Posts Tagged ‘Bellbird Creek’

Austar Coal Mine kills Bellbird Creek

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Chinese-owned Yancoal’s Austar Coal Mine in the Hunter Valley, yesterday was found guilty by the Land and Environment Court in New South Wales of gross pollution of Bellbird Creek near Cessnock back in July 2010.   Wastewater from the mine’s antiquated on-site septic system was allowed to seep into the creek, killing aquatic wildlife.   But it has taken a year and a half for the court to finally prosecute the offence brought before it by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Why?

Septic pollution of Bellbird Creek
near Cessnock, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia


Yancoal Australia’s parent company is Chinese-based Yanzhou Coal Mining Company,  which is ultimately owned by the Shandong provincial government of China.  Yanzhou promotes itself as being one of the safest and most productive users of Longwall Top Coal Caving technology (LTCC).  Visit its website: ^

Under its ‘Community Awareness’ section, subsidiary Yancoal Australia offers a scholarship program to assist undergraduate students choosing to pursue a career in the mining industry. How is this community awareness?  Obviously there is a lack of environmental awareness.  Mining profits are going back to China, at the Hunter Valley’s expense and at Bellbird’s expense.

The logo is very clear about the source and the impact


The court has fined Austar $115,000 for the pollution, including ordering Austar Coal Mine to pay $75,000 towards an environmental rehabilitation project and $42,000 in the EPA’s legal costs.  This will be on top of Austar’s own legal costs.   Austar has also been ordered to publish details of the offence in a local newspaper and industry magazine.

Chief Environmental Regulator for the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Mark Gifford said “The wastewater contained detergent and effluent from bathhouse facilities located on the Austar site and caused large clumps of white foam up to 2 metres high to be washed downstream.

“The elevated levels of detergent, nutrients and faecal matter along approximately 2km of Bellbird Creek were toxic to aquatic life,” Mr Gifford said.

“This incident could have been prevented if Austar had an appropriate system in place to inspect, monitor and maintain the 90 year old onsite septic system.”

EPA Regional Manager Graham Clarke says it was not a minor incident.

“These are very large scale facilities, obviously bathhouse for the mine facilities they’re not just domestic systems and clearly large amounts of detergent and pollutants were coming from the system into the Bellbird Creek,” he said.  “So it’s affected about two kilometres of the waterway at the time so these are not small incidents.”


But something is clearly amiss.  For Austar’s mine pollution of detergent, nutrients and faecal matter to ‘extend two kilometres downstream‘ along Bellbird Creek and for ‘large clumps of white foam up to 2 metres high‘, this was not ‘seepage‘ – more like full-throttle pumping!   Downstream also involves flowing through the village of Bellbird, effectively creating an open sewer through Bellbird.

Following NSW Labor Government approval for Austar Coal Mine to begin longwall mining on its Hunter Valley lease, the company published its Community Information Sheet 4 dated June 2006, which on page 2 states:

‘Upgrades to the water management system to improve the recycling of mine water. Austar has been working closely with the Department of Environment and Conservation (EPA) to optimize water recycling and reduce dependency on external water supplies. The proposed improvements will include upgraded pumps, pipelines and water treatment facilities resulting in the Austar mine being almost self-sufficient in water supplies.’


The EPA has clearly been negligent in its monitoring, but then the EPA has no watchdog.  To fine Yancoal $115,000 is a mere slap on the wrist.  Yancoal recorded $1 billion in revenue in 2010, and sold 11 million tonnes of coal from its five operating mines on the east coast.  So Yancoal has been fined 0.0115% of its annual revenue – petty cash!     [Source: ‘Wesfarmers agrees to $300m Premier Coal deal with Yancoal’, by Nick Evans, Business Reporter, PerthNow, 20110928, ^]


  • Where is the EPA’s Environmental Impact Statement made available to the local community?
  • What has been the ecological cost?
  • Where have the pollutants ended up?
  • What is the risk to public health of Bellbird and downstream communities?
  • What is the full cost of clean up to restore Bellbird Creek and its affected downstream waterways to a before pollution condition and to reinstate the ecological health of the waterways?
  • Given Yancoal holds significant coal assets in Queensland and New South Wales, what monitoring is the EPA in those states doing, given that Yancoal has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to protect the environment?


 Yancoal’s Mining Leases in the Hunter Valley – set for underground long wall mining


[Sources: ‘Hunter Valley mine fined for polluting creek’, ABC, 20111213, ^, ^,]


Red-backed Fairy-wren of the rivers of the Hunter Valley

The Red-backed Fairy-wren (Malurus melanocephalus) is a passerine bird in the Maluridae family. It is found only in Australia along the coasts of rivers. These rivers are the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and the Kimberley which is the northern portion of Western Australia.

[Source: ^]



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