Coal spill into World Heritage area costs Clarence Colliery more than $3 million
In our last edition, we told you about revised licence conditions on Clarence Colliery to improve the health of the Wollangambe River, in the world heritage listed Blue Mountains. Since then, the Land and Environment Court has convicted Clarence Colliery of two offences and imposed financial penalties totalling $1,050,000 - the single largest fine following prosecution by the EPA.
An EPA Officer examining coal fines
With legal and investigation costs, and Court-imposed environmental improvement programs in Lithgow and the Blue Mountains National Park factored in, the total costs to the company amount to over $3 million. The offences relate to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 - Section 116 Leaks, spillages and other escapes, and the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 - Section 156A Offence of damaging reserved land.
This was one of the EPA’s largest investigations and involved staff from the EPA, the Office of Environment and Heritage and National Parks and Wildlife collaborating and stepping outside what usually makes up a normal work day. From investigators to rangers, lab technicians to scientific experts, they used helicopters to assess the damage on inaccessible areas, trekked into the bush to undertake detailed investigations and went canyoning to gather samples.
Chair & CEO Barry Buffier said the EPA was pleased with the fine and proud of the efforts of staff.
“After two years work both investigating and overseeing the clean up, this finding is especially pleasing. However, the story and good work doesn’t stop here,” Mr Buffier said.
“Part of the Court’s judgement was to award five local projects $210,000 each in funding to continue protecting the Blue Mountains National Park and surrounding area.”
The projects include:
- Stabilising tracks in the Newnes Plateau and Wollangambe/Mt Wilson area- National Parks and Wildlife Service
- Enhancing the survival of the endangered Blue Mountains Water Skink- The Office of Environment and Heritage
- Weed control and native vegetation at Farmers Creek Catchment- Lithgow Council
- Installation of a new toilet at Deep Pass camping area- National Parks and Wildlife Service
- Weed control in the Wollangambe Catchment
For more information on the projects, visit the EPA’s announcement on the finding.
- A total of 2,331 tonnes of material escaped the mine emplacement area. A portion of the coal fines slurry made its way into the Wollangambe River which is within the World Heritage Area.
- Approximately 10.3 km of the Wollangambe River was impacted by coal fines, with the heaviest impact being in the first 5.35 km.
- The incident took 51 weeks to clean up, several days a week in the first six months. In total 14,857 hours was spent by 20 rotating team members that averaged nine hours per day.
- Over 600 helicopter trips were undertaken to remove the 214 tonnes of coal material from the River.
- The first 5.35 km of the river was required to be cleaned twice.
- Clean up operations cost Clarence Colliery more than $2,000,000.
- 44 inspections were undertaken by the EPA and 15 by Office of Environment and Heritage.
A Pollution Reduction Program was issued for a three-year monitoring program to assess water quality, sediment characteristics, macroinvertebrates and fish following the incident.