Groups mount challenge over ‘reckless’ new coal mine

Tracey Ferrier |

Environmentalists are gearing up to fight Whitehaven’s new Queensland coal mine.
Environmentalists are gearing up to fight Whitehaven’s new Queensland coal mine.

Conservation groups are going to court in a bid to derail a new Queensland coalmine that will aggravate global warming for at least 30 years.

The Australian Conservation Foundation and Mackay Conservation Group are seeking to convince the Queensland Land Court that Whitehaven Coal’s proposed mine will be a reckless contributor to climate change.

Whitehaven is pushing ahead with its proposed Winchester South thermal and metallurgical coalmine, in central Queensland’s Bowen Basin.

Every year, for 30 years, the mine will produce up to 17 million tonnes of the fossil fuel for the international market.

The conservation groups warn the mine will generate at least 583 million tonnes of climate pollution over its life – more than the whole of Australia produced in 2022.

They also say it will destroy at least 2000 hectares of wildlife habitat used by endangered and threatened species including koalas and greater gliders, and will have unacceptable impacts on water resources.

ACF chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy says Whitehaven has a history of breaching  environmental regulations and a record of drastically underestimating emissions from its coalmines.

Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly O'Shanassy
Kelly O’Shanassy accuses Whitehaven of underestimating emissions from its coalmines. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

“At its Maules Creek coal mine, reported emissions were four times what Whitehaven estimated in its documentation when seeking government approval. 

“At the Narrabri coal mine, Whitehaven’s actual emissions were more than twice what it officially estimated.”

The Mackay Conservation Group’s climate campaigner says coal has to stay in the ground to protect people and the environment from the worst effects of climate change.

“There’s no amount of money that will be able to restore the damage this mine will do to our groundwater, the reef or the ongoing negative impact it will have on our region,” Imogen Lindenberg said.

aerial photo of the Maules Creek coal mine
Operations at the Maules Creek coalmine have been hampered by years of protests and legal action. (HANDOUT/GREENPEACE)

The Environmental Defenders Office will represent the two groups in court. A hearing date is yet to be set.

The Queensland government gave the project the green light earlier this year but it still needs federal approval.

A win in court will not necessarily change the Queensland government’s position, with Land Court rulings coming in the form of recommendations to key decision makers.

But Queensland authorities have historically acted in accordance with Land Court recommendations.

Whitehaven Coal says the mine will deliver significant benefits for Queensland and its international trading partners.

It says it has worked hard to develop a final design that seeks to avoid, minimise or offset environmental and other impacts.

And it points to a greenhouse gas management and abatement plan that outlines proposed measures to minimise and avoid scope one and two emissions.

However, that won’t cover emissions that are generated when coal from the mine is burnt overseas.