The Boggabri coal mine in Australia has escaped prosecution despite breaching its water licence between 2019 and 2022.
Environmental group Lock the Gate Alliance alerted the state water law enforcement body, Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR), of the breach in 2021.
The mine is operated by a Japanese petroleum and coal mining company, Idemitsu. The company drained 1,052 megalitres of water, equivalent to 500 Olympic pools, between 2019 and 2022, the NRAR estimated. However, Lock the Gate estimates the figure to be significantly higher, at around 4,500 megalitres.
The NRAR confirmed that Idemitsu acted unlawfully; however, there was no legal action. NRAR director of investigations and enforcement Lisa Stockley defended the decision, saying that the company proceeded to obtain a licence once the NRAR got involved, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. Lock the Gate, however, complains that the failure to prosecute was not in line with the community’s expectations.
The NRAR negotiated an enforceable undertaking with the company.
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The company escaped legal liability but will pay $54,000 (A$79,000) for the water it took in breach of the licence and $16,000 to cover the NRAR’s investigation and monitoring costs. The agreement also requires the company to fit new water meters, contribute $10,000 to a community water project and consult with local communities before using resources.
The NRAR investigation comes two years after Whitehaven Coal, a company with a joint venture with Idemitsu, was prosecuted for a similar offence and was liable to pay $200,000 in the Land and Environment Court.
Another incident involving an out-of-court settlement with a coal mine was recently reported. Australia-based mining company South32 was accused of draining drinking water to the Dendrobium coal mine in New South Wales.
The company drained five megalitres or two Olympic swimming pools worth of water from the catchment area each day between 2018 and 2023 without a permit. The NRAR issued a fine of $2.9m along with other monitoring measures.