Victorian coal mine workers and the Latrobe Valley community should be deeply concerned by revelations that the government and coal mine operators knew about serious structural risks at the Yallourn coal mine weeks before its collapse in June last year, according to Environment Victoria.
The 2011/12 annual report by the Technical Review Board, revealed in today’s The Age
, indicates that the Victorian Government was warned about numerous structural problems at Latrobe Valley coal mines, including at the Yallourn mine, several weeks prior to the Morwell River Diversion collapsing into the mine.
The collapse risked worker safety on site, crippled the Yallourn power station for months, severely limited the operation of the mine, and resulted in billions of litres of contaminated water being pumped from the mine into the Latrobe River.
Environment Victoria’s Safe Climate Campaign Manager Victoria McKenzie-McHarg said today:
“This revelation raises questions about the government’s and the mining company’s commitment to worker and environmental safety given that they were warned about structural issues at Yallourn weeks before the collapse.
“We understand that there were workers in the tunnel at Yallourn when it started leaking, just hours before it collapsed in spectacular fashion. The community has a right to know exactly what the government and the company knew, and when, given the serious risk that was posed to the safety of workers on site,” said Ms McKenzie-McHarg.
The report indicates that there were seven identified ‘at risk’ structures in Victorian coal mines, and further notes that ‘the situation with regard to brown coal mine stability has reached a serious state’.
“The companies responsible for the brown coal mines in Victoria make hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars of profit every year. It is unbelievable that they have allowed the mine sites to deteriorate to such a state, placing workers and our environment at risk,” said Ms McKenzie-McHarg.
“These are privately owned and operated sites, and the companies involved should be required to ensure they are stable, safe and secure.
“It shouldn’t be the responsibility of taxpayers to pay for the mismanagement of big coal companies, yet the Victorian Government has announced a $4.2 million fund for the stabilisation of these ‘at risk’ coal mines. It’s an extraordinary handout from taxpayers to big coal to secure the stability of their assets.”
The revelation comes as the Victorian Government yesterday released an expert inquiry report into the failure of the Morwell River Diversion, 12 months after the collapse first occurred.
“The expert inquiry report raises more questions than it answers. The report points to five key problems that could have triggered the collapse, but if there are that many issues at one time that could cause such significant problems, it raises serious doubts about the way the mine is being managed.
“The government needs to say what they’re going to do to require mine operators to run safe, secure and stable mine sites for the protection of workers and the environment.
“The Victorian government is currently considering allocating an additional 13 billion tonnes of coal to be mined from the Latrobe Valley. If the coal companies can’t manage the mines they’ve got, how can we expect major new mines to be properly managed?” concluded Ms McKenzie-McHarg.