Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Joe Hinchliffe

Queensland gives environmental approval to New Acland coalmine expansion

The New Hope Group’s New Acland coal mine
The New Hope Group’s New Acland coalmine in 2013. Stage three of the mine has been given environmental approval by the Queensland government. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP

Queensland has granted environmental approval to a controversial plan to expand an open-cut coalmine near Toowoomba and extend its life for another 12 years, in a move anti-coal campaigners say should be met “with horror”.

Stage three of New Hope Group’s New Acland open cut coalmine was given the green light on Tuesday by the state’s department of environment and science.

The proposal would lift New Acland’s output from 4.8m tonnes to 7.8m tonnes a year, and extend the mine’s life for 12 years to 2034.

But New Hope has yet to receive the necessary mining tender and water licence approvals to expand its footprint.

The mine has been the target of a decade-long campaign by environmentalists and farmers.

New Hope Group exhausted its last coal reserves at the mine in late November, and has made almost 300 workers redundant since 2019.

The mine has been under investigation since 2018 over “alleged unauthorised disturbance” in an area known as west pit. On Friday, the department announced it had accepted an environmental undertaking proposed by New Hope Group, which would see them commit $2m to habitat rehabilitation to avoid the matter going to court.

Oakey Coal Action Alliance’s Paul King said he was horrified but unsurprised to learn the department had granted environmental approval to extend the mine, particularly off the back of the department agreeing to the rehabilitation trade-off.

King said the anti-coal alliance had “no confidence” that the developer would “adhere to spirit and terms of its EA [environmental approval]”, and said it was incumbent on resources minister Scott Stewart “to simply reject this project”.

The Toowoomba-based campaigner said the project would “eat up good farmland and steal groundwater” on the Darling Downs, an area renowned for its rich volcanic soils and productive agriculture, and set back the transition away from coalmining.

“Oakey is recovering from having 20 years of mining,” he said. “The prosperity present today hasn’t been seen in decades.”

He also said the mine would contribute “astronomical” fugitive methane emissions, as well as those from burning its thermal coal.

“This project has nothing to recommend it in this day and age,” King said.

The New Acland mine is a thermal coalmine, which provides fuel for power plants in Australia and overseas.

Brisbane-based Australian Conservation Foundation climate and energy campaigner Jason Lyddieth said it didn’t matter if that coal was burned overseas or in Queensland, it still “impacts Queensland and it still impacts the reef”.

“The International Energy Agency has said there can’t be any more new coal or gas projects anywhere in world if we want a chance of avoiding terrible climate impacts,” Lyddieth said.

“Any expansion of coal and gas extraction flies in the face of science. If the Queensland government is serious about climate change and climate action, it needs to get serious about coalmining and gas extraction as well.”

A department official said the environmental approval would only take effect upon the grant of a mining tenure, which is yet to be provided.

“It includes a number of strict conditions, including ensuring that air and noise emissions from proposed activities are managed and monitored effectively.

“Should there be any activity prior to all approvals being granted, the independent regulator will monitor compliance with environmental obligations in accordance with the EA.”

The Liberal National party in Queensland has complained that the approval process has taken too long. Opposition leader David Crisafulli last month called on the Palaszczuk government to make a decision on the project.

Crisafulli has not said whether he supports the expansion.

However, LNP backbencher and Toowoomba local MP Trevor Watts signed a letter to the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, in 2021 asking for the project to be approved.

That letter was signed by eight other state LNP MPs and 10 of their federal counterparts.

AAP contributed to this report

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.