A comprehensive approach to environmental management
Our approach to environmental management focuses on avoiding environmental impacts where possible, mitigating unavoidable impacts, rehabilitating or restoring disturbed areas, and offsetting to compensate for any impacts that cannot be otherwise avoided, minimised or rehabilitated.
To do this, we undertake extensive assessments and management planning in relation to surface water, groundwater, flood impact, flora and fauna, Aboriginal cultural heritage, historical heritage, air quality, agriculture and geochemistry impacts. This includes extensive consultation with relevant stakeholders throughout formal planning and approval processes, such as the development of comprehensive environmental assessments for all projects, and specific management plans across all stages of projects – from construction and operation to rehabilitation and closure.
In Australia, mining is a highly regulated industry that is subject to constant monitoring, compliance and enforcement activity by relevant government authorities. For all our mining operations, we observe the strict conditioning requirements that apply. On any given day, we comply with thousands environmental obligations across our four operational mines and our commitment is to always plan carefully and mine responsibly in-line with our approval conditions, and progressively rehabilitate land as we go.
Our comprehensive management of environmental impacts is complemented by ongoing formal and informal stakeholder engagement, for instance through Community Consultative Committees (CCCs), direct community feedback via our hotlines, open days and more. We work together with our local communities, including neighbouring landholders, and adjust our environmental management approach based on this consultation.
Water is essential for life and human economic and social development. Because it is also a finite resource, water can create complex interdependencies and relationships associated with access and usage.
Water is fundamental to our business and to sustaining our mine operations and the livelihoods that depend on their economic output. Our total operational water inputs during FY19 from both ground and surface water allocations were 6,826ML, just under 70% of our total allocation, with increased usage aligning with deteriorating rainfall conditions in our region. We carefully manage and plan our water needs and look to recycle water wherever we can, for example, by recirculating within our coal handling and processing plants.
Working closely with relevant NSW water management and regulatory authorities, we implement plans to monitor water quality and quantity, including water balances, to measure the volume and quality of water inflows, current storage on site, usage, losses, recycling, and any discharges. This information, plus predicted operational requirements and weather patterns, is used to plan for future water use. Water meter readings are checked by WaterNSW to monitor compliance against water allocation and Water Orders.
Managing our operational water needs during times of drought poses additional challenges. The current drought in NSW rivals the Federation Drought of the early 1900s in its intensity and duration and has once again required many Australians to focus on how water is accessed, used, shared and valued. It is essential all affected stakeholders continue to work with governments and water regulators to address the challenges posed by the drought. Statutory water management frameworks must safeguard water for future generations, but also support the efficient utilisation of available resources and practical water governance measures.
We are committed to working with all stakeholders transparently and constructively on this critical issue and to:
- Identifying material water impacts, risks and opportunities
- Improving our overall understanding of our water use at the regional and sub-regional level
- Exploring how we can improve our water management performance and contribute to individual water saving and water sharing initiatives.
We employ a range of methods to maintain good air quality, including using water carts and dust suppressants to minimise dust. In unfavourable weather conditions, such as excessive winds or dust storms that could increase the prevalence of dust, we modify our activities on site accordingly.
Further, we rehabilitate mined land progressively, to minimise areas exposed to dust generation.
All of our sites have systems for real-time monitoring and management of air quality, which can be impacted by dust from excavation and haul truck activity, as well as emissions arising from the use of explosives. Monitoring results are publicly available through applicable Community Consultative Committees.
Almost all of our coal is transported by train. The moisture in coal helps suppress dust, but we take additional steps to reduce dust lift-off. This includes loading trains using the preferred garden-bed profile and, where practical, positioning coal stockpiles to minimise their exposure to dominant winds. We also have automatic wind speed alerts in our Coal Handling and Processing Plants (CHPPs) that trigger air quality inspections. Some coal is trucked to our Gunnedah CHPP; these trucks are covered before they leave the point of loading and remain covered up until the point of delivery, mitigating dust lift-off as they travel on regional roads.
We also voluntarily participate in the Namoi Air Quality Monitoring Project, the results of which indicate the air quality in the Namoi Valley is among the best in NSW, a tangible demonstration of our capacity to adhere to the strict dust management controls applicable to mining operations.
The vast majority of the almost 70,000 hectares of land we own in North West NSW and QLD is not involved in mining activities; in fact, only about 3% of our land is involved in current mining activities or is being rehabilitated after mining.
Where mining activity intersects with agriculture, we aim to put land to productive use, to ensure non-mining land continues to contribute to a diverse local economy. To that end, more than 37,000 hectares of Whitehaven-owned land is currently used for agricultural purposes. This can include licensing to local farmers for productive agricultural activities such as grazing or cropping.
We also have more than 20,000 hectares of land managed as biodiversity offset areas. These areas are established conservation areas to offset impacts that cannot be avoided, managed or mitigated due to the nature of the coal resource. The selection of these offset areas and their incorporation into Whitehaven’s biodiversity estate is based on guidance from independent experts and regulators to ensure they represent like-for-like (or better) biodiversity values than the area impacted by operations.
We progressively rehabilitate mining sites in consultation with relevant stakeholders. The objectives of our rehabilitation include:
- Establishing safe, stable and non-polluting landforms
- Establishing constructed landforms that incorporate micro-relief patterns consistent with the surrounding topography
- Undertaking rehabilitation actions that restore ecosystem functions, including establishing self-sustaining flora ecosystems
- Undertaking rehabilitation that includes the establishment of woodland vegetation, grasslands and/or agriculture on site
- Minimising the visual impact of final landforms as far as is reasonable and feasible.
We generate various types of waste during exploration, construction, operation and closure activities across our mining facilities.
Wherever possible we segregate recyclable materials and engage specialist contractors for collection and reprocessing. We are looking at opportunities to further recycle and minimise total waste throughout our supply chain, including by investigating life-of-product arrangements with certain suppliers.
Our approach to mineral waste management includes segregation and placement of overburden and coal reject materials in waste emplacements which are designed to be safe, stable and non-polluting.
The Whitehaven Group does not own or operate any tailings dams.
We adhere to stringent noise guidelines, set by the NSW Government. We use predictive meteorological systems to plan operations to minimise noise impacts, and use a range of measures to minimise noise impacts, such as sound attenuation on mining equipment. Further, real-time monitoring allows us to adapt our activities to minimise noise impacts.