FROM COALPAC TO CASTLEREAGH COAL – the phoenix arises
© Brian Marshall
The Coalpac Consolidation Project (CCP) comprised a proposal for a massive open-cut coal mine (about 40 km around the perimeter) near Cullen Bullen on the western escarpment, within the Ben Bullen Sate Forest (BBSF). Many will recall the protracted campaign against the CCP, from December 2010 until October 2013, at which time Coalpac withdrew the CCP because it faced an unfavourable report by the Department of Planning and an anticipated rejection by the Planning Assessment Commission. A satisfying outcome, but Coalpac wasn't finished!
The company returned in April 2014 and proposed two 'modifications' which still included many of the objectionable elements of the CCP. The Planning Assessment Commission rejected the modifications in October 2014, and Coalpac entered voluntary liquidation in November 2014. Again a satisfactory outcome, but Coalpac played one more card!
In April 2015, the Commonwealth's Department of the Environment determined that Coalpac's proposal to extract 250,000 tonnes of coal from a 6-hectare remnant of an old consent at the Cullen Valley Mine did not constitute a controlled action. This presumably enhanced Coalpac's worth within the context of the liquidation process.
On completion of the liquidation process in July 2015, it was revealed that Coalpac's numerous Mining Authorities, and Exploration and Mining Licences are owned by Shoalhaven Coal Pty Ltd, which is trading as Castlereagh Coal and is part of the Manildra Group. Coalpac was no more, but the titular capacity to inflict damage on the Ben Bullen State Forest and the Gardens of Stone proposal had passed to Castlereagh Coal 1. The phoenix arises!
In January 2016, Castlereagh Coal (CC) announced its Southern Extension Project 2. This proposes to open-cut a 2.7 Mt resource immediately south of the existing Invincible Mine. The proposed mine-life is scheduled as 4 to 20 years depending on the Manildra Group's needs. Although CC hopes to gain an approval-to-mine by modifying an existing development consent, it will need to provide a comprehensive Environmental Assessment. which will be open for community comment.
BMCS has been assured by CC that development will be restricted to the 'Invincible' resource. Any poorer quality coal unsuited to Manildra's requirements (still the subject of laboratory investigations) would need to be transferred to the power station. CC insists that 3: "We have not discussed nor do we have any commercial arrangement with Energy Australia in relation to supplying the power station coal from the Invincible mine"; it further insists that there are "no plans or intentions to mine at Cullen Valley" .
Despite the above, CC has, in the name of Shoalhaven Coal Pty Limited, applied for two exploration licences north and northwest of Cullen Bullen 4. Although the exploration licence applications (ELAs) are associated with the Cullen Valley operations, CC again insists that there are no current plans for mining at Cullen Valley; apparently, the areas were held by CC and recently lapsed 5.
From BMCS's viewpoint, the larger of the two ELAs is wholly within the BBSF which is part of the Gardens of Stone proposal and part of why we campaigned so strongly against Coalpac. In rejecting the CCP and then the Coalpac 'modifications', two different Planning Assessment Commissions decided that the environmental values of Ben Bullen State Forest, both in general and also within the larger of the current ELAs, merited protection from mining and its associated activities. For the foregoing reason, and because assurances about future plans and intentions are at best qualified in terms of the company's 'current' thinking, the Society has opposed the ELAs and will oppose the Southern Extension Project when the Environmental Assessment becomes available.