NSW Minerals Council

Strategic Land Use a Top Priority in NSW

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– By Robert Hosowsky

Around the world, the state of New South Wales remains legendary for its vast mineral wealth; in fact, no state has played a more active role in Australia’s rich mining history than NSW. Actively mined for hundreds of years, NSW’s resource legacy in fact goes back much further, to the time of Aboriginal Australians over 40,000 years ago.

Many communities in the state started their lives as small mining towns, and today, the industry is thriving and shows no signs of slowing down.

Representing over 70 mining businesses in the state is the New South Wales Minerals Council Ltd (NSWMC), a not-for-profit, peak industry association. Serving as a united voice for best practice in NSW, the organisation represents the state’s $14 billion mining industry and associated minerals explorers, producers, operators, and others whose services relate to mining. Committed to safe mining conditions, growth, fostering vital communities, and environmental responsibility, the NSWMC is also dedicated to mining education, especially in the area of strategic land use planning, a hotly debated issue between all political parties and stakeholders.

Strategic Planning

“[Strategic land use planning] probably is the defining issue for the mining industry in NSW,” says Dr Nikki Williams, Chief Executive Officer of the New South Wales Minerals Council. As the most heavily regulated industry in NSW, mining is constantly scrutinised, yet Dr Williams feels there has been a lack of leadership by the current government when it comes to addressing concerns from communities located in and near mining regions. With plans to double production in the coal sector over the next five years, these concerns are growing louder daily, as the need to address strategic land use becomes more urgent.

“A lot of those mines are operating next door to each other,” says Dr Williams, “so consequently, there’s a cumulative impact of such intense activity taking place in quite narrow geographic regions, and the government simply has not addressed the impact of this kind of growth adequately.” The lack of discussion over time regarding strategic land use has led to tensions between mining and other regional industries, such as wine-making, horse breeding, and agriculture. While many communities support mining in NSW – an industry that generates approximately 355,000 direct and indirect jobs, and contributes more than $2 billion annually in taxes and royalties – others remain concerned over the potential impact of mining on health and the environment. As a result of lack of action over land use, tensions have understandably escalated.

“It has had, at different times, an almost war-like feel,” comments Dr Williams, “and that is a reflection of very poor policy, and very poor planning. What we’ve been arguing for years is that government needs to show leadership, and actually start to get into the business of strategic land use planning, identifying priorities for different areas in NSW, and kinds of developments, so that it gives some kind of certainty to all land users and land holders, and paint a picture about what the future might look like in any given region.”

Many mining activities are being examined, but none more so than coal mining. Although NSW also produces an extensive range of metallic and industrial minerals, coal remains the major mineral resource mined in the state, accounting for about 40 per cent of the nation’s total coal exports, which comes from 63 operational mines (as of 2009-10), with another 30 developments underway. Strategic land use planning – which the NSWMC has been actively calling for over several years – is needed to minimise land use conflicts, maximise the capacity of regional communities and economies, and provide clarity for communities, government, business, and industries regarding present and future development.

“You’re not going to have a sustainable and prosperous industry if you don’t have that kind of planning and regulatory certainty that allows for the kind of major capital investments that are typically made in the minerals sector,” says Dr Williams, adding that priorities must be clearly identified and based on solid, factual information to ensure environmental, social, and economic values in NSW are maximised.

Dust and Water

In New South Wales, coal mining has been taking place for 150 years. While there is a variety of mining techniques available, one that is often used in open-cut mining. Also known as surface mining, open-cut mining – which accounts for 64 per cent of saleable coal production in NSW – is especially effective when mineral deposits are close to the surface. While more effective than underground mining methods, concerns over open-cut mining range from excessive dust production to possible disturbance of underground aquifers and other water systems. “The impacts of dust and water are probably the two biggest issues for mining,” says Dr Williams.

For centuries, coal has remained one of the state’s prime resources. The Sydney-Gunnedah Basin – extending along the eastern margin of Australia and covering over 15,000 square kilometers – is renowned for its high-quality black coal, dating back millions of years. Today, 89 per cent of NSW’s electricity comes from coal-fired power stations, and there are five major coalfields in the Sydney-Gunnedah Basin, including the Hunter.

As the largest coal-producing region in the state, coal deposits in the Hunter are at shallow depths under 300 metres, for cost-effective open-cut mining. Some communities are concerned about dust and air quality, and the New South Wales Minerals Council is active in educating and informing locals through the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network. Online in real time, 24 hours a day, easy to understand information about air quality is accessible through two recently installed monitoring stations in Singleton and Muswellbrook. The initiative, a partnership involving the community, local miners, industry, government, and power generators, will eventually see 14 independent air monitoring stations, operated by the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water.

“If the dust levels are exceeded, they can determine their responses accordingly,” says Dr Williams. “Actually having real, credible, comprehensible data available at your fingertips should dispel a lot of the concerns that many people have.” In addition to obtaining data, there are efforts in place to minimise dust from mines and adjust coal dumping heights, as well as trials for the use of synthetic dust suppressants on haul roads, and other technical initiatives. In addition, the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue is underway. The region’s coal producers, in an open-ended discussion with the community about the role of mining and potential impacts on the economy and the region’s future, have generated vast amounts of material. To date, the discussions have resulted in over 60,000 words covering 1,600 issues raised by the community. Once the independent material is compiled, it will be presented to stakeholders later this year.

“Communities are increasingly looking at the industry in a region, as opposed to an individual company or an individual mine in a region,” says Dr Williams. “So with that in mind, we decided that we needed to have a new kind of conversation with our mining communities, and that we would commence that dialogue in the Upper Hunter Region.” While the New South Wales Minerals Council doesn’t have an agenda or expected outcome regarding the talks, they want to learn from community members, identify priority issues, and work with the community to improve problems. “We want to make sure that the communities where we operate are healthy and well.”

Although it is unrealistic to expect the complex issues over strategic land use planning to be rectified overnight, open discussions, new technologies, and addressing the subject head-on will undoubtedly benefit communities, the environment, agriculture, NSW’s mining and other industries today, and other land users long into the future.

For more information on the New South Wales Minerals Council Ltd, visit www.nswmin.com.au

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August 19, 2018, 7:49 AM AEST