The Independent Planning Commission of Australia’s New South Wales government approved a US$607-million extension of Whitehaven Coal’s (ASX: WHC) Vickery coal mine near Boggabri, in the state’s northwest.

The approval, however, was done with 184 conditions aimed at mitigating environmental and social impacts.

Whitehaven was granted planning approval for Vickery in September 2014 but has yet to construct the key infrastructure required to extract the approved 135 million tonnes of coal over 30 years. Despite the delay, the company lodged a new state significant development application in 2018 seeking to increase total coal extraction to 168 Mt, grow the peak annual extraction rate from 4.5 to 10 million tonnes, and increase the disturbance area by 8 square kilometres.

The miner also sought to build a new coal handling and preparation plant at the site, which would connect to the main Werris Creek-to-Mungindi railway line via a new rail spur across the Namoi River flood plain. Coal will then be transported to the Port of Newcastle by train.

The proposal was assessed by the Independent Planning Commission starting in May. Commissioners scrutinized several key issues, including water resources, rehabilitation, final void and landform, greenhouse gas emissions, socioeconomic impacts, noise, air quality, impacts on agricultural land, road and rail transport, heritage, blasting and vibration, biodiversity, and visual amenity and lighting. Public hearings were also conducted to gather community feedback.

“The Commission finds that on balance, and when weighed against the objects of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act), ecologically sustainable development (ESD) principles, relevant policy framework, and socioeconomic benefits, the impacts associated with the project are acceptable and the project is in the public interest,” the Commission concluded in its Statement of Reasons for Decision.

Following the announcement, Whitehaven’s managing director and CEO, Paul Flynn, welcomed the news and said Vickery would further cement the firm’s growing stature as a key supplier to premium overseas markets.

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