Farmers and community members will head to the NSW IPC to oppose a proposed gold mine in central-western NSW over its impacts on water. Our lawyers are providing expert legal advice to the local community and will brief scientific experts to appear before the NSW IPC on behalf of our clients, the Belubula Headwaters Protection Group.
Mining company Regis Resources wants to develop an open-cut pit, tailings dam and processing facility at the site, about 8km north-east of the town. The mine would extract up to 8.5 million tonnes per annum of ore over its 15-year project life.
But the mine and its tailings dam will sit on headwaters of the Belubula River and impact groundwater and surface water resources in the area. On top of that, Regis Resources wants to build a 90km pipeline to pump wastewater from coal facilities near the Blue Mountains to the site.
Perhaps most concerning of all is the fact that the catchment is predicted to be severely impacted by climate change, so much so that the majority of farmers in the area could lose, on average, up to 60 per cent of their yearly access to water.
As well as opposition from the Belubula Headwaters Protection Group, local Wiradjuri elders have raised concerns about the mine’s potential impacts on Aboriginal heritage.
As the McPhillamys Gold Project has been declared a state significant project, it will face a public hearing before the Independent Planning Commission.
Coal Wastewater Pumped to the Site
Like much of central-western New South Wales, the area around Blayney has been impacted by recent droughts and is expected to face more frequent and severe droughts as climate change takes hold. A 90km-long water pipeline will need to be built to service the McPhillamys Gold Project, drawing surplus water from Centennial Coal’s Angus Place colliery, Springvale Coal Services Operation – which prepares coal for the Mount Piper Power station, near Lithgow – and the Mount Piper Power station itself. An average of 13 million litres of water per day is proposed to be brought to McPhillamys. The pipeline would have to cross about 15 waterways to get to the project site and three state forests. At least four pumping stations will need to be built to pump the water uphill. Our client is concerned about contamination risks associated with the piped water.
Belubula River Licences
In addition to the coal wastewater pipeline, the mine is looking to secure a 192 ML surface water licence from the unregulated portion of the Belubula River. At the moment, this water is held by the NSW Water Administration Ministerial Corporation and is unallocated, so it’s acting like water that has been saved for the environment – supporting ecosystems and wildlife EDO argues that the water needs to stay in the Belubula River in order to give it the best chance possible of surviving in a changing climate, which will see an increased risk of prolonged and devastating droughts.
400 Years to Fill the Void
The mine will also cause a fall in local groundwater levels in the Lachlan Fold Belt Murray-Darling Basin Water Source. The pit void will draw up to 890ML/yr during its 15-year productive life. However, once mining has finished, the open cut pit lake will act as a sink for surface and groundwater in the area continuing to draw-in water. It will slowly fill with up to 200ML of water per year, taking around 400 years to reach equilibrium. The final void will be approx. 460m deep.
Tailings Dam a ‘Ticking Time Bomb’
Another key part of the proposal is a dam that would be built across the headwaters of the Belubula River to catch the toxic tailings from the mine. The huge tailings dam would cover over 20 springs which feed the river in times of dry. The Belubula Headwaters Protection Group fears the structure is a ticking time bomb, with any failure likely to cause pollution along the Belubula River. A tailings dam at a nearby gold mine failed in 2018.
An IPC hearing is scheduled for 6 – 8 February 2023.