Open Letter to the Premier of NSW Regarding Coal Mining in the Schedule 1 Special Areas of the Sydney Drinking Water Catchment

Dear Premier,
      We the undersigned write as concerned academic researchers and scientists to urge an ongoing suspension of the approval processes for any further planning applications or post-approval plans (Subsidence Management Plans and Extraction Plans) for mining in the Schedule 1 Special Areas of the Sydney Drinking Water Catchment. A summary of our reasons for seeking a suspension of mining approvals is attached.  

The suspension of approvals should include new projects, the next stage of existing projects and project modifications, and should include proposals and plans currently under consideration. The suspension should remain in place until the now long recognised deficiencies and inadequacies in data gathering and reporting, alert triggers, data and information access, modelling, knowledge and understanding are comprehensively addressed. The suspension should remain in place until the cumulative impacts and consequences of mining to date can be reliably assessed and quantified with a high degree of scientific confidence. The suspension should remain in place until predictive estimates of the compounding effects of new mining proposals can be made with a high degree of scientific confidence.

In part our letter is compelled by the reports of the Independent Expert Panel for Mining in the Catchment (IEPMC). Adding to those provided to the government since at least 2007, the IEPMC reports reaffirm that the long known and ongoing inadequacies are such that it is not possible to reliably estimate the extent and, accordingly, significance of water losses and water contamination caused by mining in and around the Metropolitan and Woronora Special Areas. 

The 2008 Southern Coalfield Inquiry report points out that “The single most important land use in the Southern Coalfield is as water catchment. The importance of accordingly protecting the Special Areas, which lie within the Southern Coalfield, has been emphasised  by the recent drought, with low reservoir levels and revelations of high metal contamination levels in the deeper waters of the reservoirs. Among other impact and consequence concerns, the attached summary points to a drinking water loss rate of between 8 and 25 million litres a day as a consequence of mining the Special Areas. Unlikely to be lower, the loss rate could be greater than the range suggested by the available information.

We further encourage the Government to undertake planning for the phase-out of mining in the Metropolitan and Woronora Special Areas. We note that while these areas have been degraded by mining, they still contain some of the few areas of pristine bushland left in NSW. With just two mines currently active, phase out with no further approvals would seem timely.
Please note that this letter, its concerns and recommendation, reflect our personal views as scientists with expertise in hydrology, chemistry, geology and Earth science, environmental and ecosystem science, and public health. The letter is not intended to reflect or represent the institutions and organisations for which we work or are otherwise associated.
 Prof. Allan Chivas  Prof. Simon Chapman  Assoc. Prof. Timothy Cohen
 Assoc. Prof. Matthew Currell  Assoc. Prof. Mark Diesendorf  Mr. Pete Dupen
 Assoc. Prof. Jason Evans  Dr. Nicolas Flament  Prof. Melissa Haswell
 Prof. Grant Hose  Prof. Lesley Hughes  Prof. Stuart Khan
 Dr. Tanya Mason  Prof. Graciela Metternicht  Assoc. Prof. Scott Mooney
 Assoc. Prof. Gavin Mudd  Assoc. Prof. Patrice Rey  Dr. Peter Turner
 Dr. Floris Vanogtrop  Prof. David Waite  Dr. Ian Wright