‘Dangerous’ coal mining industry fears in NSW
Coal mining companies fear a spill in the state’s waterways could cause a deadly fire, with a recent study warning that an explosion could cause up to 10,000 deaths.
The latest assessment of a study commissioned by the State Government said the risk posed by coal mining was greater than that posed by water pollution and suggested a spill could cause an “unknown quantity of coal”.
It was released to the ABC on Thursday by the state government’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEP).
DEP spokesperson Steve Kavanagh said the report had been written to provide a baseline for assessing the potential risks associated with a spill of coal into the Great Barrier Reef.
“It’s an assessment that gives us a baseline and a range of risks that could occur in a spill,” he said.
He said the findings of the report, which was commissioned by state Environment Minister John Rau, were “consistent” with what the Department had been studying in the past.
It recommended that an evacuation of coal-mining sites be put in place, with an evacuation plan in place for all residents and visitors.
Mr Kavanag said a major environmental incident had occurred on one of the NSW waterways where the DEP was commissioned.
In May, a massive fire engulfed about 600 hectares of land near the Queensland border, causing an evacuation order to be lifted.
There was no immediate threat to the water system, but emergency services had been called to the area to extinguish the blaze.
DEP officials said the coal dust had been contained in the nearby Bowen Basin.
Dr Kavanagher said it was likely the spill was the result of a “malfunctioning or ruptured” pipe.
A number of major coal mines are located in the Bowen Basin and there was a potential for a catastrophic accident, he said, but no one had yet been killed or seriously injured in the blaze itself.
However, he did say the department was concerned about the possibility of a spill.
An explosion could potentially cause an unknown quantity of the coal that was in the river, Dr Kavanagan said.
“It could be very dangerous for people and for the water,” he added.
The DEP’s study found that an average of 1,500 tonnes of coal a day was discharged from the Bowen basin each year into waterways in NSW, with some of that discharge coming from a few mines in the region.
The study also said that an “unusual” number of coal mines were in operation in the NSW Bowen Basin at any one time, and the vast majority of those were operating in remote areas.
Some of the mines operated on a “patchwork” of water quality laws and were required to have a permit to operate, while others had not.
Mr Kavangah said the state was working with the industry to ensure the discharge of the estimated 2.8 billion tonnes of the country’s coal over the next 20 years was “safe”.
“We have been very clear with them about what the situation is in the environment,” he told the ABC.
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