Fractured landscapes and narratives: Controversy in the Southern Coalfield, NSW, Australia.

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Embargoed until 2022-03-01
Copyright: Cullis, Sharyn
Longwall mining is an aggressive underground technology that disrupts the overlying country, its ecologies, water and communities. This study focuses on a suite of public inquiries conducted between 2008 and 2010, concerning the impacts of longwall coal mining in the Southern Coalfield of New South Wales, Australia. Here, coal extraction fractures and drains a rugged landscape that encloses the drinking water catchments of Sydney, Australia’s largest city. Debate concerning these impacts prompted a seemingly intractable controversy, reaching a high point with a particularly contentious project, known as the Bulli Seam Operations (BSO). This controversy was the stimulus for my investigation. This study is substantially underpinned by a theoretical framework drawn from science and technology studies (STS). The study contributes to the newly emerging field of ‘STS Underground’ with its focus on the materiality, mystique and power of mining, variable community responses—ranging from resistance to inexplicable silence—and the application of maps, models and metrics for its technical analysis. My study is presented in two distinct yet related parts. Part One focuses on public participation and decision-making around contentious mining project approvals in the Southern Coalfield, particularly the BSO. It uncovers ways in which formal inquiries engaged publics and stakeholders, and grappled with public expectations for greater transparency and accountability. Part Two concerns mining knowledge, discourses and narratives, and demonstrates how uncertainty, precaution, risk, socio-economic assessment, remediation and adaptive management feature in a contemporary coal controversy where the stakes are high. Overall, I explore how the limits of technical knowledge necessarily entail social and moral judgements, and breaches in trust confound the decision-making process. I uncover how competing forces of construction, capture and surprise shape knowledge, public participation and regulatory politics. I elaborate a case, in the conflicted terrain of coal mining controversies, in which nothing is certain, determining that knowledge is malleable and public trust is on shifting ground.
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Cullis, Sharyn
Kearnes, Matthew
Brown, Paul
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PhD Doctorate
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