Greens oppose Indian firm’s mining near Sydney

June 1st, 2008 - 10:23 am ICT by admin  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, June 1 (IANS) Indian-owned mining company Gujurat NRE Coke Limited’s plans to expand coalmining under the Sydney water catchment have been panned by environmental groups. They say mining within 500 metres of the Cataract Dam near Wollongong, an hour’s drive south of Sydney, could cause the dam wall to crack, damage homes, lead to surface gas leaks and endanger Sydney’s water supply.

“Experience in the southern coal fields has shown many dramatic cases where river beds have cracked. In 1994, the Cataract River actually ran dry, the Georges, the Bargo and the Cataract rivers have all been undermined, had their riverbeds cracked,” Greens Party MP Lee Rhiannon told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Greens are calling on the New South Wales (NSW) government to stop the expansion of longwall coal mining on grounds that similar operations have also seen river beds dry up.

However, the NSW Minerals Council’s director of external affairs Lancia Jordana told the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH): “The mining industry has been defending itself against misinformation for a long time. Where cracking occurs, you may have an area that runs dry but the independent science (shows) there is no loss of water quality, that there is in fact no loss of water. It flows back into the river a bit further down.”

On the other hand, Total Environment Centre director Jeff Angel told SMH, “The impact of the scheme will be enormous. It will lead to more serious cracking, more damage to river and stream beds, more damage to swamps, more cliffs collapsing, less groundwater, and a threat to the dam itself.”

IANS was unable to contact Gujarat NRE Coke chairman Arun Kumar Jagatramka for comment.

On April 28, Gujarat NRE’s third mine in Australia, NRE Wongawilli Colliery (south-west of Wollongong) became operational. It plans to spend a further $65 million over the next two years to bring the NRE Wongawilli Colliery to full production and hopes to ramp up production to around 2.5 million tonnes a year by 2011-12.

Earlier while opening the mine, NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald had praised the Indian company’s investment in Australia.

“Hard coking coal is experiencing an increase in global demand and the Southern Coalfields is the only NSW source of this variety, so the area is set to reap the social and economic benefits of being home to a booming industry,” Macdonald had told reporters.

The company says it has adopted environment-friendly technology and has strong employee participation, with the majority of employees owning shares in it.

Jagatramka, appointed ‘Sydney Ambassador to India’ by the News South Wales government last month, had said: “I came here as a buyer of coal. I ended up buying the colliery and am now a proud Indian-Australian.”

In December 2007, Gujarat NRE had acquired the Elouera Colliery from BHP Billiton and merged it with neighbouring Avondale Colliery to create a single giant mine.

The Indian company’s Illawarra operations now provide work for more than 350 employees and contractors at NRE Wongawilli and its sister mine, NRE No 1 (formerly know as South Bulli Colliery), at Russell Vale north of Wollongong, which was purchased by the Gujarat NRE Group in December 2004.

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