Last Updated: December 1, 2016

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Acland mine dust modelling riddled with problems, expansion risks exceeding air quality limits

23 June 2016

In Queensland’s Land Court, Mr Simon Welchman, the air expert witness for the New Acland Coal Stage 3 mine expansion, an open cut mine that will destroy prime agricultural land, risk precious groundwater and potentially place some of the local community’s health at risk, has agreed there is high risk of the project exceeding air quality standards unless controls are in place.

CEO of EDO Qld, lawyers for Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA) which is one of the 30 objectors in the case, Jo-Anne Bragg said: “It is part of the case for OCAA that even with the company’s new proposed air quality controls for the Stage 3 expansion, dust levels at a number of sensitive receptors, like some people’s houses and properties, will still be on the cusp of exceeding legal air quality limits. This can be clearly seen by looking at the Air Quality Modelling in the Environmental Impact Statement. Our case is that the modelling is riddled with problems and so our clients fear exceedances.”

Ms Bragg said that in Court this week Mr Simon Welchman, air expert for New Acland Coal, responded to at least four matters with respect to the company’s air quality modelling (the modelling was not carried out by Mr Welchman) of the proposed Stage 3 operation put to him by barrister Mr Saul Holt QC for OCAA including

  • 54 days of actual recorded data on airborne dust: The predictive modelling uses actual data on fine dust (airborne PM10) from just 54 days out of a possible 4,015 days or 11 years (about 1 per cent of the time in operation of the current mine). Dr Taylor has said “The monitoring data available in relation to the operations of the earlier stages of the New Acland mine is very limited and completely inadequate to provide any indication of the potential impacts associated with mining operations.”.  Mr Welchman did not agree with that statement.
  • Overburden Area not Included: Mr Welchman agreed that the year of construction of a “30 metre high pile of overburden, 130 hectares, with wind blowing at high levels at the top of it” wasn’t modelled.  (To understand the size that’s about 191 football fields for State of Origin fans);
  • Flaws in Environmental Impact Statement (EIS): Mr Welchman identified and had to correct numerous flaws in tables predicting dust pollution at sensitive receptors such as residential houses in the company’s Environmental Impact Statement. Those flaws were not Mr Welchman’s work. Ms Bragg said these flaws were overlooked by the Coordinator General in assessments and further highlight the importance of community objections in the Land Court;
  • Better practices: Mr Welchman also conceded he would have chosen different practices to some of the dust modelling practices used by others in the EIS.

“Community objectors, some of whom had the opportunity to cross examine Mr Welchman in Court today like local resident Angela Mason, are fed up with noise and air pollution from the existing mine and fear coal dust levels will increase as the project expands and in many cases moves closer to their homes. The court has heard that their complaints about coal dust and noise levels and requests for data have fallen on deaf ears for the past decade. They have made more than 100 complaints to the mining company and 30 to the state environment department during this period,” Ms Bragg said.

“Our case for OCAA is that the lack of sufficient actually monitored air quality data means no one really knows, from a testing perspective, a reliable data set or base for air quality modelling for the project because the company hasn’t done it.

“What we do know is that we’re dealing with a real problem with dust already affecting many in the Acland community, from nuisances to washing and housing to the breathing in of fine dust particles and the possible health impacts this creates.

“Given this expansion may operate for over a decade and move closer to people’s homes, and given New Acland Coal and unsatisfactory response to community complaints, it is vital that the potential air quality impacts are closely examined in this case.”

Mr Welchman is expected to finish on the stand on Thursday, to be followed by Dr John Taylor, air quality expert for OCAA.

Future evidence brought by other objectors (not OCAA) will include community health impacts and will likely be heard next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Stay up-to-date with the case via the live feed or receive updates by subscribing here.

BACKGROUND TO CASE

New Hope wants to expand their existing open-cut New Acland Coal mine in Queensland’s Darling Downs and operate for an additional 12 years to 2029. Community group Oakey Coal Action Alliance is acting alongside 30 community objectors in challenging the project.

The Land Court case began on 7 March and, in addition to air quality information, has heard:

  • Over-inflated job figures in the environmental impact statement with their own economic expert Jerome Fahrer correcting job figures from an average of 2,953 jobs pa plummet to approximately 430 in written evidence submitted to court – a mere 15 per cent of the workforce originally predicted. In court, Dr Fahrer upped the figure again to 680 net jobs, which is still less than a quarter of numbers originally claimed by the company.
  • Groundwater modelling faults: NAC’s groundwater modelling expert admitted his confidence was  ‘wavering’ for the predictive capacity of a numerical groundwater model.
  • Royalty Figures: On 7 April it was revealed an estimated $500M in royalties from the expansion would flow to the coal company and a small number of property owners, instead of to the Qld Government meaning financial benefits of the controversial project to taxpayers will be severely limited.
  • Noise: NAC’s noise expert agreed most of the past noise monitoring done by a NAC consultant was unsatisfactory and worthless with respect to determining compliance with existing limits.

This is one of only a few major cases in Queensland to scrutinise the air quality and health impacts of a major mining project and the first case in the State to address particulate pollution matters since State and Federal Environment Ministers agreed to strengthen standards with respect to particulate pollution in December 2015.

A comprehensive MEDIA EXPLAINER is available online <LINK>. We have also released a series of CASE STUDIES on farmers involved in the case <LINK>.