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Can we trust Fonterra and Glencoal?

7 Oct

When Auckland Coal Action’s Geoff Mason found out about the proposed new coal mine at Mangatangi, he set off by bus and bicycle to investigate Fonterra’s mining and coal burning operations. He found that Fonterra and its mining subsidiary Glencoal were not meeting their own environmental standards and, in some cases were even breaching the conditions of their resource consents.

At the Mangatangi Mine hearings last week, he reported his findings to commissioners.

Glencoal is applying for resource consent to open a new coal mine at Mangatawhiri in the north Waikato (called the Mangatangi Mine). The mine is intended to replace the expiring Kopako 3 mine and will supply coal to Fonterra dairy factories for use in their boilers.

Coal burning dangerous for the climate, is it also dangerous for coal mining communities?

Those of us at Auckland Coal Action are keenly aware of the dangerous impacts that burning coal is already having on the climate and are determined that no new coal mines should be opened. As Geoaff stated in his submission:

Because the coal is there under the ground it is a waste to not mine it, is the train of thought. The consequence of extending this logic is that in a hundred years’ time the landscape of this area will be dotted with craters where there once was farmland. If extended globally we will have a near 4 degree Celsius temperature rise by 2100.

However, is it also harmful for the local communities living around the Waikato’s coal mines and coal-burning factories? Geoff reasoned that a look at Fonterra and Glencoal’s current practices should give us some idea of what to expect from a new mine, and what he found was far from encouraging.

Fonterra is not following its own standards

Can we trust Fonterra and its subsidiary, Glencoal? Auckland Coal Action’s observations have led us to believe we can’t.

Coal ash is a product of burning coal in Fonterra’s factories. It is returned to Kopako 3 mine for disposal.

Fonterra has said that it transports this coal ash from its factories using covered trucks.

It has also said that sprinklers above the coal delivery area at Waitoa Dairy Factory are used to wet down the coal dust when necessary.

However, this photo taken in December of last year shows an uncovered coal ash truck leaving the Waitoa factory, kicking up coal dust from the coal bunker to the left.

uncovered coal ash truck leaving Waitoa Dairy Factory

Uncovered coal ash truck leaving Waitoa Dairy Factory

Disposal of coal ash at Kopako 3

Glencoal would have us believe that the following are standard practices used at their sites to control dust and coal ash:

  • Covering trucks when transporting coal ash
  • Watering coal ash piles to avoid the ash becoming airborne

On visits Geoff made to Kopako 3 he was able to observe breaches to these standards.

4 March 2013

Geoff observed an uncovered coal ash truck arriving at the coal ash dump. It kicked up coal ash dust due to lack of consistent watering of the ash pile.

Uncovered coal ash truck at Kopako 3 mine

Uncovered coal ash truck at Kopako 3 mine

Windblown dust from a very dry coal ash pile.

Windblown dust from a very dry coal ash pile.

11 March 2013

Geoff had reported his observations to local Mangatawhiri residents at a public meeting on the 7th. When he visited the mine on the 11th, it seemed that Glencoal became aware they were being watched and attempted to prevent dust from being kicked up by an ash truck that was due to arrive later in the day.

Geoff notes:

On March the 11th after the meeting I observed two covered ash trucks arrive. I also observed this coal ash dust cloud being kicked up from the coal ash dump after a watering truck attempted to catch up on neglected watering.

Below is a sequence of photos of the dust cloud that occurred over two minutes.

watering truck only succeeds in kicking up dust from the pile of coal ash.

Watering truck only succeeds in kicking up dust from the pile of coal ash.

Dust stirred up due to inconsistent watering, Kopako 3 Mine

Dust stirred up due to inconsistent watering, Kopako 3 Mine

Rising plume of dust above coal ash pile.

Rising plume of dust above coal ash pile.

The dust plume reaches its peak.

The dust plume reaches its peak.

Why should we believe that Glencoal will water around their coal piles at the Mangatangi mine or cover their trucks as they say they will? Are the residents of Mangatawhiri and Mangatangi going to have to be constantly checking up on Glencoal to get them to follow the consent conditions for this mine?

Breaching resource consent conditions

One of the consent conditions at the existing Kopako 3 mine is to ensure that particulate emissions are not visible in the air beyond the boundary of the site. [Reference: Introduction to Section 2 of the assessment of environmental effects of discharges to air of the K3 mine]

On 4 March after the uncovered truck had gone, Geoff noted that:

The wind was picking the ash up off the dump and blowing it way up in the air. It would have been blowing horizontally for miles. The wind on that day was blowing the dust roughly in the direction of the houses on Kopuku Rd.

Map indicates the direction dust was travelling towards properties downwind.

Map showing the direction dust was travelling towards properties downwind.

On 23 March, Geoff further observed a dump truck in the backfill area kicking up a dust cloud twice the height of the one in this video. Footage was taken at the Kopako 3 restoration area.

If dust emissions do exceed allowable limits, the company is required to submit an incident report to the Waikato Regional Council within five days. Geoff was able to find no such report in Council files.

Glencoal conveniently omits boron exceedance at hearing

During Glencoal submissions in favour of the Mangatangi Mine, they consistently emphasised their standards for strict environmental controls of dust. Geoff is not confident that these will be followed. His research has also led him to be concerned for the quality of water being discharged from the mine.

He notes:

The evidence on water treatment given in the first week of the hearing stated that based on a review of the water treatment plant operational records, treated water consistently meets the required discharge standard for turbidity. What was conveniently omitted was that Council records show that in April this year the levels of boron in the discharge from the K3 water treatment plant reached 10.8g/m3, exceeding the 10.00g/m3 limit. As a result of this Glencoal were inquiring about applying to irrigate their farmland with the polluted boron rich waste water next summer.

Geoff has since found that another expert had the cheek to include a graph of boron levels between 2005 and 2012, but omitted 2013 readings.

Consent conditions were watered down

Even where a resource consent is able to impose strict conditions, there is nothing to stop a company from later applying to have the conditions weakened. As Geoff stated:

From Fonterra and Glencoal’s past record, we don’t trust that Glencoal at a later date will not apply to the council to have consent conditions relaxed. I have found three occasions where Fonterra or Glencoal have successfully applied or submitted to have air quality regulations relaxed.

Recent examples where Fonterra or Glencoal have succeeded in getting conditions relaxed:

  • Only a few years ago, Fonterra made a submission to the government to increase the permitted number of exceedances of the PM10 standard, from one to three exceedances per year, and also to extend the timeline for compliance to 2018.  (What is PM10?)
  • In 2009, Fonterra successfully applied to the council for an increase in the particulate emission limit for the coal-fired boiler at Te Awamutu from 50 mg/m3 to 100 mg/m3, due to difficulty complying with the 50 mg/m3 limit. The health of the people of Te Awamutu was compromised so that Fonterra wouldn’t have to upgrade its dust removal.
  • In 2007 Glencoal successfully applied to the council to reduce the level of reporting on air quality and to remove conditions requiring quantitative monitoring by way of despositional dust gauges at K3.

We strongly oppose this resource consent!

Auckland Coal Action strongly opposes resource consent being granted for the Mangatangi Mine at Mangatawhiri.

Our main concern is that most of the known coal reserves must stay in the ground to avoid triggering runaway climate change. However, Geoff’s observations have shown that coal mining and burning is far from safe for the neighbouring communities of such operations.

Even if strict conditions are laid out for the control of dust for this mine, locals can have little faith that conditions will be followed. There is also no guarantee that conditions will not be later relaxed.

This mine should not go ahead.

Fonterra breaks consent conditions for dust control

9 Sep

Media Release – Auckland Coal Action

Sunday 8 September 2013

“Fonterra has repeatedly broken its consent conditions when handling coal and ash at its existing Kopako 3 coal mine and Waitoa dairy factory, says Auckland Coal Action.

Giving evidence in the second week of the hearings on the proposed new Mangatangi mine, spokesperson Geoff Mason showed photos of dust clouds at the mine and of uncovered coal ash trucks. Fonterra has said they cover these.

Conditions broken are:

  • That visible dust should not be in the air beyond the boundary of the mine.
  • That coal dust is wet down in the storage area at the Waitoa factory when necessary.

He also said that Fonterra’s application had stated that their treated mine water at the Kopako 3 mine consistently met standards for cloudiness, but failed to mention that water boron levels had exceeded limits recently.

“Why should we believe that Fonterra will observe any conditions set in relation to this mine, when they haven’t been keeping to their word with the old mine? said Mr Mason. “Furthermore we can show that they have three times successfully pushed for reduced dust control standards.” That raises the question of whose interests the council is trying to protect. It is a further worry is that any consent conditions for the Mangatangi mine will be removed later by the council with no right of hearing by submitters.

Auckland Coal Action is supporting local residents opposed to the mine and called expert evidence on the dust problem likely to be cause by the mining. Their expert witness stated that Glencoal should monitor background dust for at least 2-3 years before that mine starts, so as to get meaningful data on background dust levels. Glencoal is planning to monitor background dust for only a month.

Uncovered coal ash truck at Waitoa Dairy Factory

Uncovered coal ash truck at Waitoa Dairy Factory

Water truck stirring up a plume of dust.

Water truck stirring up a plume of dust


“A neighbour does not dig an open-cast fossil fuel pit on your back door”

6 Sep

This is the second post in our series featuring oral submissions made at the Mangatangi Mine hearings.


Aimee Whyte and her family live only 800 metres from the proposed coal mine, where they rear calves and young stock. She is strongly opposed to the mine and gave one of the most powerful submissions of the day, speaking from the heart as a “mother and proud member of the community”.

Previous post in the series

The children

Aimee’s reasons for opposing the mine are numerous, but at the top of the list are the children: her own and those of the local community.

Aimee and Brad Whyte, opposing the mine for the sake of their kids.

Aimee and Brad Whyte, opposing the mine for the sake of their kids.

She describes a thriving local school community with low student to teacher ratios and a preschool held in the Mangatawhiri Hall, not far from the mine site.

She believes the viability of these schools is at risk from the mine:

Members of the community will move on and we will not get any new people coming to live here. No one wants to buy property by a coal mine or raise their families next to one, so our numbers dwindle away, along with resources and funding. Who in their right mind purchases land with intent for such mining activities so close to a school and preschool? Children have a right for quality education and to be in a safe and healthy environment whilst being educated.

She does not want to see school and mining traffic mix on the Mangatawhiri Road under any circumstances.

The right to drink clean water

Another of Aimee’s main concerns is the access to clean drinking water.

Our drinking water comes from our roof. Particles from coal mining will settle on our roofs and enter our drinking supply.

The school’s water supply is of major concern. Who will monitor what the kids are drinking there?

Keeping the dust down

As well as maintaining a clean supply of drinking water, there is a concern about the supply of water that will be needed for dust suppression.

Amiee notes that Glencoal’s peak months of operation would be the drier months of November and December. She is concerned about the strain this extra demand for water will put on an already scarce resource.

If this water is taken from the ground, what will happen to our streams and surrounding water supplies? Especially during three or four month droughts when stock and lifestyle farming blocks require this for activities not so wasteful.

The mine affects all our surrounding streams and Glencoal will be responsible for lower than normal stream flows. Allocation in the area already exceeds the limit by 16%. And, what if water is not available to spread to suppress dust and a chemical suppressant is required? Chemical dust suppression is regarded as highly toxic. What happens when this gets into our water supplies, pre and post treatment?

A lack of faith in mine monitoring

So many aspects of the mining operation would have to be monitored to ensure the health and safety of the local community, that Amiee does not have confidence it could, in any way, be adequate.

She asks:

Who will monitor what the kids are drinking here, during construction and mining?

Who will test our [home supply of drinking] water? Who will filter it?

Who monitors this and reports findings and rectifies problems? What guarantees do I have that this will be done?

How much money will Glencoal pay the district council for their water usage? Who monitors when their allocation is exceeded? Who gets penalised?

Once they have spent a year constructing the mine, they won’t close it down for breaching any of the clauses, will they?

Glencoal is not our neighbour

One of the communications from Glencoal that really rubbed Aimee up the wrong way is a flyer delivered to residents beginning, “Dear neighbour”. In her oral submission, Amiee Whyte took Glencoal to task, schooling them on the true meaning of the word “neighbour”.

Neighbours help you with your children if you can’t pick them up from school. They ring you on the phone to ask how you are, or if you would like anything in town. Neighbours genuinely care about each other and have their best interests at heart. A neighbour does not dig an open cast fossil fuel pit on your back door, take all your groundwater, upset a community and offer no benefit – only heartbreak and disturbance.

A flyer from Glencoal delivered to local residents.

A flyer from Glencoal delivered to local residents.

Life is precious

As far as Aimee is concerned the mine just isn’t worth it.

The mine is not an investment it is a major disturbance for a substance that is not sustainable. How is mining a burning a fossil fuel sustainable? Why do we still do it? Because it’s cheap. That is not a good enough reason for me or my family. Life isn’t cheap, it is so precious.

What I stand for is basic. It is health and the freedom to raise our family here and be left alone by a corporate giant that wants to screwball our community for its entirely selfish reasons: to disturb, dig, destroy, contaminate and then burn fossil fuels to produce a product that claims to be from a 100% pure nation.

Our future is here. Glencoal’s is not.

Aimee wrapped up her heartfelt submission by painting a picture of why Mangatawhiri is so important to her and her family.

Why don’t we move away? We have a family home. Our children were born here. We met each other here. We have made real friends here that care about each other. Our children are growing up together. This is our home.

Sometimes, on a sunny afternoon, when the sun is shining on the hills, I stop for a moment and look around and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me. I feel so much love for this area and the memories we are making here.

Our future is here. Glencoal’s is not.

Previous post in the series

“The people who gain are outsiders”

3 Sep

This is the first in our series of posts featuring oral submissions made in the Mangatangi Mine hearings.


Noel Hair was the first to speak in opposition to the mine at the resource consent hearings this week. He made an impassioned plea for commissioners to reject the application by Fonterra’s subsidiary Glencoal for an open cast coal mine – giving a submission which stirred up an audience half-buried under the weight of the technical information presented by the company’s experts.

Noel has been living and farming in the local area for the past 33 years, 28 of those years on Bell Road, which adjoins the proposed mine site. He raised a number of concerns based on his in-depth knowledge of the local landscape and weather patterns.

Next post in the series

Noel Hair with a photo of the view from an earlier Bell Rd property

Noel Hair with a photo of the view from an earlier Bell Rd property

Effect of mining on localised weather patterns

From a previous property in Bell Road, Noel looked out over the Kopako Mines and has observed the impact of mining activities on local weather:

  • When the vegetation is removed off the mine site, ground temperatures will rise on the bare ground causing air to rise upward and drawing dust into higher layers of the atmosphere.
  • At times he has seen it rise to over 200 metres straight up and then disperse in different directions.
  • This means dust will be carried further than the experts predict.
  •  Showers that move slowly across this site also can be pushed over by hot air rising, creating a drier climate in the immediate area in summer.
Arrows over the Kopako Mines area show where Noel Hair has observed rising dust columns

Arrows over the Kopako Mines area show where Noel Hair has observed rising dust columns

Inaccuracies in Glencoal’s wind analysis

Glencoal’s experts had based their calculations of the likely effects of mine dust on the assumption that the prevailing wind was from the south-west. Noel noted that:

  • The wind readings were taken in a drought year, which therefore had more south-westerlies than normal.
  • South-westerly winds may be predominant in spring, but this is by no means where the wind comes from all the time.
  • Winds tend to follow the along the ranges in either an easterly or westerly direction.

Therefore, Glencoal’s prediction of which homes would be most affected by mine dust may not prove to be accurate.

De-watering effects of the mine

Noel’s property shares a hill with the proposed mine site. He says,

When the proposed mine is dewatered this will have a major affect on my property as it is very hard to reduce ground water levels on one side of a hill and not the other when they are effectively joined by way of topography.

Noel Hair's property on Bell Road. The trees on the ridge line indicate the hill that is shared with the proposed mine site.

Noel Hair’s property on Bell Road. The trees on the ridge line indicate the hill that is shared with the proposed mine site.

He is also concerned that the de-watering activities at the mine will reduce his property’s ability to retain groundwater. In the winter months farms build up ground water levels which in early summer help extend their growing capability.

An existing bore on his property will end up being 60 feet above the floor of the mine pit, leading to unknown consequences, however, to date none of the company’s experts has visited his site to check how he will be effected.

At the same time, the mine is at a high-risk of not being able to contain flash flood events.

Property values, drinking water and traffic hazards

The prospect of having an open cast coal mine next door, raises a whole host of concerns for Noel and other local residents. In particular:

  • Property values are dropping as potential buyers do not wish to be next door to a coal mine.
  • Many of the locals collect rain water from their roofs for household use. They are concerned this will no longer be safe to drink due to coal and other mine dust.
  • The hazards from an increase in heavy trucks and other mine machinery.

In Noel’s words:

When the highway shifted, we all breathed a sigh of relief as it meant the local kids could use the road again. I do hope no one gets killed as a result of extra big trucks and trailers roaring up and down the road in Mangatwhiri.

The people who gain are outsiders

Noel concludes by pointing out that locals are “caught up in an unwanted development” of which they will bear all the costs, while enjoying none of the benefits.

I do not believe the benefits outweigh harm that will be caused to this community. The fact is that Fonterra / Glencoal do have other options but chose not to expand on them. All the above effects will impact and change my life on this property as I know it.  There will be constant dust, noise, inconvenience, and health impacts being only 150 metres away from this large project that will make other parties rich. And no gain for me or my family or community.

I wake each day and feel ill knowing the truth of what is planned.

The people who gain are outsiders.

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