The continued delay on a decision around the New Acland Stage 3 expansion mining lease has severe ramifications for jobs, agriculture, nearby mines and the cost to use the rail line on the Darling Downs, warns Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise executive chairman Shane Charles.
Mr Charles said the New Acland coal mine would cease operations by 2018 if New Hope Group failed to gain timely approval for the planned $900 million expansion that would extend the life of the mine until 2029.
The latest hurdle is the Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, to be debated in the Queensland Parliament in the coming weeks.
Mr Charles said the West Moreton Rail System would face huge impacts if the mine was to close, with New Acland contributing about 65 per cent of all freight traffic on the line.
He said the New Hope Group did not consider it a viable option to continue to operate its West Moreton mine if New Acland closed.
With 5.7 million tonnes a year of coal tonnages lost from the New Hope operations, Yancoal’s Cameby Downs mine would subsequently face high unit costs at the coal terminal (Port of Brisbane, and in rail haulage due to a lack of scale, he said.
Mr Charles said New Acland mine workers were not fly-in fly-out, but residents in the region.
“Oakey would be economically devastated by the loss of workers coming through the town, at a time where the area is trying to rebuild its image and welcome business,” he said.“Employees shouldn’t have to feel their jobs could go at any minute because the government won’t decide on the mine’s future.”
Natural Resources and Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said the New Acland Stage 3 expansion project was currently in the hands of the Land Court, which was weighing up evidence from more than 84 hearing days.
It would be irresponsible to make a decision before he had the Land Court’s recommendation before him, Dr Lynham said.
“This project will require a water licence. Mines have had to get water licences for 20 years,” he said. “DNRM is ready to work with the company to prepare their licence application.”
Toowoomba Region Mayor Paul Antonio has called on Queensland Environment and Heritage Protection Minister Dr Steven Miles to prevent further delays to the decision on the New Acland expansion.
“I have written to the Minister today (November 3) and outlined that while council understands and respects the process under way, application of this legislation will result in further delays in the approvals process, despite New Hope having already met relevant requirements as they currently stand,” Cr Antonio said.
The New Acland mine employs 275 staff, and there are 500 contractor jobs that rely on operations at the site.
The civic leaders’ comments follow a rally in Brisbane on Tuesday, when mine supporters created a sea of orange outside the Queensland Parliament.
Friends of New Acland Mine spokesman Matthew Tonscheck said more than 700 people joined that action.
“The support was amazing given the short notice and fact that it was the middle of the working week,” he said.
“This was a clear demonstration of how much we all need this mine to go ahead.”
The group is concerned that the Bill to be debated contains provisions for projects in advanced stages of the approvals process (such as New Acland Stage 3) to have to apply for an ‘associated water licence’ and that this will allow objectors to put the project back into Land Court.
“This legislation opens us back up to a public submission period and inevitably another potential 31 weeks in Land Court,” Mr Tonscheck said.
“We simply do not have the coal reserves to maintain continuity of employment if this legislation is passed unamended. Again, I want to stress that we are happy with the technical requirements of the legislation, not the opening it back up to public comment.
“The green groups will target us and there is absolutely no doubt about this. Disrupt and delay – that is their only agenda. Their agenda is not for protecting the greater good of our little community.”