Waratah Coal, Illawarra’s greedy mining menace

Longwall Mining Longwall Mining is permanently destroying to rivers of the Illawarra.
Waratah Coal, owned by Clive Palmer, wants more mining there.


Waratah Rivulet is a stream that is located just to the west of Helensburgh (55km south of Sydney) and flows into the Woronora Dam.  Along with its tributaries, it makes up about 29% of the Dam catchment.

The Dam provides both the Sutherland Shire and Helensburgh with drinking water. The Rivulet is within the Sydney Catchment Authority managed Woronora Special Area.

There is no public access without the permission of the SCA. Trespassers are liable to an $11,000 fine.  Yet mining companies are authorised to destroy complete river systems.


Longwall Mining under Waratah Rivulet


<<Metropolitan Colliery operates under the Woronora Special Area. Excel Coal operated it until October 2006 when Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal mining corporation, purchased it. The method of coal extraction is longwall mining.

Recent underground operations have taken place and still are taking place directly below the Waratah Rivulet and its catchment area.

In 2005 the NSW Scientific Committee declared longwall mining to be a key threatening process. The Waratah Rivulet was listed in the declaration along with several other rivers and creeks as being damaged by mining. No threat abatement plan was ever completed.

In September 2006, conservation groups were informed that serious damage to the Waratah Rivulet had taken place. Photographs were provided and an inspection was organised through the SCA to take place on the 24th of November.

On November 23rd, the Total Environment Centre met with Peabody Energy at the mining company’s request. They had heard of our forthcoming inspection and wanted to tell us about their operation and future mining plans. Through a PowerPoint presentation they told us we would be shocked by what we would see and that water had drained from the Rivulet but was reappearing further downstream closer to the dam.

The inspection took place on the 24th of November and was attended by officers from the SCA and DEC, the Total Environment Centre, Colong Foundation, Rivers SOS and two independent experts on upland swamps and sandstone geology.

We walked the length of the Rivulet that flows over the longwall panels. Although, similar waterways in the area are flowing healthily, the riverbed was completely dry for much of its length. The cracking of the sandstone streambed caused is typical of that caused by longwall mining in the Southern Coalfield. The SCA officers indicated that at one series of pools, water levels had dropped about 3m. We were also told there is anecdotal evidence suggesting the Rivulet has ceased to pass over places never previously known to have stopped flowing.

The whole watercourse, where the coal has been extracted by the longwall machine, has tilted to the east as a result of the subsidence and upsidence. Rock ledges that were once flat now sloped. Iron oxide pollution stains in the streambed were also present. The SCA also told us that they did not know whether water flows were returning further downstream. There was also evidence of failed attempts at remediation with a distinctly different coloured sand having washed out of cracks and now sitting on the dry river bed or in pools.

Also undermined was Flat Rock Swamp at the southernmost extremity of the longwall panels. It is believed to be the main source of water recharge for the Waratah Rivulet. It is highly likely that the swamp has also been damaged and is sitting on a tilt.

The longwall panels that have damaged the river are LW 8-13. These pre-dated the new approvals process that came into force in 2004. A Subsidence Management Plan for LW 14-17 was recently approved by the DPI and LW 14 is currently being mined. The SMP states that land above LW 8-13 had subsided about 1.3m on average and that there has been no significant impact upon net flow or water quality.

The Total Environment Centre has applied under FOI legislation to the SCA for documents that refer to the damage to the Waratah Rivulet.

During the meeting with Peabody on 23rd November, the company stated its intentions sometime in 2007 to submit a 3A application under the Environmental Planning &Assessment Act 1974 to extract a further 27 longwall panels that will run under the Rivulet and finish under the Woronora Dam storage area.

This is very alarming given the damage that has already occurred to a catchment that provides the Sutherland Shire & Helensburgh with 29% of their drinking water. The dry bed of Waratah Rivulet above the mining area and the stain of iron oxide pollution may be seen clearly through Google Earth.>>


waratah rivuletDamaged: Cracked rocks along the Waratah Rivulet
[Source:  Photo by Peter Turner, 20120528



Longwall Mining under or close to Rivers and Streams


<<Seven major rivers and numerous creeks in NSW have been permanently damaged by mining operations, which have been allowed to go too close to, or under, riverbeds. Some rivers are used as channels for saline and acid wastewater pumped out from mines.

Many more are under threat. The Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald, is continuing to approve operations with the Department of Planning and DEC also involved in the process, as are a range of agencies (EPA, Fisheries, DIPNR, SCA, etc.) on an Interagency Review Committee. This group gives recommendations concerning underground mine plans to Ian Macdonald, but has no further say in his final decision. A document recently obtained under Freedom of Information rights by Rivers SOS shows that an independent consultant to the Interagency Committee recommended that mining come no closer than 350m to the Cataract River, yet the Minister approved mining to come within 60m.

The damage involves multiple cracking of river bedrock, ranging from hairline cracks to cracks up to several centimetres wide, causing water loss and pollution as ecotoxic chemicals are leached from the fractured rocks. Aquifers may often be breached. Satisfactory remediation is not possible. In addition, rockfalls along mined river gorges are frequent.

The high price of coal and the royalties gained from expanding mines are making it all too tempting for the Iemma (Labor NSW) Government to compromise the integrity of our water catchments and sacrifice natural heritage.>>


Illawarra rivers threatened by long wall mining


Longwall Mining in the Catchments


<<Longwall coal mining is taking place across the catchment areas south of Sydney and is also proposed in the Wyong Catchment.

A story in the Sydney Morning Herald in January 2005 stated that the Sydney Catchment Authority was developing a policy for longwall coal mining within the catchments that would be ready by the middle of that year. This policy is yet to materialise.

The SMP approvals process invariably promises remediation and further monitoring. But damage to rivers continues and applications to mine are approved with little or no significant conditions placed upon the licence. Remediation involves grouting some cracks but cannot cover all of the cracks, many of which go undetected, in areas where the riverbed is sandy for example. Sometimes the grout simply washes out of the crack, as is the case in the Waratah Rivulet.

The SCA was established as a result of the 1998 Sydney water crisis. Justice Peter McClellan, who led the subsequent inquiry, determined that a separate catchment management authority with teeth should be created because, as he said “someone should wake up in the morning owning the issue” of adequate management.

An audit of the SCA and the catchments in 1999 found multiple problems including understaffing, the need to interact with so many State agencies, and enormous pressure from developers.

Developers in the catchments include mining companies. In spite of government policies such as SEPP 58, stating that development in catchments should have only a “neutral or beneficial effect” on water quality, longwall coal mining in the catchments have been, and are being, approved by the NSW government. Overidden by the Mining Act 1992, the SCA appears powerless to halt the damage to Sydney’s water supply.>>


[Source:  ‘Waratah Rivulet – The death of a river system from mine subsidence’, by Australian Coal Alliance, ^http://australiancoalalliance.com/waratah_rivulet.htmhttp://australiancoalalliance.com/waratah_rivulet.htm]


Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal


Waratah Coal


<<Waratah Coal is an exploration and coal mine development company which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mineralogy Pty Ltd.

Formed in 2005 and based in Brisbane, Waratah Coal is focused on the exploration and development of coal projects in Australasia. Along with another Mineralogy subsidiary, Galilee Pty Ltd, Waratah Coal proposes an $8 billion coal mine and infrastructure project in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland.

The Galilee Coal Project includes a large scale thermal coal mine near Alpha, west of Emerald. The complex will include four underground mines, two surface mines and associated coal handling and processing facilities. The mine will be linked to a new coal terminal at Abbot Point near Bowen by a new 471km standard gauge, heavy haul railway line.

The Galilee Project and Waratah’s Galilee Power project have both been granted ‘significant project’ status by the Coordinator-General of Queensland in November, 2008, and September, 2009, respectively.

After being listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and later the Australian Stock Exchange, Waratah Coal in December, 2008, accepted an offer from Mineralogy Pty Ltd for a controlling stake in the company.

Waratah Coal became part of the Mineralogy Group and the company is 100 per cent owned by Mineralogy Pty Ltd. The Mineralogy Group and associated entities have 25 years’ experience developing, managing, and funding a range of major projects. Mineralogy Group has a current market capitalisation of approximately $11 billion.

The Group currently employs around 2,200 Queenslanders in its activities in the state. Through its diversified interests (which includes the $6 billion Yabulu Nickel refinery in Townsville, oil and gas exploration in Papua New Guinea and the $5 billion Sino Iron magnetite iron ore development in Western Australia) the Group has formed major international alliances in China and domestically.>>


[Source:  Waratah Coal, ^http://www.waratahcoal.com/corporate-profile.htm]


Clive Palmer
Waratha Coal’s  Executive Chairman, Clive Palmer


Mining Jobs, Jobs, Jobs?


<<Waratah Coal believes that outstanding staff are a vital key to its success as an organisation and is committed to providing a rewarding and challenging environment for its staff.

Current Roles available at Waratah Coal:  “There are currently no positions available.”>>


Jamison Valley LandslideThe Jamison Valley Landslide
Blue Mountains Mining Legacy of Katoomba Colliery



Further Reading


[1]    2010:  BHP Billiton threatens Dharawal Swamps and Rock Art


O'Hare's Creek in the Dharawal State Conservation Area (Photo by Kate Geraghty) Possibly the cleanest water in New South Wales
Cobong Swim Hole in O’Hares Creek in the Dharawal State Conservation Area
Photo by Kate Geraghty


<<A vast new coalmine planned for Sydney’s south-western outskirts will damage the city’s natural desalination plant – the ”hanging swamps” that filter pure water down into the Georges River.

More than 50 swamps in the little-known Dharawal State Conservation Area, south-east of Campbelltown, will be undercut by longwall coalmines, which the mine owner, BHP Billiton, admits are likely to crack the bedrock and drain swamps. Aboriginal rock art above the mine site is also at risk.

The proposal, being considered by the NSW Government, calls for a huge expansion of existing coalmines near Appin, which would lock in mining there for 30 years.Opposition to the plan is growing, and a coalition of local residents and environment groups and the National Parks Association are calling for mining to be excluded from the conservation area.

”It is literally underground and metaphorically under the public radar,” said Sharyn Cullis of the Georges River Environmental Alliance. ”There should be widespread outrage or, at the very least, public debate about whether we really want the landscape desiccated … sacrificed for the sake of coal.

”The hanging swamps are shallow sandstone bowls, packed with matted sedge, native grasses and banksias that act like a sieve and a sponge, holding water in dry times and allowing it to seep out and feed some of the state’s cleanest creeks.

”I would rather they mined under my own house than in the conservation area,” said Julie Sheppard, of environment group Rivers SOS, whose home lies above another planned longwall panel near Appin.

O’Hares Creek, which flows through the conservation area and provides more than two-thirds of the water to the Georges River, is itself fed by the swamps.

”A total of 226 swamps have been identified within the entire Bulli seam project area, of which the Dharawal State Conservation Area is a part,” a BHP Billiton spokeswoman said in a statement.

”There is some potential for impact but a monitoring and management plan has been developed.

”The company said its plans had been designed to minimise impact on larger rivers.”Illawarra Coal has not mined directly beneath rivers since 2002, and consistent with this commitment, we have positioned longwalls away from major rivers and streams in the Bulli seam project.

”A detailed study by the staff at the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change found the swamp network to be a ”priority fauna habitat” for several endangered species, including the ground parrot and the giant burrowing frog.

The area also contains dozens of Aboriginal sites.”Once you take the coal away, there’s nothing to support the sandstone, and our artwork is cracking,” said Alan Carriage, an elder of the Wadi Wadi people.

A June 2009 report produced by Biosis Research for BHP Billiton found that 11 Aboriginal rock art sites in the southern coalfields had already been damaged by subsidence from longwall mining. But hypocritically and consistent with darkside consultants who will say anything for a buck concluded that “overall there is a low risk of significant impact to Aboriginal cultural heritage values”.

Before damaging a recognised Aboriginal site, a mining company must obtain a “permit to destroy” under the NSW heritage protection system. However Bev Manton, of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, dismissed this process as a “regime to manage destruction”.

She said five permits allowing damage to Aboriginal heritage sites are being issued a week by the State Government, and called for a new regime that gives more power to Aborigines to protect their significant sites.>>


[Source:    ‘Mining ‘threat to swamps and rock art’, 20100130, Ben Cubby with Andrew Small, Sydney Morning Herald, ^http://www.smh.com.au/environment/mining-threat-to-swamps-and-rock-art-20100129-n48w.html]



[2]    2012:  Apex Energy’s coal seam gas threatens Sydney’s drinking water


<<A coal seam gas company’s bid to save its Illawarra exploration project has triggered a flood of community opposition and again raised fears about mining in the water catchment.
Apex Energy’s approval for a 16-borehole exploration project around Darkes Forest and Maddens Plains expires tomorrow.

Planning authorities are now considering its application to extend the expiry date for three years after the first borehole is drilled, effectively allowing an indefinite extension as no start date is listed.
Despite the fact the project itself has not changed, the application generated 129 public submissions plus another 16 from groups including Stop CSG Illawarra and the National Parks Association.
Last year, Apex’s application for the 16th borehole received 1045 submissions from the public.  The scrutiny reflects the depth of community concern about environmental risks linked to CSG, and the political heat the O’Farrell government faces over it.
By comparison, coal company Gujarat NRE’s application to expand its mine and open a new longwall beneath the water catchment only received 23 public submissions and two from interest groups.Stop CSG Illawarra spokeswoman Jess Moore put the difference down to greater community awareness about Apex’s project and its threat to the catchment.‘‘It’s outrageous that I can be fined up to $44,000 for walking in the catchment yet the government will allow CSG development in that area,’’ she said.Gujarat’s proposal faced harsher criticism from government agencies than Apex’s, which is located partly in the water catchment and is still at the exploration stage.Further approvals would be required before production.Wollongong City Council opposed Apex’s time extension, saying even with stringent environmental controls it would be hard to argue CSG activities would have only a neutral or beneficial effect.The Office of Environment and Heritage said it would be ‘‘unlawful’’ to drill the three proposed boreholes in the national park.Apex’s application said more than 10,000 boreholes had been drilled in the southern Sydney basin during the Illawarra’s long mining history, but only 50 exploration boreholes had been drilled by the coalmining industry in the timeframe they had followed.An independent panel will determine the application.  A spokesman for Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said the government’s new Strategic Regional Land Use Policy applied Australia’s ‘‘toughest protections and regulations’’ to CSG mining..

[Source:  ‘ Opposition grows to coal seam gas bid in Sydney’s drinking water catchment’, 20120921, ^http://coalseamgasnews.org/news/world/australia/nsw/opposition-grows-to-coal-seam-gas-bid-in-sydneys-drinking-water-catchment/]



[3]   2012:  Peabody Energy’s Longwall Mining irreversibly cracking riverbed  – government turns a blind eye


<<Sutherland Shire (New South Wales) environmentalists are calling on Peabody Energy to release information on the state of the Waratah Rivulet, which supplies drinking water to the Woronora Dam.   They claim the company has failed to divulge the success or failure of its attempts to remediate the damaged riverbed.

The rivulet, which is in the Woronora special area and off-limits to the public, first hit the news in 2007 when cracks were discovered in the riverbed and some its waters disappeared underground.  The damage was blamed on longwall coal mining underneath the riverbed undertaken by the Peabody-owned Metropolitan Colliery.

The National Parks Association of NSW has released a video documenting a visit to the rivulet by a group of environmentalists and Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham six months ago.

It shows unremediated cracks, as well as some of Peabody’s remediation attempts.

Nationa Parks Association Southern Sydney Branch Secretary, Gary Schoer:

“No one has been able to find out if the damage to the rivulet was ongoing or if remediation was actually working.  When we visited we found out the remediation is still proceeding,” Mr Schoer said.  “We saw many cracks which had not yet been filled.  But we don’t know how extensive the damage is, or how successful the remediation is.   The NPA has been trying to meet with Peabody for the past six months.”

Peabody Energy, NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker and NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodginkinson, who is responsible for the Sydney Catchment Authority have all declined to comment.

Katrina HodginkinsonTurning a blind eye
Katrina Hodginkinson


Georges River Environmental Alliance Secretary Sharyn Cullis, who visited the rivulet with Mr Schoer:

“What I saw on a tour of inspection, inside what is supposed to be a protected catchment, really horrified me. 

The riverbed of the Waratah Rivulet was smashed.  What should have been clear, clean water in the stream, which is 30 per cent of the inflow into the (Woronora) dam, was a murky orange brown.   What should have been drinking water didn’t look fit for a dog to drink. 

Remediation attempts so far appeared to be “futile”.


Gary Schoer said tests conducted by environmentalists had confirmed chemical changes to the water which flowed through the damaged areas of the rivulet, but said he did not know, and had been unable to find out, how much of this water was flowing into the Woronora Dam.

Should there be greater protection for the rivulet? >>


[Source:  ‘Fears for ruined water source’, 20120528, by Kate Carr,  The Leader newspaper, St Georgeand Sutherland Shire, ^http://www.theleader.com.au/story/266961/fears-for-ruined-water-source/]



[4]     2013:   BHP Billiton’s Illawarra Longwall Coal Mine threatens stream subsidence


Illawarra CoalEd:  In what?


<<An Illawarra Coal mine plan could cause significant cracking in parts of the Upper Nepean swampland leading to surface water loss, a Sydney Catchment Authority submission states.

The bulk of Macarthur’s drinking water is sourced from these catchments, where Illawarra Coal is proposing to operate a new underground coalmine, seven kilometres west of Port Kembla.

In its submission to the Planning Department, the Sydney Catchment Authority said: “Significant cracking is predicted that would lead to diversion of surface stream flow . . . resulting in surface water loss.”

An Illawarra Coal spokeswoman said BHP Billiton had been successfully mining at Dendrobium without any significant environmental impacts since the NSW Government approved mining in the area in 2001.

Illawarra Coal has modified its mine plan to avoid significant impacts to key environmental features in the area such as Avon Dam and Wongawilli Creek,” she said.

“Illawarra Coal has developed a mine plan which has our longwall blocks positioned well away from the full supply level of Avon Dam and several kilometres away from the dam wall. We have no evidence of impacts to the dam.”

The National Parks Association has expressed fears Macarthur’s water catchments are under threat from the mine plan and called for a “rejig” of the longwall layouts to avoid damaging the swampland.

Illawarra Coal was granted conditional approval for the Dendrobium project in 2001 but is now seeking approval for its subsidence management plan to move into Area 3B.

National Parks Association spokeswoman Julie Sheppard said measures should be put in place to avoid harming an important part of the catchment.

The Sydney Catchment Authority, in its submission, recommends more stringent conditions be placed on the subsidence management plan.

The NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning says the Dendrobium project expects to extract 5.2 million tonnes of coal a year over 21 years.  It also said the project expected to provide up to 261 full-time construction jobs and up to 277 direct jobs during the operational time.>>


[Source:   ‘Swampland ‘at risk’, 20130122, by Michael Cox,  journalist with Wollondilly Advertiser, ^http://www.wollondillyadvertiser.com.au/story/1250517/swampland-at-risk/]



[5]    Rivers SOS


In 2005, Rivers SOS (a coalition of 30 groups) formed with the aim of campaigning for the NSW Government to mandate a safety zone of at least 1km around rivers and creeks threatened by mining in NSW.   The peak environment groups of NSW endorse this position and it forms part of their election policy document.Rivers SOS, ^http://riverssos.org.au/


[6]     Stop CSG Illawarra



[7]    Coal Seam Gas News


<<The purpose of CoalSeamGasNews.org is to provide quick access to Coal Seam Gas mining news, research, forums and public meeting schedules, provide a voice for the many Australians who want a sustainable mining industry, and to help people get the facts – not myths –  about the Coal Seam Gas industry. ^http://coalseamgasnews.org/



[8]  Australian Coal Alliance





Chief Seattle quote.


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2 Responses to “Waratah Coal, Illawarra’s greedy mining menace”

  1. Warren says:

    This is seriously sick. How can anyone show respect for the law when the people who make them do so in their own interest, and lie to the public they are supposed to serve. Barry O’Farrell promised that No mining would be allowed to take place in water catchments in NSW. This was an absolute guarantee from the Liberals, to which they failed to uphold.
    Maybe the day we hold these people personally accountable, will be the day we achieve some common sense.
    Visit and like “Water Not Coal” on Facebook.

  2. Editor says:

    Thanks Warren,

    Such selfish mining that permanently damages vital riparian ecosystems, groundwater and aquifers and critical water supply is morally wrong, bad policy, bad legistation and contemptible. The economic exploitative gain (corporate revenue and government royalties) are insignificant in the face of such socio-ecological cost.

    Such is the serious risk of contaminating drinking water, and the absence of government governnance and action, that citizens are justified taking the law into their own hands against the perpetators of the harm. In the traditional spirit of the ‘Citizens Arrest’, effective protest and preventative action to stop the mining is valid and just.

    It is ‘Community Contingency’.


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