MAC: Mines and Communities

Australian coal mine investigated over dam wall collapse

Published by MAC on 2016-01-13
Source: Statement, ABC News, Sydney Morning Herald (2016-01-13)

Wambo Coal mine in Hunter investigated by Environment Protection Authority over dam wall collapse

Peter Hannam, Environment Editor

The Sydney Morning Herald

13 January 2016

Environmental regulators are demanding coal mining giant Peabody Energy explain how a dam wall at a Hunter Valley mine collapsed amid heavy rain and the company took a week to report the incident.

The miner told the NSW Environment Protection Authority on Monday its staff had only learned of the incident - which involved sediment-laden water breaching the dam - earlier that day, the agency said in a statement.

EPA officers visited the mine, near Warkworth, on Tuesday to carry out inspections, interview workers and take samples for testing.

It is understood workers could not reach the affected wall for several days because of safety reasons. The structure was a temporary holding dam and the sediment was mostly run-up and top soil rather than coal.

"Following recent heavy rainfall in the Hunter Valley there was an unplanned discharge from a sediment control structure dam at Peabody's Wambo mine complex," a spokeswoman for Peabody said in a statement.

During last week's heavy rains in the region, the Bureau of Meteorology issued flood warnings for the area, including the hamlet of Bulga, which abuts several coal mines.

EPA North Director Gary Davey said the agency is yet to determine how much of the mine's material left the dam site. The dam could hold as much as 3 million litres.

"Communities across the Hunter and Mid-North Coast regions have just experienced record rainfall over the last seven days," Mr Davey said. "While this is a factor to consider, the EPA's investigation will also examine how the dam, which was used as a sediment control measure, is managed, maintained and monitored."

The EPA said penalties could range as high as $1 million, depending on the severity of the incident. At this point, the water is considered to be mostly mixed with soil, sand, rocks and grass, with no known toxins.

Still, the dam failure has promoted calls for a clampdown on mines in sensitive regions.

"This shocking pollution incident highlights why the government should prohibit coal mining in good farming areas and in drinking water catchments," Jeremy Buckingham Greens NSW mining spokesperson, said.

"This massive spill follows recent pollution incidents at the Clarence colliery near Lithgow and Russell Vale coal mine near Wollongong and highlights the dangers of coal mining to both the natural environment and human health."

Farmers near the proposed Shenhua Watermark mine on the Liverpool Plains may face similar risks, he said.
Other incidents

Wambo mine was reportedly fined in 2012 and 2015 for incidents involving excessive blast fumes from explosives used in the open-cut operations.

It also has underground mining, with a combined total output of 7.2 million tonnes of saleable coal in 2014, according to the company's website.

The EPA will review the mine's monitoring systems to identify why the company took so long for the wall collapse to be reported.

"The EPA is also concerned that it took nearly a week for mine personnel to discover the problem and report it," Mr Davey said. "[i]n the event of a failure, it is vital that there is an early warning process so that action can be taken quickly and the EPA notified.

"The Hunter River catchment is a sensitive environmental area, relied upon by industry, farmers and the wider community for its freshness and good water quality."


Greens urge EPA to 'throw book' at Hunter miner over dam wall collapse

ABC News

13 January 2016

New South Wales Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham says the state's environmental watchdog should throw the book at the owners of a Hunter Valley mine, after a dam wall collapsed.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has inspected the dam at the Wambo mine site, near Singleton.

The EPA said up to three million litres of water escaped when the dam wall failed after heavy rain hit the region last week.

Mine owner Peabody Energy is facing fines of up to $1 million, and Mr Buckingham said the company should face the full force of the law.

"The Greens believe the EPA should throw the book at this coal miner for this event," he said.

"Enough is enough they can just routinely trash our environment write it into their bottom line of their business plan as the cost of doing business."

The coal mine will be asked to detail what actions it took to monitor the state of a sediment dam.

It took the company several days to notice the incident, but the EPA said it was notified as soon as the collapse was discovered.

EPA director Gary Davey said the fines could be substantial.

"It can be up to $1 million," he said.

"But we would very much need to look at the factors that led to it - whether the failure could have been anticipated, what actions were taken, and obviously the level of environmental harm.

"All of those things will go into determining the appropriate regulatory response that the EPA makes."

Peabody Energy has released a statement about the incident acknowledging there was an 'unplanned discharge from a small temporary sediment control dam' at its Wambo mine complex.

'The dam was inaccessible during the heavy rain event in the Hunter Valley and the EPA was notified of the incident when it came to the attention of mine staff as soon as the area could safely be inspected.

'Peabody is working closely with the EPA to investigate the release.'


EPA investigating incident at Wambo Coal mine

EPA Media release

13 January 2016

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is investigating an incident at the Wambo Coal Mine at Warkworth in the Hunter Valley which resulted in a portion of the dam wall collapsing and, discharging sediment laden rainwater to the environment.

The EPA was informed of the incident on Monday evening after Wambo Coal reported it to the Environment Line.

The company says the dam wall may have collapsed last week but says it only came to the attention of mine staff on Monday.

EPA officers were onsite on Tuesday to carry out an inspection and to interview mine personnel. Samples were also taken for testing.

EPA North Director, Gary Davey said the amount of material that might have left the site from the dam is unknown at this stage.

“Communities across the Hunter and Mid-North Coast regions have just experienced record rainfall over the last seven days. While this is a factor to consider, the EPA’s investigation will also examine how the dam, which was used as a sediment control measure, is managed, maintained and monitored.

“The EPA is also concerned that it took nearly a week for mine personnel to discover the problem and report it. An assessment of the monitoring systems currently in place at the mine will form part of our investigation,” Mr Davey said.

“Wambo Coal, like all environment protection licence holders, has a responsibility to comply with the conditions set out in its licence and to ensure its activities do not cause harm to the environment. It is important that the company has appropriate procedures in place to ensure that its systems and safeguards do not fail. However, in the event of a failure, it is vital that there is an early warning process so that action can be taken quickly and the EPA notified.”

“Failure to meet these requirements can be a breach of environmental legislation and may result in regulatory action from the EPA.

“The Hunter River catchment is a sensitive environmental area, relied upon by industry, farmers and the wider community for its freshness and good water quality.

“The EPA will be carrying out a thorough investigation of the incident and has also requested a full incident report from Wambo Coal.”


Warkworth open-cut dam wall collapses

By Matthew Kelly

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/3667297/second-dam-wall-fails/

15 January 2016

The NSW Environment Protection Authority is investigating the collapse of a second open-cut mine dam wall in the Hunter Valley.

Millions of litres of sediment-laden water escaped when a bund wall partially collapsed at Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley Warkworth mine on January 6.

It follows a similar incident Peabody’s Wambo mine last week, which allowed an estimated 3 million litres of water to spill into the environment.

The company blamed several days of continuous rain for softening the dam wall.

A Rio Tinto spokesman said the collapse had been voluntarily reported to the Environment Protection Authority and Singleton Council on the day of the incident.

“An engineer was sent to inspect the site and confirm there was no risk to motorists,” he said.

“The dam contained runoff water from pre-mining activities and flowed through culverts under Wallaby Scrub Road on to Coal & Allied owned land.”

An EPA spokeswoman said on Friday that the company advised that it had undertaken work to contain the sediment laden water.

“The EPA has requested additional information from Warkworth and will be conducting a site inspection to assess the impact. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the EPA will consider further regulatory action,” she said.

“The EPA has also directed the company to clean-up the site to prevent further mobilisation of sediment, both on and off the site, and clean up the accumulated sediment that has already left the site.”

Lock The Gate's Hunter coordinator Steve Phillips said Hunter coal mines were failing the region’s environment and communities.

“On top of air pollution, loss of biodiversity and agricultural land, and the atrophy of local communities, we can now add major water pollution events,” he said.

“Considering that the coal industry's economic viability into the future is increasingly being called into doubt, the question has to be asked – is it worth it? How does our region benefit from the reign of King Coal?”

He said the state government needed to improve the environmental management.

“What are they doing to ensure we don't see more pollution events?,” he said.

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