Last update:
2020-02-15

KEPCO’s Bylong Valley coal mine, NSW, Australia

In September 2019, a proposed South Korean-owned coal mine in the Bylong Valley, NSW was rejected by the NSW Independent Planning Commission in part due to its long-term environmental, agricultural and heritage impact on future generations [1].



Description:

In September 2019, a proposed South Korean-owned coal mine in the Bylong Valley, NSW was rejected by the NSW Independent Planning Commission in part due to its long-term environmental, agricultural and heritage impact on future generations [1]. KEPCO started working on the project in the Bylong Valley area in 2010 when it acquired its coal mining exploration license for more than 400 million AUD [2]. The public consultation period for the Environmental Impact Statement and Development Application took place in 2017, and a review was conducted by the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC), previously known as the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) [3]. Following this, KEPCO provided a Revised Mine Plan and the Bylong coal project was marked for approval by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment in October 2018, referring it to the IPC for the final decision [4]. As part of its decision-making process, the IPC heard from more than 60 speakers, both supporters and opponents of the mine [5]. In February 2019, the rejection of another NSW coal mine, Rocky Hill, partly on the grounds of climate change, became a benchmark in the Bylong mine debate [4]. The NSW Environmental Defenders Office, who represented the local opposition group in the Rocky Hill ruling, pointed out the similarities between the two projects; as another greenfield coal project located in a scenic valley in NSW, the assessment of mining projects including Bylong “should now logically follow the approach outlined by Chief Judge Preston (judge in the Rocky Hill case)”, according to the Office [6]. In September 2019, the IPC rejected KEPCO’s Bylong mining proposal and released a statement of reasons for the decision, citing concerns including the mine’s “long-lasting environmental, agricultural and heritage impacts” [1, 7]. A few months later in December 2019, KEPCO appealed by seeking a judicial review of the IPC’s rejection of the Bylong mine at the NSW Land and Environment Court [2]. Lock the Gate Alliance alongside Bylong farmers and supporters voiced disappointment with the decision, stating that opposition to the project will continue if the outcome of the judicial review is ruled in favour of KEPCO [2].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:KEPCO’s Bylong Valley coal mine, NSW, Australia
Country:Australia
State or province:New South Wales
Location of conflict:Bylong
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Coal
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The project is 100% owned by KEPCO Bylong Australia Pty Ltd. (KEPCO), a subsidiary company of South Korean ‘Korea Electric Power Corporation’ (KEPCO) [3]. The project site is located 55km north-east of Mudgee in NSW. The economic assessment of the project stated a direct capital investment value over the life of the project of $1.3 billion AUD (around 878.5 million USD) [1]. The project site itself covers an area of around 1,714 hectares, of which 1,160 would be subject to surface disturbance. In total however, the entire project covers an area of 6,958 hectares of land [1]. The mine proposal included two open-cut mining areas to recover around 28 Mt of ROM coal and an underground area to provide the bulk of the coal with approximately 91Mt of ROM coal, recovered using longwall mining techniques [3]. According to KEPCO, the mine’s projected production was 6.5 million tonnes (ROM) per year with a projected life span of 25 years (two years of construction and 23 years of operation), of which nine years would have been open cut and 20 years underground mining [3]. The mined coal was to be supplied to the thermal coal export market via the Port of Newcastle and transported to the port on the existing Sandy Hollow-Gulgong Line [3]. During the initial construction of the mine, KEPCO estimated that it would likely employ around 650 people, while during operations the project would provide direct employment for up to around 450 workers [3].

Project area:1,714
Level of Investment for the conflictive project878,474,441.10
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:2010
Company names or state enterprises:KEPCO Bylong Australia Pty Ltd. (KEPCO) from Republic of Korea - Project owner
Relevant government actors:NSW Department of Planning, Industry, and Environment
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Bylong Valley Protection Alliance
Lock the Gate Alliance (https://www.lockthegate.org.au/)
The Greens
350.org Canberra
NSW Environmental Defenders Office
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Ibbai Waggan-Wiradjuri People
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Outcome
Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Migration/displacement
Strengthening of participation
Project cancelled
Proposal and development of alternatives:Following the rejection of KEPCO’s mining proposal, Bylong Valley farmers and supporters are calling for KEPCO’s withdrawal from the area and that KEPCO-owned land be sold back and restored to active farm land: “We want the valley to return to what it once was, and KEPCO can help achieve that by selling the properties it has purchased and abandoning the coal exploration titles it holds” [16]. The Greens have also called for the withdrawal KEPCO’s exploration license [12].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The IPC’s rejection of the Bylong mine has been widely regarded as an environmental justice success, with local opposition groups welcoming the decision. The rejection on the grounds of intergenerational inequity has been welcomed as particularly progressive as it considered the socio-environmental impacts of mining on future generations However, KEPCO still owns the exploration license and large amounts of land in the Bylong Valley and has filed an appeal through a judicial review in February 2020. It therefore remains to be seen what will happen to the project and the Bylong Valley. Furthermore, the recent legislative move by the NSW Government to prevent regional planning authorities from blocking mining projects based on emissions from coal once its burnt points to the continuous nature of the fight against extractive industries.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[1] NSW Government, Independent Planning Commission (2019) ‘Statement of reasons for decision. Bylong Coal Project.’
[click to view]

[2] McCarthy, J. (2019) ‘Korean Government-backed KEPCO is taking the only appeal path available to recover $750m Bylong mine investment.’ Newcastle Herald, 18/12/19.
[click to view]

[3] KEPCO Bylong Australia (n.d.) ‘Project Description.’; ‘Project Overview.’
[click to view]

[4] Goetze, E. (2019) ‘Mining companies feel the heat over climate change precedent.’ ABC News, 16/04/19.
[click to view]

[5] Casben, L. (2018) ‘Bylong Valley coal mine in Mudgee divides farmers and locals during planning meeting.’ ABC News, 07/11/18.
[click to view]

[6] Cox, L. (2019) ‘Hunter Valley coalmine ruling buoys other anti-mine campaigners. The Guardian, 11/02/19.
[click to view]

[7] Casben, L. (2019) ‘NSW's Bylong coal mine proposal knocked back on 'environmental impacts'.’ ABC News, 18/09/19.
[click to view]

[8] McCarthy, J. (2017) ‘Former Bylong residents are outraged that a coal mine 'depopulated' their valley and silenced dissent.’ Newcastle Herald, 31/07/17.
[click to view]

[9] McCarthy (2020) ‘KEPCO says Bylong mine proposal has no value after refusal in September.’ Newcastle Herald, 07/02/20.
[click to view]

[12] Hannam, P. (2017) ‘Calls to scrap Bylong coal mine after proposal savaged by commission review.’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 30/06/17.
[click to view]

[13] McCarthy, J. (2019) ‘Newcastle Student Strike for Climate Action organiser says refusal shows 'Our voices are being heard'.’ Newcastle Herald, 18/09/19.
[click to view]

[14] Stayner, T. (2019) ‘”Too precious to plunder”: NSW farmers lobby South Korean power company to stay away.’ SBS News, 25/10/2019.
[click to view]

[16] Lock the Gate Alliance (2019) ‘Fed up Bylong farmers protest outside South Korean Embassy.’
[click to view]

[17] Hannam, P. (2020) ‘Environment group seeks to join coal mine appeal after IPC drops out.’
[click to view]

[18] Cox, L. (2019) ‘NSW moves to stop mine projects being blocked because of their overseas emissions.’ The Guardian, 22/10/19.
[click to view]

[19] Kennedy, P. (2020) 'Help us finally win the Battle for Bylong.' Go Fund Me Campaign.
[click to view]

Kennedy, P. (2020) 'Help us finally win the Battle for Bylong.' Go Fund Me Campaign.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[10] Battle for Bylong campaign.
[click to view]

[10] Battle for Bylong campaign.
[click to view]

[11] Lock the Gate Alliance (n.d.) ‘Save the Bylong Valley – Email the Independent Planning Submission.’
[click to view]

[15] Lock the Gate Alliance and 350.org Canberra Facebook event ‘Rally for Bylong at Korea’s embassy.’
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Louisa Mathies, EJ Atlas, ICTA-UAB
Last update15/02/2020
Conflict ID:4931
Comments
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