Under section 58(6) of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO) the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has received public submissions on the proposed variation to the Environment Protection Licence (EPL No. 726) held by Clarence Colliery Pty Ltd for the operation of Clarence Colliery near Lithgow. The proposed variation is focusing on the discharge of pollutants into the Wollangambe River. The Environment Protection Authority is proposing to vary the Environment Protection Licence to put in place limits on nickel, salinity, and temperature of the discharge, as well as introduce a legally-binding Pollution Reduction Program requiring the company to reduce the concentration of pollutants in the discharge.
Clarence Colliery summary of public submissions
The Environment Protection Authority received 130 public submissions after it publicly advertised its review of Environment Protection Licence (EPL) No. 726 for Clarence Colliery Pty Ltd. The public exhibition was for four weeks between 21 October and 24 November 2014.
The Environment Protection Authority is fulfilling its responsibilities under Section 78 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO) in undertaking the five year review of the EPL for Clarence Colliery. Given that variations are likely to be required and there is potential that the licence will authorise a significant impact on the environment and the proposed variation has not been the subject of an environmental assessment and public consultation under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, by advertising the proposed licence variation and seeking public comment, the Environment Protection Authority has fulfilled its responsibilities under Section 58(6) of the POEO Act.
The Environment Protection Licence authorises, among other things, the discharge of mine water from Clarence Colliery into the Wollangambe River which then flows through the Blue Mountains National Park, a part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
A summary of the public submissions is provided below.
Seventy seven (59 per cent) of the 130 were form letters. The form letter expressed these points
- the Wollangambe is a declared Wild River
- the EPA’s responsibility is to protect it from wastewater discharged by Clarence Colliery
- Clarence Colliery is polluting the Wollangambe River and degrading the river’s biodiversity
- EPL 726 fails to impose meaningful discharge limits on key pollutants
- research by Dr Ian Wright shows increases in salinity, nickel, zinc, pH and water temperature and these need to be addressed in the revised licence
- the discharge should be similar to water above the discharge point
- the revised EPL should be a benchmark or standard for all future colliery licences.
Of the remaining submissions, the following points have been raised
- the value of the Wollangambe River as a sensitive environmental resource which needs protection, it should be pristine and unpolluted
- the impact of zinc, nickel, pH, salinity and temperature of the mine water charged from Clarence Colliery on the aquatic ecosystem of the Wollangambe River
- the impact on species diversity and abundance in the river below the mine (the subject of research by Dr I.A. Wright, University of Western Sydney and colleagues)
- the EPA not properly regulating Clarence Colliery, and it should tighten the conditions of the EPL, with support for the addition of nickel, salinity and temperature, a Pollution Reduction Program to improve the quality of the discharge
- any pollution should cease
- the presence of the mine is incompatible with the values of a catchment which contains a World Heritage listed area
- concerns about the use of mine water to supplement the drinking water of Lithgow and potential impacts on human health
- the EPA should be guided by ANZECC 2000 in structuring the limit conditions of the licence.
Clarence Colliery Discharge Investigation – report by the Office of Environment and Heritage
In 2014 the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) commissioned a report by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to help inform its review of the Environment Protection Licence (EPL 726) for Clarence Colliery near Lithgow.
The OEH report provides an independent assessment of the state of the Wollangambe River, including upstream and downstream of where the colliery discharges quantities of mine water.
The EPA will use the findings in the report to require Centennial Coal to undertake an environmental improvement program to address the water quality issues identified by OEH.
The environmental improvement program will be formalised and new conditions added to the licence which will ensure the water quality and the ecology of the Wollangambe River is protected for future generations.
- The Clarence Colliery Discharge Investigation report
- Appendices to the Clarence Colliery Discharge Investigation report
Clarence Colliery pollution incident
A serious pollution incident occurred at the Clarence Colliery on 2 July 2015, which impacted the surrounding environment.
Further information on the EPA’s response is available in the Clarence Colliery – EPA’s Licence Review and Current Investigation (PDF 49KB) fact sheet.