The Olive Downs mine is located near Moranbah, Central Queensland.
The Olive Downs mine is located near Moranbah, Central Queensland.

Fears $1bn CQ mega mine could leave behind huge mine pits

A conservation group says the government has the power to revoke a mining licence for a $1 billion Central Queensland mega mine after serious concerns about environmental impacts were raised.

ABC Investigations reported it had obtained Right to Information documents which show the Department of Environment and Science raised concerns behind the scenes about the Olive Downs project’s impact on surrounding waterways.

Located southeast of Moranbah in the Bowen Basin, the mine was granted the last of the major approvals required to start construction during last year’s Queensland state election campaign.

But RTI documents reveal the department repeatedly flagged concerns with the then Coordinator-General during the environmental approval process in 2018 and 2019 about the serious risks of leaving large mine pits — also known as “voids” — on the Isaac River flood plain after the mine shuts down.

It also warned a sufficient assessment had not been completed into the ongoing impacts of this on the groundwater, the nearby Isaac River and flood plain.

The Daily Mercury contacted mine owner Pembroke Resources for comment, but it declined.

DES approved the environmental authority for Olive Downs with the co-ordinator-general‘s conditions after additional information was provided and considered.

The Olive Downs project required separate and extensive approvals from both the state and federal government agencies.

Environmentalists have expressed concerns about the rehabilitation of the proposed site for the Olive Downs coal mine.
Environmentalists have expressed concerns about the rehabilitation of the proposed site for the Olive Downs coal mine.

The granting of the mining leases for Olive Downs in late 2020 followed more than four years of detailed environmental, technical and engineering work including wide consultation with a diverse range of stakeholders.

The mine will engage in more modern progressive rehabilitation reducing the impact of workings throughout the life of the mine and the final voids will be engineered to protect surrounding areas.

Queensland introduced new laws to ban mining companies from leaving mine pits after operations close.

But Pembroke is exempt from this because they began their environmental applications before the laws came into effect in November 2019.

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Mackay Conservation Group co-ordinator Peter McCallum said Pembroke’s plan for Olive Downs was a “big concern”.

“It is not sustainable to leave any large voids,” Mr McCallum said.

“There’s also the potential for contamination in downstream water systems after the mining is completed and during the operation.

“It’s clear that the Coordinator-General’s office was not concerned about the serious problems identified by DES.

“The government could revoke the mining licence if they wish, but it could be costly.”

Mackay Conservation Group coordinator Peter McCallum.
Mackay Conservation Group coordinator Peter McCallum.

The Daily Mercury contacted DES for comment, but did not receive a response by deadline.

Breeding property Sunland Cattle Co has confirmed it is still pushing ahead with its legal challenge against the Olive Downs project.

The matter has been heard in the Supreme Court of Queensland, with a judgment delivery date not yet finalised.

Sunland Cattle Co is concerned about the impact of the mine on water supply for nearby property owners.

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