A coal mine in the NSW Hunter Valley has been thrown a five-year lifeline, after the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) approved an expansion of the Mangoola mine near Muswellbrook, subject to 179 conditions.

Key points:

  • The decision paves the way for operations at the mine to extend until 2030
  • IPC label project a “reasonable brownfield extension”
  • The future of coal is a key issue in the Upper Hunter by-election

Glencore had sought planning approval to build a new pit to the north of the current site in the Wybong Valley, and mine an additional 52 million tonnes of coal.

The existing Mangoola mine already has approval until November 2029, however Glencore claims coal reserves would be exhausted by 2025, and the establishment of the new pit is necessary to continue operations.

The project “represents a reasonable ‘brownfield’ extension of the existing Mangoola Coal Mine that would enable the economic and beneficial reuse of existing infrastructure and an orderly and economic use of land,” the IPC said in a statement.

“On balance and when weighed against the impacts under the current policy and regulatory framework, the project would generate net positive social and economic benefits for the local area, Hunter region and to NSW.”

‘A scar that can never be healed’

Local cattle farmer Keith Googe said he was disappointed by the decision, and is concerned it could change the complexion of the Wybong Valley.

An older man with a broad hat walking in long grass with cattle grazing in the background.

Keith Googe’s family has farmed on land in the Wybong Valley since the 1800s.(

ABC Upper Hunter: Jake Lapham

)

“I think that final void is a scar that can never be healed, and the bigger it is, the more significant effect it has to the amenity of the area,” he said.

“Mangoola have done a great job with their current mine, [but] a future extension?

The mining union has championed the decision as a win for jobs.

“This news comes as a great relief to the 400 directly employed mine workers at Mangoola mine,” said the CFMEU Northern Mining and NSW Energy District president Peter Jordan.

A coal truck drives along an open cut coal mine.

The NSW coal industry is proposing 23 new mines or mine expansions, according to the Australia Institute.(

ABC Upper Hunter: Jake Lapham

)

By-election candidates react

The decision comes as campaigning in the crucial Upper Hunter by-election enters its third week.

Labor candidate Jeff Drayton said the decision would be a boost for the local workforce.

“It [Mangoola] has the highest proportion of local employees, it’s extremely important economically to those areas,” he said.

Independent candidate Kirsty O’Connell said the approval strengthened the need to reform the planning system.

“Our planning agencies aren’t able to take into account the cumulative impacts that we’ve experiencing as a community. They’re assessing these mines on a case-by-case basis and unfortunately it doesn’t position us well for the future,” she said.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate Sue Gilroy said the IPC were right to categorise the project as a ”brownfields” extension.

“They’re using existing infrastructure and it’s close to the existing mine,” she said.

‘Small contribution’ to emissions

In recommending the project for approval, NSW Department of Planning said greenhouse gas emissions from the project would “comprise a very small contribution towards climate change at both the national and global scale”.

The expansion will generate $129 million in royalties and provide ongoing employment for 400 people, Glencore said.

“The project has successfully met every step of the NSW environmental assessment requirements.

“We look forward to a timely execution of federal government and Muswellbrook Shire Council approvals,” a company spokesperson said.

Muswellbrook Shire Council took the rare step of opposing the proposal during a meeting with the IPC, arguing the proposal lacked key details about ecological impacts and management of the final void, and was not in the public interest.

Farmer sees red as controversial coal mine expansion gets green light
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