Moolarben Coal Mine report finds koala colony would be displaced by expansion plans

Moolarben Coal Mine report finds koala colony would be displaced by expansion plans
  • PublishedMarch 25, 2024

The proposed expansion of a coal mine in the New South Wales Central West would displace and reduce the size of a “critical” koala population, according to the managers of the project.

Yancoal, the owner of the Moolarben Coal Mine near Mudgee, is seeking to expand the site by 675 hectares.

The mine extracts 22 million tonnes of coal per year and has a life span until 2038.

If approved, 30 million tonnes of coal could be extracted at the site per year, which would make it one of the largest coal mines in the country.

After the NSW Department of Planning received 90 submissions in relation to the project, 73 of which opposed the expansion, Yancoal reduced the proposed size of the site by 150 hectares to 675 hectares.

Two mining trucks being filled with coal by a digger
The Moolarben mine currently has approval to extract 22 million tonnes of coal each year.(Supplied: Moolarben Coal)

However, a biodiversity assessment report conducted by the company outlined that 113 hectares of koala habitat would be cleared as part of the expansion.

Mudgee District Environment Group chair Rosemary Hadaway said there was “no justification” for the project to go ahead given the clearing of the endangered species’ environment.

“It is astonishing … that their own research tells us that it is likely to push koalas and other endangered species to the brink of extinction,” she said.

“How they can justify seeking to proceed at all is just mind-boggling.”

Ms Hadaway said the community was not confident the expansion would be rejected, despite the impact on koalas.

“It would not surprise me if they do in fact approve it. It just always seems to get the tick of approval,” she said.

A koala up a tree
The proposed expansion of the Moolarben coal mine would clear 113 hectares of koala habitat.(Supplied: Mick Boller)

‘Significant impact’ likely

According to the study, seven of the endangered species were seen within the site, while a further 18 koalas were found within 3 kilometres of the project.

The assessment also concluded the habitat was in good condition and less susceptible to major bushfires.

The report found “a significant impact to the koala population is likely” due to the removal of habitat that would lead to a “long-term decrease in the size of an important population”.

“There is evidence to suggest habitats within the study area could be critical to the survival of the species,” the report stated.

“Koalas would be displaced over the life of the project as habitat is progressively cleared.”

The report also found signs the population is on the rise, with the environment ideal for mating.

“Male koalas were heard bellowing on multiple occasions within the study area, indicating that breeding is occurring,” it read.

Community pushback

The project is being assessed by the state’s planning department before being referred to the Independent Planning Commission.

A woman holding a sign
Carmel Flint says there is no justification for the expansion of the coal mine.(Supplied: Lock The Gate Alliance)

Lock The Gate Alliance national coordinator Carmel Flint said the mine’s expansion would have catastrophic consequences for koalas.

“When even the mining company is forced to admit that they have got really significant koala habitat in their project footprint, then it is clearly going to be incredibly significant,” she said.

“Generally they do everything they can to downplay impacts on nature so it is very significant.”

A koala sitting on a road
Local community groups have slammed the proposed expansion of the Moolarben coal mine.(Supplied: Mick Boller)

A spokesperson for Yancoal said in response to concerns raised by the community, the company had reduced the size of the project design by 18 per cent and would increase rehabilitation works to avoid or minimise impacts on biodiversity. 

“Yancoal considers that these additional amendments strike an appropriate balance between environmental, social and economic outcomes for Moolarben,” the spokesperson said. 

“To secure the project’s total offset liability for the koala, Yancoal is pursuing land-based offset options using Moolarben-owned land in the region.” 

A koala in a tree
A report by the mining company outlined the koala population could be critical to the species’ survival.(Supplied: Mark Buller)

A spokesperson for the Department of Planning, Housing Infrastructure said impact on biodiversity was a key consideration for the organisation. 

“The department will complete its rigorous assessment of the project,” the spokesperson said. 

“A recommendation to the consent authority, the Independent Planning Commission, is expected by mid-2024.”


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