A mixed week for Australia’s mining sector

Do you want the good news or the bad news? Here’s a bit of both.

It’s not every week that we get to report a loss for the mining industry (and, consequently, a win for the world). 

Fortunately, this week saw a positive development in the long-term fight against mining in the Illawarra Water Catchment, in Sydney’s backyard. The owner of Mt Kembla’s Dendrobium Coal Mine, South32, announced they were pulling out of the project to extend the mine, after discovering that the extension’s return on investment would be insufficient.

South32 CEO Graham Kerr said in a statement that the decision “follows an extensive analysis of the alternatives for Dendrobium together with the anticipated returns from the up-front capital investment that would be required”.

The extension to the existing metallurgical coal mine would have threatened tens of upland swamps, which play an important role in filtering and maintaining Sydney’s water supply, as Honi reported earlier this month.

This week also saw Santos pause drilling in the Barossa gas fields in the Tiwi Islands while the Federal Court deliberates on a legal challenge to the project by Munupi Traditional Owners.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) was sued by Tiwi Islander Dennis Tipakalippa, who argues that the regulator’s approval of Santos’ gas drilling did not involve sufficient consultation of the Munupi clan. 

According to the Environmental Defenders Office, which is representing the plaintiff, Tipakalippa said: “Drilling into the seabed is like drilling into our bodies. I’m relieved that Santos will drop drilling before it gets to the gas and will not start any new well – that is a big worry for us, so it’s very important to get that promise.”

In gloomier news, the Albanese government announced it would open up over 46,000 square kilometres of Commonwealth waters to oil and gas exploration.

The federal Resources Minister, Madeleine King, described the releases as economically beneficial for Australia: “At the same time as we strive to reduce emissions it must be emphasised that continued exploration for oil and gas in Commonwealth waters is central to alleviating future domestic gas shortfalls.”

The move received criticism from climate Independents and Greens politicians, who saw it as conflicting with Australia’s climate mitigation goals. 

Senator David Pocock told the ABC that the announcement “doesn’t make sense” in the context of legislated 43 per cent emissions reductions targets. 

Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson questioned Labor’s commitment to climate action via Twitter following the announcement.

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