Rocglen Coal Project, Wean Rd, Gunnedah, NSW, Australia is the project that will be used in this paper to analyze its environmental impact. The analysis will help to understand the criteria of viability assessment of licensing this given project used by environmental management authorities in Australia. This paper provides a deep understanding of the applied procedures and takes into consideration the impact of the project on the environment.
In order to achieve this objective the first part of this paper describes the Rocglen Coal Project. The aim of the description is to provide detailed information about the project in terms of its history, the stakeholders affected by the project as well as to outline how the project is affecting them. The second part of the essay presents the analysis of the environmental impact of the project based on the description provided in the first part of this paper.
Description of the project.
Nature and scope of development
The Rocglen Coal project is also known as the Belmont Coal Project. This mine is situated about 23 km south-east of Boggabri and 25km north of Gunnedah. The project was approved by the minister of planning in Australia on April 15th 2008 and currently is managed by Whitehaven Coal Mining Company Limited. The project intends to use open cut mining method in its operations.
The site of this project includes the area inside the mine as well as the area around the mine where the mining associated activities are carried out. The site of this project covers an area which is roughly 460 hectares. The mine is located in the county of Nanderwar and is under the supervision of the local government.
The land where the project is located is agricultural protected land. In order for the mining activities to begin on this land special permission has to be obtained under the development consent. All land adjoined to the coal project area is protected as agricultural land. The Vickery State Forest is the only exception in the area since this land is protected as forest land. The description of the project’s site and its adjoining lands can be found within the Gunnedah Local Environment Plan of 1998.
The land around the mine and its adjoining lands are owned by Whitehaven. Whitehaven owns all land in Belah, Yarrari, Brentry, Roseberry, and Stratford all which are located within the boundaries of the project’s site. The remaining properties within the area of the project are owned privately. Project managers of Rocglen Coal have been attempting to persuade private landholders to sell their land to the company in order to widen project’s area and make the mining project a success. The forest lands which are adjacent to the project’s site are Crown Lands. All the other remaining land surrounding the mine is considered a public reserve.
Most of the land of the site project is used for the open cut coal mining and other mining-related activities of the Rocglen Coal project, which is currently operating under registration PA06-0198. On the other hand, the northern part of the project’s site which is located outside the ML 1620 is used for various traditional agricultural activities involving crop cultivation as well as livestock grazing. Because of the multiple nature-exploitative activities carried out on the site, it is clear that its nature has been troubled by land clearance, coal mining, and long-run agricultural production activities. Continuous existence of such intrusions has resulted in the tremendous reduction of vegetation which now exists in the form of small scattered locations, individual trees, and isolated stands.
The area of the Vickery State Forest which is adjacent to the west part of the site of the project has been declared a community conservation location under the governance of the local government. According to NWS State Forests, numerous activities are performed in Vickery forest including fire protection, general management, and timber harvesting.
Roughly 3.5 km to the east of the project’s site there is a CCA Zone 2 Kelvin. In accordance to the Brigalow and Nandewar Community Conservation Area Act 2005 this land was earlier known as the Kelvin State Forest. It was protected in accordance to the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and was located within the aboriginal area. The Whitehaven Regional Biodiversity Offset Strategy stipulates for the continuous protection of roughly 1,500 hectares of the land owned by Whitehaven on the eastern part of the project’s site.
Rocglen Coal project site is situated away from urban setting and the population of this area is relatively low. Approximately 4 km away from the external boundaries of the site there are 12 residences located within the rural property of the project. However, it is important to note that six out of these residences are owned by Whitehaven. They, therefore, are also related to the project. Further, privately owned Roseberry properties also became a part of the project after the agreement was signed between the Whitehaven and the landholder. The agreement specifies the conditions of land exploitation and outlines formal commitment of Whitehaven to consults the owner of the land in relation to important issues. The consultations are to be held at least once in every three months. The aim of these consultations is to evaluate whether the owner of the property is fully satisfied with the mining activities of Whitehaven as well as to investigate and respond to various issues that arise with the course of time (Fernandes, 2000).
The coal mining project is situated in a location that is cut off from other extractive and mining activities. The only operational mine near the Rocglen is known as the Tarrawonga which is located 15km away. Other operational mines within this area are being rehabilitated or have been closed. These include Cunnedah Colliery and Vickery Mine.
The coal mine is located in the valley of Namoi River which lies between temperate and tropical climatic zones. It is also located within the subtropical belts. The climate within the location of the mine is usually influenced by mountain range of CCA Zone 2 Kelvin and by the Bull Mountains which are located in the west part of the site. Rainfall within the site is usually evenly distributed during the year, although warmer months starting from February to November are usually characterized by higher moisture levels if compared to other months of the year (Daniel, Tsoulfas, Pappis & Rachaniotis, 2004).
Background and history of the development
The Rocglen Coal Project which was previously known as the Belmont Coal Project, is the mine situated about 23 km south-east of Boggabri and 25 km north of Gunnedah. The development of this coal mining project is expected to take approximately 7 to 10 years. The production rate is expected to be around 1.5 metric tons of coal per anum. The project will be characterized by certain features and activities. First, the mining will be preformed using the open cuts method on an area of roughly 91 hectares. Secondly, crushing, screening as well as stockpiling of the coal will be carried out on the project’s site. Thirdly, the activities will include the construction/installation of the project infrastructures and other services e.g. water management facilities, power supply structures and internal road access. Fourthly, upgrading of the transport system by opening up the roads that were previously closed will be carried out on the site. There will also be a construction of roads to establish a transport route for the coal. The transportation of the mined coal through the in-built road from the coal mining site to the Shannon Harbour road will pass through the Stratford and Brentry properties.
The next activity will involve back loading of fine as well as coarse discards from coal handling and preparation plant Whitehaven to the various open cut mines voids through the same transport route that was developed. The final activity will entail treatment/rehabilitation of the locations of disturbances after the project is completed. The project is to be divided into two stages: the construction, also known as development stage, and the production stage.
The major stakeholders who are going to be affected by this project are those people living around the coal mining site. They will be affected directly or indirectly by the activities of the project. Some people will be misplaced because of the coal mining activities since some of the project’s land is privately owned. The major stakeholder of the project is Whitehaven. It is the owner of the larger part of the land in which the project site is going to be situated. It is also the brain of this entire project. Therefore, it can be regarded as the major stakeholder of the project.
On the other hand, the residents both east and west of the project are also major stakeholders because they are directly affected by the mining activity. The changes in weather patterns, temperatures, dust, and excessive heat are some of the environmental issues that these residents will be affected by during the entire period of the project (Sands, 1989).
The local government is another major stakeholder of the project. It is mandated by the law to ensure that the mining rules are adhered to during the application of mining license as well as during the entire mining process. Local authorities are supposed to ensure that the mining activities do not have a negative environmental impact on the region. This is done by carrying out routine assessment of the project to evaluate how various produced environmental pollutants are being managed. It will also determine the viability of the project in terms of the management and adherence to various mining guidelines. Finally, it will oversee the issue of land negotiations concerning the public reserved land affected by the coal mining project (Hitzschky & Silviera, 2009).
The other stakeholder of the project is the forest department which is concerned with protection of the forest due to the various functions that it plays in conservation of the environment. The project site will include the forest land, which means that the forest protection body will be concerned with the progress of the project. The body will negotiate with Whitehaven to develop a framework ensuring that mining activities have no negative impact on the forest area, which has a substantial influence on the type of climate within this area.
The main issues faced by project’s management will be wastage management strategies, compensation for land use, dust management and other environmental related issues. The management of the project has to ensure that the negotiations concerning the usage of the land are fair in terms of adequate compensation of private land owners to avoid conflicts or lawsuits that may delay the implementation of the project.
It is up to the project management to ensure that all the legislations relating to air, water waste management, noise management, and employee relations among other environment related laws and policies are adhered to. This will help to license the processes of the mining project. The mining laws should be adhered to because this business is very complicated and requires adherence to various mining guidelines that are in place (Peche & Rodriguez, 2009).
Finally, the community around the project site is an important stakeholder, whose interests must be protected. The project site is going to occupy a substantial part of the rich cultural heritage sites. Therefore, the communities will be active in defending their cultural heritage sites e.g. the European heritage site, which is located within the land meant for the coal mining project. There is a need to involve the communities by educating them on the benefits that they are going to receive from the project. They should also be assured that their social and cultural interests will be taken into account in order to avoid resistance which may delay the process of implementing the coal mining project.
The role of stakeholders and their interest in the project
Various stakeholders who are affected by this coal mining project have different roles and interests in this project. The success and failure of the project depends on the development of a plan that is aimed at accommodating the interests of these stakeholders. It is important to understand the role of each stakeholder in the project in order to understand their interest in it. When one has a better understanding of the roles and interests of the various stakeholders a good plan integrating the interests of the stakeholders and the goals and objectives of the company can be developed.
Whitehaven Company limited, who is the major stakeholder of the project, has the role to ensure that the mining activities take place according to the various mining rules that govern mining activities in the region. The company is concerned with the mining of the coal, transportation of the coal, and implementation of the various environment management issues. The interest of the company in the project is to maximize interest from the coal mining activities.
The communities around the project site are other major stakeholders of the Roclgen project. The role of these communities is to provide the land needed for mining of coal. They are also expected to provide skilled and unskilled labor for mining activities to take place. The interests of the communities around the project site are different: some communities are interested in ensuring that their cultural heritage sites are protected, while others are interested in the compensation that they are going to receive by giving away their agricultural land.
Finally, the local area government is another major stakeholder. Its role is to act as a mediator between communities, individuals, and the company on various issues arising during the negotiations and mining activities of the company. Local government will act as the law and policy enforcer during the entire period of the project.
Similarities and differences of the interests
The interests of the government and those of the community are the same in the sense that both are concerned with mutual benefits of the project to both the company and its surrounding environment. On the other hand, the company is concerned with maximizing profit from its mining activities by all means possible. Majority of the stakeholders are in support of the project, though some are opposing its development. Those who believe in traditional ways of doing things strongly oppose the project. Conversely, those who are enlightened about the various benefits that they are going to get are in full support of the implementation of the entire project.
Major issues of contention
The important contentious issue relating to this project is management of dust and various wastes that will be produced. If not well managed these wastes may cause pollution of water in river Namori. Pollution of water by chemical waste and dust produced by the mine may present a health hazard to the people around the site. Therefore, people are concerned with how the wastes from the coal mining activities will be managed. People are worried about the issue because many mining companies are being socially irresponsible by throwing they wastes in water bodies or on private land. Therefore, there is need to come up with a framework on how to manage wastes from the project to avoid health related complications that may arise due to poor waste management mechanism.
Another issue arising form this project is the convincing of people around the project site to give up their agricultural land for the purpose of mining activities. They will be opposed to the move because they have been using the land of years to earn a living. Allowing implementation of the project means the loss of a source of income for people whose land will be affected by the mining activity. Moreover, for the entire life of the project its mining activities will affect weather conditions of the area making it unfavorable for agricultural activities (Lenzen, Murray, Korte & Dey, 2003).
Therefore, it is important for the affected stakeholders to come up with a framework for addressing these issues to avoid resistance or failure of the implementation of the project plan. Adequate dialogue on the issue will help to come up with an agreement ensuring that all the parties involved are fully satisfied.
Analysis of the project.
The analysis of the project involves identifying the measures that have been put in place to address various issues discussed above in the paper. These issues include water pollution, noise reduction, air quality maintenance, social and economic benefits of the project to the surrounding community, etc. The analysis will be based on various environmental laws and regulations that have been enforced by the local government to manage various mining activities. If the project meets the criteria stipulated in the law, it will be worthy to permit the company to carry on with its operations.
It is crucial to ensure that necessary measures are put in place to manage air pollutants on the mining site. This is because the quality of air that people breath around the mining site is very important to be taken care of by. In order to get licensed the Whitehaven mining company must demonstrate its ability to manage various air pollutants. Failure to ensure that the air is clean may result in various breathing related illnesses (Weiss, 1999).
To meet this requirement company’s management together with environment assessment body has put in place various measures to ensure that dust that is produced during mining activities is contained and does not affect people within and around the site. Water is one of the measures being used to ensure that the dust produced by the mine stays within acceptable ranges.
Cleanness of water is another important environmental component that the Whitehaven company has to take care of. There should be mechanism in place to handle the water coming from the mines as well as the water coming from the coal extraction plant. The coal mines will likely produce a lot of water underground, therefore, there is a need to come up with plans of how this water will be used on the project site. Further, water that is used within the extraction plant should be purified before it is directed to River Namoni.
In order to ensure that the water from the mines is well handled, the company management has come up with a plan of using it to deal with the dust. This will help in reducing the impact of dust on the surrounding environment. Further, the company is planning to develop water purification plan primary role of which is to ensure that the water directed from the extraction plant to River Nimano is adequately purified. This is done with an aim to protect people and animals using that water ecosystem from diseases and death (Wilson, 1998).
Noise management mechanism
Noise is one of the pollutants of the environment. It affects people’s ability to concentrate and in some cases, if the levels of noise are too high, may result to ear related problems. The Rocglen coal mining project is likely to produce noise pollutants. Given that the method of mining applied is open cut mining, it is likely that the levels of noise within the project site as well as within its environment will be very high (Holder, 2004). The noise will be coming from heavy machineries used for mining and transportation purposes. This noise, therefore, will negatively affect people around unless managed in a proper way. The group which is more likely to be affected by this noise is school children and babies.
The noise from the project may affect the area of 3 square km around the site. This means that residents of the project’s site will all be affected by noise. In order to contain the noise within acceptable limits the management has planned to purchase silencers to contain the huge noise produced by various machines and equipments. Based on this plan it is believed that the Whitehaven Company management will meet the noise management criterion which has been laid down by the environment management body of the county of Nanderwar.
In most mine areas there is high level of soil erosion due to poor management of mines after mining process is finished. This presents a big threat to the surrounding communities because this erosion may result into landslides which are a great threat to both: properties and life. Many mining companies are socially irresponsible since they leave mines open. Therefore, there is a need for companies to ensure that the mining activities do not have a negative impact on soil..
The issue of soil management in this project is a major concern for many stakeholders. The company soil management plan involves transporting the waste after extractions of the coal back to the open mines. This allows to take care of the soil that was used for mining activities. This implies that the company has met the conditions for soil management as stipulated in soil management guidelines.
Flora and fauna
The project is going to affect living organisms inhabiting it surrounding area. This is a major issue of concern for flora and fauna management bodies. There are many species of plants found in the surrounding Vickery State Forest that will be affected by the project. This means that there will be loss of home for numerous creatures that live within that area as well as there will be a loss of various plant species.
The management of the coal mining project have addressed this concern by coming up with the plan of replanting various species of plants after the closure of the project. This will help in restoration of the various plant species which existed within the area where the mining activities took place.
Social and economic benefits
One of the criterions used to assess whether a given project is licensed is the amount of benefits it will give to the surrounding community in compensation for the various negative consequences of the mining activities. The project should be able to give a number of benefits that can outweigh its negative impact. Mining activities are likely to pollute the air, water, lead to a loss of land, and loss of livelihood for many people. Therefore, it is important to weigh the costs and benefits of the project to the surrounding communities (Shepherd & Ortolano, 1996).
In the case of Rocglen cole mining project it will have social as well as economic benefits to people of this region. It will be a source of employment to thousands of people within the region: both skilled and unskilled. The project will also help improve the road network within the region as the company will be forced to develop a good road network to aid in transportation of the coal to the nearest harbor. Another benefit of the project will be an increase in water supply for the residents of the site of the project (Jay, Jones, Slinn & Wood, 2007). The company will be forced to develop water pumping facilities because water is an important component of the mining process. Finally, due to increased level of employment within the area the standards of living of the surrounding communities will be improved. The project will help in reducing the levels of crime within this area as well.
In order for the Whitehaven company to start its mining activities it needs to acquire consent from the local area government even if it has fulfilled all criteria for environment management and impact assessment. The environment management authority has to approve that the project has met all the required conditions for it to be licensed.
The project development can be categorized as state significant development. The licensing has been done by the state minister concerned with mining activities. The application of Whitehaven Company to extend its mining activities can be viewed as state significant development. The coal mining project can be regarded as a government project.
The public should be involved in the development of this mining project as well. They are the main stakeholders of the project. They are the source of human capital and land needed for the mining activities to take place. The members of the public must be involved in the land acquisition process. The company should first educate the members of the public about the importance of mining activities both for the surrounding communities as well as for the entire state. Those who give their land for mining activities should be fully compensated. In order for one to participate in the project approval he/she should be among the people directly affected by the project.
The legislations related to the management of the environment are contained within the Forest, Land and Water Management Act of 1998. This legislation provides the guidelines in relation to management of the forest. The legislations are aimed at ensuring that water and land resources are protected and used within certain limits to avoid pollution which may result from negative human activities. Whitehaven Company limited has to ensure that it complies with this piece of legislation to avoid legal suits that may lead to closure of the project.
The project has met all environment assessment criteria for licensing. The management of the project has demonstrated that it has implemented measures to deal with various environmental threats that are posed by the project. It has implemented waste management mechanisms and other mechanisms to deal with environmental issues. The benefits of the project exceed the losses that the surrounding environment will suffer from the mining activities.
It is possible to conclude from the above analysis that the company has proved its commitment to deal with various issues of contention. It has also put in place necessary measures of dealing with various environmental issues arising from the mining activities. Therefore, having complied with the environment protection laws and policies, the company should be licensed to commence its mining activities.