The New South Wales (NSW) Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) gave conditional approval for large extensions of two coal mines north-west of Sydney that could aff as much as 31 Mt/a (36 million stpy) of extra coal output.
The PAC said it had approved the expansion of the Moolarben coal project north-east of Mudgee, potentially more than doubling approved annual output from the site's mines to 28 Mt (31 million st) from 12 Mt (13 million st). The partly open-cut expansion, running for 24 years, would have "significant economic benefits," the commission said.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the expansion of the Moolarben Mine, 80 percent owned by YanCoal Australia, will result in 1,534 ha (3,790 acres) of land being cleared, 123 ha (304 acres) of which are deemed to be endangered ecological communities. About 148 known Aboriginal sites are also likely to be impacted, the commission said in its final report.
The report highlighted a natural sandstone feature in the region, known as The Drip, is near stage one of the mine approved by the previous Labor government. "The commission understands the tenure of The Drip will need to be appropriately secured prior to any expansion of mining into the areas approved" in the expansion, it said.
The other mine extension to win approval was Rio Tinto's Bengalla Mine Continuation project, 4 km (2.5 miles) west of Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley. The new project will result in an additional 15 Mt/a (16.5 million stpy) of coal for 24 years, the commission said.
The commission cited benefits outlined by Rio Tinto including state tax royalties of $778 million, federal royalties of $509 million and as many as 900 jobs.
"The residual impacts of the project cover a wide spectrum, but relatively few of them are of major concern," the commission said.
The two extension approvals follow nod from the commission for the new Shenhua Watermark coal mine near the Liverpool Plains. That mine has a total capacity of 268 Mt (295 million st).
Greens mining spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said the NSW government had approved about 1.3 Gt (1.4 billion st) of new coal mine capacity since last September.