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Environment Protection Authority

Coal spill into World Heritage area costs Clarence Colliery more than $3million

Media release: 14 July 2017

The Land and Environment Court today convicted Clarence Colliery Pty Ltd of two offences and imposed financial penalties totalling $1,050,000 after more than 2,300 tonnes of coal material escaped from a coal storage area on 2 July 2015, causing significant impacts on the Wollangambe River and the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park.

Clarence Colliery was prosecuted by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for negligently causing the escape of coal material in a manner that harmed the environment and was prosecuted by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) for damaging the National Park. The first charged incurred a $720,000 penalty, the second a $330,000 penalty.

EPA Chair and CEO Barry Buffier said the EPA was pleased with the outcome, a record fine for the EPA as the largest penalty for a single prosecution. The total amount is expected to be nearly $1.5 million with legal and investigation costs factored in.

“The penalty is on top of more than 12 months’ work and $2 million Clarence Colliery paid to clean up the impacts of the incident,” Mr Buffier said.

“Clarence Colliery’s management of the storage area was negligent, resulting in significant impacts to the neighbouring environment. Clearly this did not meet the expectations of the EPA or the community and this is demonstrated by today’s judgement.

“The EPA issued clean-up notices and oversaw a comprehensive clean-up of the coal material which involved 44 inspections and over 600 helicopter trips to remove 214 tonnes of coal material from the river.

“The EPA required Clarence Colliery to cease all activities and transfer coal slurry to an alternative facility to prevent a reoccurrence of this type of incident. The Colliery said it will no longer use the storage area to store coal slurry.

“Following clean-up, at the sample locations only trace amounts of coal remain in the environment and river, and areas that were impacted are showing signs of recovery.”

Mr Buffier said the court had ordered the company to fund five projects, proposed by the EPA and OEH, which will benefit the environment around Lithgow and conservation efforts within the Blue Mountains National Park.

Office of Environment and Heritage Chief Executive Anthony Lean said national parks were declared for their exceptional natural values and must be protected for future generations.

“This penalty sends a clear message to the community that companies unlawfully causing damage to a park will pay a high price for their actions,” Mr Lean said.

In delivering the judgement, Justice Robson said: “I find that Clarence Colliery’s conduct caused both substantial actual harm and likely environmental harm and that the areas adversely affected were areas of high environmental and conservation value which were specifically preserved and clearly intended to be relatively free of pollution”. 

Key statistics

 

  • The total volume of material that escaped the emplacement area was 2,331 tonnes. A portion of the coal fines slurry made its way into the Wollangambe River which is within the World Heritage Area. 
  • Approximately 10.3 km of the Wollangambe River was impacted by coal fines, with the heaviest impact being in the first 5.35 km.
  • The incident took 51 weeks to clean up. In the first six months, clean-up operations ran six to seven days per week before dropping to five days a week. In total 14,857 hours was spent by 20 rotating team members that averaged nine hours per day.
  • Over 600 helicopter trips were undertaken to remove the 214 tonnes of coal material from the River.
  • The first 5.35 km of the river was required to be cleaned twice.
  • Clean up operations cost Clarence Colliery more than $2,000,000. 
  • A total of 44 inspections were undertaken by the EPA and 15 by Office of Environment and Heritage.
  • Throughout the course of the clean-up and investigation, the EPA issued two clean up notices. 
  • A Pollution Reduction Program was issued for a three-year monitoring program to assess water quality, sediment characteristics, macroinvertebrates and fish following the incident.

 

Project details 
Five projects will each receive $210,000 in funding from the penalty.

 

  1. Stabilisation of tracks in the Newnes Plateau and Wollangambe/Mt Wilson area (NPWS): Stabilisation, drainage and rehabilitation works of walking tracks. The works aim to reduce erosion and improve access to the Wollangambe canyons, Deep Pass and Glow Worm Tunnel.  This project will be managed over a two-year period by the Blue Mountains NPWS Walking Track Team. 
  2. Enhancing the survival of the endangered Blue Mountains Water Skink (OEH): The Blue Mountains Water Skink is a rare and endangered species found only in the Blue Mountains and Newnes Plateau. The skink inhabits only threatened Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone. This project will survey swamps in this National Park to identify skink habitat. This will assist the long term protection of the skinks habitat. 
  3. Farmers Creek Catchment – Weed control and native vegetation (Lithgow Council): Farmers Creek flows through the town of Lithgow. Major sections of the creek are largely unmanaged and infested with weeds. The Creek has potential as a recreation and environmental asset for the city and the weed control and native vegetation works will help to achieve this. This is part of a larger project to enhance the creek’s recreational, environmental and scenic values.
  4. Installation of a new toilet at Deep Pass camping area (NPWS): The new toilet facilities will benefit the growing numbers of visitors to this walk in camping area as well as reducing the risk of water pollution in this sensitive area at the headwaters of the catchment. It will involve the decommissioning and removal of old composting toilet and installation of a new, 'fly in -fly out' toilet with sealed tanks. 
  5. Weed control in Wollangambe Catchment: The project will involve the control of environmental weeds including Pampas Grass in the Wollangambe catchment. The proposed funding will facilitate a co-ordinated approach across multiple tenures (including Blue Mountains National Park), and aim to achieve eradication over a three to four-year period.

 

Contact: EPA public affairs

Page last updated: 14 July 2017