The Ulan coal mine is situated near the town of Ulan – a small village approximately 20 kilometres from Gulgong – has been operating in the district since the mid 80s.
The current environmental concern with the burning of fossil fuels and the rapid uptake of renewable energy should motivate a winding down of production of coal, but, astonishingly, the Ulan Coal mine is seeking to extend operations.
The NSW Government has before it an application to expand the underground operations of the mine to increase production, which will result in further expansion of the mine under the Great Dividing Range into the Talbragar river system, which is a tributary of the Macquarie River.
This expansion has the potential to threaten groundwater resources to an unknown extent.
The extent is unknown as there has been no independent regional water study done to ascertain the effect mining has on the water resources in the area.
At present the operation of the Ulan coal mine accounts for up to 23 million litres of groundwater per day. This already places enormous pressure on the Goulburn River, across the headwaters of which the mine operates.
The Goulburn River is a major tributary of the Hunter River.
Adding to the cumulative damage of this river are two neighbouring coal mines, Moolarben and Wilpinjong, which also make demands on water resources for their operation. The river ceased to flow this summer despite large storm events and tributary creeks continuing to flow.
Mine operations cause a drawdown of groundwater and the interception of surface flows across the catchment of the Goulburn River, impacting on essential base flows that feed the system.
As a result, the water loss has increased the river's dependence on treated mine waste water, thereby compromising the quality of water entering the Goulburn River system. It is apparent that the Goulburn river system is already stressed.
Further expansion would require increased extraction of groundwater, with further impacts on the health of the river. As the mine would extend into the Talbragar River system, it is possible that it would compromise that catchment as well.
Apart from the water issues, further production of coal in a climate that clearly indicates renewable energy investment as the way forward does not make economic sense.