Mines' new water issues emerge

Michael Roche says coal mines are still holding onto 250-300 megalitres of water following the 2010/11 floods.
Michael Roche says coal mines are still holding onto 250-300 megalitres of water following the 2010/11 floods. Peter Holt

AS THE Queensland coal industry lurches into damage control, it is looking to move an inland sea of water from open cut mine pits throughout the Bowen Basin that it says makes it impossible to operate efficiently.

But water quality experts are firmly against the idea of lowering environmental standards so the mines can dispose of a water volume equivalent to half of Sydney Harbour into local river networks.

On Monday, the Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche revealed the 2010/11 floods had cost the industry $7billion and had opened the door for US producers to take about 6% of the market.

He said further job cuts were inevitable as mines across the state "are either running at a loss or struggling to stay in the black".

He called on the State Government to find new ways to shift the sea of water - about 250-300 megalitres - still stuck in Central Queensland mines.

"What we have sought from the new State Government is a transition program to start shifting water this wet season and over subsequent wet seasons," Mr Roche said.

"If we delay reducing the amount of water in our mines, we risk having this weight around our necks indefinitely or worsening as the result of another big wet.

"Queensland's coal mines cannot hope to operate efficiently or anywhere near capacity while they must move vast amounts of water to stay in production."

Too bad, according to The Capricorn Conservation Council's Ian Herbert.

Mr Herbert, who is also on the Fitzroy Water Quality Advisory Group, said any changes to the regulations on water releases would come at a grave cost to the environment and residents.

He urged the government not to compromise on previous environmental regulations set after the disastrous Ensham water releases in 2008.

"Coal miners should start getting used to what farmers have been putting up with for 200 years - the weather," Mr Herbert said.

"In 2009/10 all coal mines had their Environmental Authorities revised for very good reasons … subsequently coal mines can discharge, but only under certain conditions and that's to protect the environment.

"The suggestion of backing down on the environmental standards is very concerning because there is no room to do so. The mines better get used to the fact that the weather is out of their control and they can't run at 100% all the time."

Mr Roche said the QRC was "getting a good hearing" from the new government.

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