Mining and the Community

Assessing the Cumulative Impacts of Mining on Regional Communities: An Exploratory Study of Coal Mining in the Muswellbrook Area of NSW

Mining and the Community » Mining and the Community

Published: December 08Project Number: C14047

Get ReportAuthor: David Brereton, Chris Moran, Gillian McIlwain, James McIntosh, Kailee Parkinson | Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, Centre for Water in the Minerals Industry, University of Queensland

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The Australian mining industry, and the coal mining sector in particular, is required to operate in an increasingly challenging environment of changing community expectations, stricter regulatory controls and greater public scrutiny. In the case of coal, the heightened prominence of climate change has added a further layer of complexity.

Companies have responded to this changing external environment by strengthening their internal management systems, investing more resources in engagement with communities and other external stakeholders, and developing mechanisms for regularly reporting on their social and environmental performance. For the most part, the focus of companies has been on managing the performance of their own operations, but cross-company collaboration is also becoming more common. This is occurring not only at the national level, through industry associations such as the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Coal Association, but, increasingly, also at the regional level; particularly in areas such as the Upper Hunter Valley, Bowen Basin and Pilbara, where there is a concentration of mining activity.

This project, which is an example of cross-company collaboration, focuses on the challenges involved in dealing with cumulative, or multi-mine, impacts at the local level. The project builds on an earlier Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP)-funded project conducted in 2004, undertaken by the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) that aimed to enhance the capacity of individual mines to monitor and manage their impacts on local communities (Brereton and Moffatt 2005).

Key objectives of the study were to:

1. Develop a framework for assessing, monitoring and reporting the cumulative social, environmental and economic impacts - both positive and negative - of coal mining on regional areas where multiple mines operated.

2. Undertake a trial of the framework in an area where there were multiple mines.

3. Identify methods and indicators that can be applied to other regions of Australia where multi-site impacts are a salient issue.

The location for the study was Muswellbrook, a town of approximately 10,200 people in the Upper Hunter Valley of New South Wales (ABS 2006). At the time the study was conducted there were five developed coal mines - four open cut (Mt Arthur Coal, Drayton, Bengalla and Muswellbrook Coal) and one underground (Dartbrook) - located on the perimeter of the town. Dartbrook has since been placed on a care and maintenance schedule, but the overall level of mining activity remains high, with major new mines scheduled to be opened in the next few years. Muswellbrook was also the location for the earlier study undertaken by CSRM.

BHP Billiton's Mt Arthur Coal operation, which is the largest operation in the area, took a lead role in the project. The study also had the active support of Anglo Coal (which operates Drayton and Dartbrook mines), Bengalla Mining Company and Muswellbrook Coal. The Project Steering Committee included representatives from each of these operations, plus from approved developments yet to commence mining, including the Coal and Allied owned Mt Pleasant mine.

The above-mentioned operations already cooperate with each other in a range of ways; sometimes on a bi-lateral basis (for example, the water sharing arrangement between Mt Arthur Coal and Drayton Coal) and sometimes multilaterally (for example, the Muswellbrook Mine Managers Forum, regular meetings of environmental officers, the Hunter River Salinity Trading Scheme, the joint River Care program supported by Bengalla, Mt Arthur Coal and Coal and Allied, and the annual Mining and Energy EXPO). Support for this research project was an extension of this cooperative approach and was driven by the desire of participating companies to increase their understanding of cumulative impacts and, longer term, to enhance their capacity to manage these impacts.


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