Shenhua Watermark Coal Project


Shenhua Watermark is planning to construct an open cut mine to extract 10 million tonnes of coal a year from the slopes adjoining the Liverpool Plains, an area known for its fertile and highly valuable black agricultural soils.

Shenhua Watermark is a subsidiary of Shenhua Group, the largest coal supplier in the world. It has reportedly spent more than $700 million over eight years to try and get the project approved. It has paid about $300 million to the state government for an exploration licence, and about $203 million to buy 37 farms and about 15,000 hectares of land.

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  • The mine’s disturbance area of 4084 hectares, or 4000 football fields is twice that of Whitehaven’s controversial Maules Creek mine (2178 hectares), the largest coal mine under construction in Australia.
  • Shenhua’s Watermark project is 1½ times the land area of the City of Sydney (2670 hectares) and about 1.1 times the City of Melbourne (3735 hectares).
Shenhua Sydney

Image: Fairfax Media

  • The Liverpool Plains produces 40% above the National average in agricultural output, producing 183,488 tonnes wheat, 233,175 tonnes sorghum; 5,438 tonnes oats; 2,126 tonnes soybeans; 63,709 tonnes barley; 29,018 tonnes corn; 19,829 tonnes sunflowers and 1,285,178 bales cotton.
  • The New England and North West region is the highest contributor to agricultural production value in NSW.
  • In 2012/13 the total Gross Value of Agricultural production in the region was $2.4 billion, accounting for 21% of the states total.
  • In 2012/13 the region produced the highest value of crops in NSW of $1.7 billion – accounting for 23% of the state’s total.
  • According to ABARE data published in 2014, the region accounts for 91% of NSW sorghum production, 58% of legume production, 54% of cotton production and 26% of cattle production


  • This groundwater system is extremely complex and unique. It is the largest groundwater system within the Murray Darling Basin. Science, including the Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC), acknowledges there is a knowledge gap of how this groundwater alluvium is directly connected to the coal seams being ripped out by Shenhua.
  • These aquifers supply crucial water for the towns of Curlewis, Gunnedah, Breeza, Carroll, Quirindi and Spring Ridge.
  • The floodplain aquifers are less than a kilometre (900m) from the Eastern mine pit and even closer on the Southern Pit.
  • The depressurisation induced by operations in the Eastern Mining area extends to a maximum of 1.8 kilometres. Groundwater levels are predicted to reduce by 3 metres, extending up to 0.7 kilometres.
  • Groundwater levels will recover after approximately 2,000 years post-mining.
  • Shenhua and the Government do not have the water data to properly model the outcome of this mine therefore they have adopted an adaptive management approach.
  • Once an aquifer has been breached/broken there is no possible way to put them back together again.
  • The Shenhua EIS said that the mine will produce 65.7 tonnes of salts per day, 23,980 tonne per year (equivalent to 922 semi-trailer loads per year). Salt will continue to leach out onto surrounding farmlands and into the Murray-Darling basin for the next 500 years.


  • A total of 55 Aboriginal archaeological sites were identified in the Project Boundary, 29 will be directly affected by the mining project.
  • 25 artefacts will be ‘relocated’ with the additional excavation of 2 significant grinding groove sites.
  • The grinding grooves on the proposed mine site are a significant part of local Indigenous heritage; this is where the ancestors of the Gomeroi people prepared for war with foreign invaders.
  • The rock platforms of the two grinding groove sites Shenhua propose to move are low strength therefore it is unlikely they can be moved without being destroyed.
  • The revised conditions of approval by the Planning Department do not include the PAC recommendation that the grinding groove sites cannot be cut.
  • Aboriginal people can no longer access these sites without Shenhua staff being present.


  • Gunnedah is the Koala Capital of Australia.
  • The Australian Koala Foundation does not agree with the koala numbers Shenhua propose are located in the Gunnedah LGA.
  • The New South Wales koala population has dropped in the past 20 years and it is difficult to assess the actual koala numbers.
  • The mine proposal will clear 847 hectares of viable koala habitat.
  • 143 ha of Critically Endangered Ecological Communities Box Gum Woodland will be destroyed.


  • The Shenhua Watermark exploration licence was issued by the corrupt former Labour Minister Ian MacDonald who has been found guilty of acting in a corrupt manner over another mining licence.
  • The NENW Strategic Regional Land Use Plan dated 2012 states that the Liverpool Plains and Gunnedah LGA’s has the highest productivity in NSW due to its exclusive combination of volcanic soils, rainfall reliability, climate and availability of surface and groundwater.
  • The former Liberal Minister for Mineral Resources, Chris Hartcher endorsed a definition of floodplain different to the already gazetted floodplain definition under the Water Act. This redefining of the floodplain was essential to ensure that Shenhua Watermark met their exploration conditions – under the generally accepted definition the exploration condition would have been breached.

(Some content has been adapted from the Caroona Coal Action Group)