In 2011 a NSW Coal Mining Benchmarking Study was commissioned to review coal mining activities in NSW. This report and its recommendations have led to, and informed a range of activities and initiatives that the EPA has undertaken to minimise particulate pollution from coal mines.
Upper Hunter Operation Bust the Dust
During spring 2019, the EPA is undertaking a special operation targeting Hunter Valley coal mines to tackle excessive dust levels.
Operation Bust the Dust involves frequent inspections of mines on hot, dry and windy days, to check that extra controls are in place at the mines to minimise dust.
Coal mines are required to implement procedures to reduce dust from their operations, such as by watering unsealed roads, avoiding dust-generating activities during windy weather and minimising the impact of drilling operations.
Officers are using the latest technology, including drones, to see the source of any dust and if the appropriate controls are in place. If mines are found not to be doing the right thing the EPA will act.
A similar operation was undertaken last Spring and Summer of 2018, called Operation Dust Patrol. During this operation, most mines were found to be compliant with EPA requirements on days they were inspected.
Despite the dry conditions during that period, mine dust emissions were at their lowest since monitoring began in 2012. The EPA is undertaking another operation this year, to continue to focus mines on reducing dust emissions.
One of the key recommendations of the NSW Coal Mining Benchmarking Report was that each mine should carry out a site-specific determination of best management practice to reduce particulate emissions from the mine site.
The EPA worked towards this by undertaking a project to implement a series of pollution reduction programs to all mines across NSW. This project was called Dust Stop, and aimed to:
- ensures that each coal mine implements the most reasonable and feasible particulate control options
- was implemented through a series of pollution reduction programs attached to each coal mine licence
A pollution reduction program is a legally binding instrument that is attached to the environment protection licence issued by the EPA to industries, in this case, coal mines. Copies of each coal mine licence are available on the EPA's public register.
Under Dust Stop, pollution reduction programs were issued to all NSW coal mines throughout 2011 and 2012, and required the mines to
- prepare a report comparing their current operation with international best practice
- report on the practicability of implementing each best practice measure and provide a timetable for implementing suitable measures.
The details that were required in each report were set out in a guideline referred to in the pollution reduction program.
Copies of each report are now available on the mines' websites.
The reports showed various best practice measures were already being used by mines to reduce dust, however, there was more work that could be done, including
- increasing haul road watering
- investigating best practice measures for loading and dumping overburden
- stabilising exposed areas
The reports support the findings in the NSW Coal Mining benchmarking report that wheel-generated dust in the mines is the biggest source of fine dust particles on most mine sites.