Environmental Law Australia

Newlands Coal Mine case

This case study involves an objection by the Queensland Conservation Council Inc (QCC) to the greenhouse gas emissions from a large coal mine expansion proposed by Xstrata Coal Queensland Pty Ltd.

The mine is an extension of the Newlands Coal Mine at Suttor Creek approximately 129 km west of Mackay in North Queensland, Australia. The project is known as the Newlands Wollombi No. 2 Project.

The mine will produce up to 2.5 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of run of mine (ROM) black coal for a nominal annual average of 1.9 Mtpa product coal over a 15 year mine life, or 28.5 Mt of coal in total.

The coal from the mine will be transported to domestic and/or export markets for electricity production (thermal or steaming coal) and/or steel production (coking coal).

The greenhouse gas emissions from the full fuel cycle of the mining, transport and use of the 28.5 Mt of coal from the mine for electricity production or steel production will be approximately 84.0 Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2–e). 1.36 Mt CO2–e are produced directly by the mining operations, while 98% of the emissions result from the use of the coal.

The total annual greenhouse gas emissions produced directly by Australia are currently approximately 550 Mt CO2–e, which is approximately 1.4% of greenhouse gas emissions globally.

QCC contended that the greenhouse gas emissions from the mining, transport and use of the coal from the mine will contribute significantly to global warming and climate change unless offset by conditions to avoid, reduce or offset those emissions.

The objection was lodged on 7 November 2006 and a 2 day hearing was held in the Queensland Land & Resources Tribunal (now the Land Court of Queensland) on 31 January and 1 February 2007.

The LRT dismissed the objection and recommended the mine be approved without any conditions regarding greenhouse gas emissions.

QCC successfully appealed the decision and the Queensland Court of Appeal ordered a re-trial.

However, the Queensland Government indicated on the day of the judgment it would amend the law to prevent any delay to the mine. It passed those amendments four days later, effectively over-riding the decision of the Court of Appeal and preventing a re-hearing. The amendments were inserted into the Mining Legislation and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2007, which was omnibus legislation for mining before Parliament at the time.

Parliamentary debate on the amending legislation is recorded in the Queensland Parliamentary Hansard (16 October 2007). Note: The Minister’s explanation of the provisions relevant to this case are contained at pages 3590-3593.

Key documents

Objection to the mine

Hearing in the Land & Resources Tribunal

Appeal to the Court of Appeal

Legislation overriding appeal

For discussion of this case and its significance, see:

McGrath C, “The Xstrata Case: Pyrrhic Victory or Harbinger?”, Ch 13 in Bonyhady T and Christoff P, Climate Law in Australia (The Federation Press, Sydney, 2007).