detailed technical assessments within the EIS.

"Our detailed assessments of potential impacts meet all of the Secretary's Environmental Assessment Requirements for the Project, and have undergone rigorous appraisal by Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, with input from all the applicable agencies and stakeholders.

"We note Council has only made its Report, dated November 2020, available two days before the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) public hearing on our Project.

"It is not clear at what point the decision was made to oppose the project or whether this was put to a vote of the Council.

"This is particularly concerning given more than 400 employees and 140 suppliers within the Muswellbrook Shire rely on this operation continuing and, In 2019 alone, Mangoola's total economic contribution to the Muswellbrook LGA was $335 million."

During questions to Muswellbrook Council's representatives at the meeting from the IPC review chair, Professor Snow Barlow, asked about job prospects.

Council spokesperson Sharon Pope then responded: as a region we've become quite dependent on the coal mines for providing employment opportunities, and almost to the point that ... other industries have gone into decline.

"So council's concern is that whilst the mine does provide employment, it is actually going to be for a short to medium term and when the mine closes, we will have a community that actually is no longer functioning in a diverse way and people will suffer from the loss of employment, and there needs to be a lot of planning for the transition to other employment opportunities."