Dartbrook decision IPC - EDO NSW

Emissions a factor in Dartbrook extension refusal

The Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has ruled that the Dartbrook underground mine near Aberdeen in the Upper Hunter valley can re-open. However, the IPC decided against approving a five-year extension, which means that the mine can only operate until 2022 - a decision that may affect the overall financial viability of the project.

16 August 2019

EDO NSW had assisted the Friends of the Upper Hunter in making a submission to the IPC in relation to Dartbrook in light of the Rocky Hill decision. 

The Commission’s recently published decision shows that reasons for the refusal to extend the life of the existing approval include a failure to consider greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions adequately. This appears to be the first time the IPC has refused a coal mine extension in part because of climate change considerations.

The mine was originally approved in 1991 and has been in care and maintenance since 2006. In their decision the IPC said the mine can recommence operations using bord-and-pillar methods, not the usual longwall methods, and extract six million tonnes of coal until December 2022.

Significantly, the IPC’s determination to refuse the 5 year extension found that it was not in the public interest for reasons including failure of the proponent to consider GHG emissions and their impacts, relevantly stating:

[243]

  • The impacts relating to air quality, noise, subsidence, groundwater and GHG emissions have not been fully considered in the application…
  • The information provided up to this point regarding GHG emissions related impacts and the appropriateness of the methodology for estimating the social and economic costs of the projected emissions is unsatisfactory;
  • The net present value of the cost of GHG emission impacts from the Applications over its 10-year life span have not been considered. Further there has not been any proposal to minimise, mitigate or offset these impacts…
  • The timing of information supplied in relation to GHG emissions was unsatisfactory. GHG emissions were dealt with in the [Air Quality Impact Assessment] and information on Scope 3 emissions was only provided after the Public Meeting has been held which deprived the public and stakeholders of an opportunity to comment at an earlier stage of the proceedings…
  • A 5 year extension of the Project to 2027 would not be in accordance with ESD principles, in particular the precautionary principle as there is insufficient information available to the Commission to enable a comprehensive and information consideration of the impacts and risks inherent in a 5 year extension…
  • The 5 year extension would not be in accordance with the principle of inter-generational equity given the lack of rigorous assessment of air quality impacts, GHG emissions, noise impacts and social impacts should the full operations approved under DA 231-7-2000 commence.

The IPC’s consideration of GHG emissions is set out in [128] to [134] of the Decision.  At [129] the IPC referred to the Rocky Hill Decision and noted that “the decision confirmed that indirect, downstream GHG emissions are a relevant consideration to take into account in determining applications for activities involving fossil fuel extraction.” 

At [132] the IPC stated that “in considering GHG emissions the Application relies heavily on the existing Project Approval from 1991 that was determined within the regulatory framework that existed at that time and finds that the treatment of GHG emissions in the proposed Modification is out of step with contemporary international and domestic policy, the current regulatory environment for GHG emissions and community expectations.”