New South Wales greenlights Maxwell coal mine

New South Wales .(Image courtesy of Malabar Coal).

The New South Wales Independent Planning Commission granted consent to Maxwell Ventures for the development of its namesake underground coal mine in the Muswellbrook Local Government Area, southeastern Australia.

In its decision, the Commission points out that the project’s potential impacts on surrounding communities can be “reasonably and satisfactorily” identified, avoided, mitigated and managed, as long as the company complies with the 169 conditions imposed on its development consent.

The $509-million Maxwell project is hosted on the site of the former Drayton open-cut mine, operated by Anglo American until 2016

Maxwell Ventures, a subsidiary of Sydney-based Malabar Coal Ltd, sought planning approval to develop the new mine to the north of Jerrys Plains. The company plans to produce approximately 148 million tonnes of run-of-mine coal over 26 years. 

The $509 million Maxwell project is hosted on exploration licence (EL) 5460, which used to be Anglo American’s Drayton South coal project until it sold it to Maxwell in 2018 together with the neighboring, reserve-exhausted Drayton open-cut mine site.

According to the IPC, the site has undergone progressive rehabilitation since then and will now only be permitted for underground work. Two previous separate state development applications lodged to develop the Drayton South coal project as an open-cut mine were rejected by the former Planning Assessment Commission. 

But in the case of the underground proposal, the assessing agency found that the risks of adverse impacts on the environment – particularly on the neighbouring home of world-leading thoroughbred stallions – are low.  

“The Commission finds that, on balance, and when weighed against the relevant climate change policy framework, objects of the [Environmental Planning & Assessment] Act, [Ecologically Sustainable Development] principles and socio-economic benefits, the potential impacts associated with the Project are manageable,” its Statement of Reasons for Decision reads.

The decision followed the completion of a whole-of-government assessment by the Department of Planning, Industry & Environment and the review, by the IPC, of more than 50 unique public objections.

To understand the objections, different members of the Commission met with the applicant, Department, Muswellbrook Shire and Upper Hunter Shire Councils. They also conducted an inspection of the site and surrounding areas and held a two-day public hearing to listen to the community’s views, which focused on environmental, equine and agricultural, and economic impacts, as well as on jobs, health and heritage. 

Taking into consideration the information gathered at each of these fora, the IPC concluded that the 169 conditions it imposed on Maxwell address impacts such as air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, water, subsidence, biodiversity, Aboriginal cultural heritage, waste, bushfire, and rehabilitation with appropriate mechanisms to provide a rigorous framework for monitoring, management, mitigation and reporting on the various impacts associated with the project.

“Today’s news is just the beginning of a much longer journey with our neighbours to ensure the project continues to meet the expectations of everyone in our community, many of whom we have been speaking with over the last eight years to get this project right,” Malabar’s chairman, Wayne Seabrook, said in a media statement.

Coal country

In early December, the NSW Independent Planning Commission also greenlighted Wollongong Coal’s (ASX: WLC) expansion project of the Russell Vale Colliery mine, where the plan is to extract up to 3.7-million tonnes of coal over five years using bord-and-pillar mining. 

In August, the IPC approved an extension of Whitehaven Coal’s (ASX: WHC) Vickery coal mine near Boggabri, in the state’s northwest. This project sought to increase total coal extraction to 168 Mt, grow peak annual extraction rate from 4.5 to 10 million tonnes, and increase the disturbance area by 776 hectares.