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Byron Shire
August 1, 2021

Your time is up: Shenhua, go home

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In a case of ‘oh, look over there’, while we are all focussed north to Adani and the Galilee Basin, a mining company is inching its way forward out west.

The Watermark Coal Project is a proposed coal mine in the Liverpool Plains near the village of Breeza and carried out by state-owned Chinese mining company Shenhua Group.

Photo Tree Faerie.

The project is controversial, in fact critics say it is an insane move by a government who is supposed to be looking out for the country, because the proposed mine is in the Liverpool Plains, one of the major food bowls not only of Australia, but the world.

The locals have been fighting against this project for over ten years. That’s a long time to have an axe held above you neck. The farmers don’t want it, the country doesn’t need it and it’s beginning to feel like someone’s pockets are being lined to make this happen.

Shenhua have already missed deadlines, marks on the calendar which mean they haven’t done what is required, but rather than saying, ‘ok, it’s time to go home’ the government keeps extending the limits of how long they will wait for action, and each time a limit is reached, the locals breathe a momentary sigh of relief before feeling that axe hover again.

Farming is hard enough without this added horror nipping at their heels

Apart from anything else it’s just plain cruel to treat Australians like this. How can they plan for an uncertain future? Farming is hard enough without this added horror nipping at their heels and they’ve had a gut full.

Shenhua keep failing to toe the line and now new research has confirmed there are significant flaws in the water modelling data used by the Chinese mining giant to predict the groundwater impacts of its controversial proposed mine.

The Report reveals that the fundamentally flawed water modelling presented in Shenhua’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) misrepresents the amount of groundwater recharge and/or vertical leakage which occurs, and does not provide a basis for reliable prediction.

Liverpool Plains farmer John Hamparsum is one of thousands of Australians who life and livelihood are threatened by a mine moving in. Photo Tree Faerie.

Shenhua’s modelling is suggested to under predict the rate and extent of drawdown during times of drought, strengthening concerns regarding water management and security as drought continues to devastate much of rural Australia. The report advises that the Watermark Coal Project impacts be reassessed in light of the revised data and modelling information and makes four specific recommendations.

This latest research, conducted by The Water Research Laboratory (WRL) of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UNSW Sydney and led by Principal Engineer Mr Doug Anderson, found that some of the model inputs chosen to predict groundwater impacts could not be matched to actual aquifer data collected nor with data driven analyses.

These highly significant inconsistencies were then confirmed using data driven expert analyses developed by two other independent experts, Dr Steven Pells of PSM and Dr Gabriel Rau of UNSW Connected Water Initiative. The report notes that two thirds of the layers within the Watermark Coal Project EIS models were assigned specific storage (Ss) values up to three orders of magnitude larger than the available field measurements and the upper limit found using poroelastic theory (the theory of soil mechanics).

New modelling demonstrates that when the correct figures are used, the resulting predictions show a far more rapid lowering and loss of water pressure in the underground aquifers and a significantly larger, transient zone of adverse water drawdown impact than the predictions presented in Shenhua’s EIS.

Susan Lyle, who is a landholder, resident and Chair of Caroona Coal Action Group says that reading the report has confirmed locals’ worst fears and validates their conviction that the planning process has been supplied with flawed data that seriously underestimates impacts.

It is unacceptable that proper science seems to again, be pushed aside during the political processes

‘It is unacceptable that proper science seems to again, be pushed aside during the political processes leaving this region to bear unacceptable risks to our longevity,’ says Mrs Lyle.

‘The Planning process must take into consideration this latest research.’

Mrs Lyle says that the best decision would be to revoke the original consent and prevent this project going ahead to ensure that the precious water resources are protected and preserved for generations to come.

The model inputs in question, called ‘Specific Storage’, control the rate at which groundwater pressure levels are predicted to decline in response to mining. Since the majority of the specific storage coefficients in the Watermark Coal Project EIS model are unrealistically high this misrepresentation of processes leads to inaccurate prediction of groundwater response to changes in recharge or abstraction as will typically occur due to nearby mining or CSG projects.

The greater concern here is that by using flawed values the impacts to the connected water sources

The greater concern here is that by using flawed values the impacts to the connected water sources, including the Upper Namoi Alluvium, the Mooki River and its tributaries, all of which are critically important headwaters of the Murray Darling Basin have also been grossly under-estimated.

These errors mean there would be adverse effects to the quantities of water reaching the Darling River particularly during dry times. The Bioregional Assessments can now look forward to being updated with this new surface and groundwater interaction science.

‘This project has not received final approval and I call upon our Governments at all levels to ensure these findings are incorporated into the decision-making process.’ says Ms Lyle. ‘Australia cannot afford to risk any water, anywhere’.

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  1. Love the video at the start of the story, may it make it to a chart topper in Australia and open the city dwellers eyes up to the impact these mines will have on communities.


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