The IPC has imposed 184 conditions on the project to ensure it complies with the relevant criteria and standards, that impacts are consistent with the predictions in the environmental impact statement, and that residual impacts are minimised, mitigated and, where relevant, compensated for.
The primary approval follows a lengthy technical evaluation process for the project and a comprehensive program of community consultation and outreach, including a multi-stage public hearing administered by the IPC during February 2019 and July 2020.
Whitehaven lodged a state significant development application in 2018 seeking to increase total coal extraction to 168 million tonnes or by 24.4%; increasing the peak annual extraction rate from 4.5Mt to 10Mt; and increasing the disturbance area by 776 hectares.
It also sought to build a coal handling and preparation plant at the project site, which would connect to the main Werris Creek-to-Mungindi railway line via a rail spur across the Namoi River flood plain.
Coal will then be transported to the Port of Newcastle by train.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment finalised its assessment of the Vickery Extension project in May.
The project was then sent to the IPC.
NSW Minister for Planning Rob Stokes requested the IPC conduct a public hearing into the carrying out of the project as part of its determination of the SSD application.
The IPC scrutinised several key issues, including water resources, rehabilitation, final void and landform, greenhouse gas emissions, socio-economic impacts, noise, air quality, impacts on agricultural land, road and rail transport, heritage, blasting and vibration, biodiversity, and visual amenity and lighting.
"The commission finds that on balance, and when weighed against the objects of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, ecologically sustainable development principles, relevant policy framework, and socio-economic benefits, the impacts associated with the project are acceptable and the project is in the public interest," the IPC said in its statement of reasons for decision.
"The commission acknowledges that the project would result in additional environmental and amenity impacts associated with the increased disturbance footprint and additional mining-related infrastructure when compared to the approved project.
"The commission also acknowledges that when compared to the approved project, the project would result in some reduced impacts such as a reduction of Scope 1 emissions, reduced amenity impacts and improved road safety from reduced RoM [run-of-mine] coal truck haulage.
"On balance, the commission finds that the environmental and amenity impacts of the project are not significantly greater than those associated with the approved project. The commission is of the view that the additional environmental and amenity impacts can be appropriately managed and mitigated in accordance with the applicable guidelines and policies.
"The commission finds that the project would generate significant social and economic benefits for the local area, North West region and to NSW. This includes a direct capital investment of $607 million and up to 450 jobs during operations."
Whitehaven CEO Paul Flynn said Vickery would further cement Whitehaven's growing stature as a key supplier to premium overseas markets.
Whitehaven's focus will shift to obtaining the necessary secondary approvals and any further project optimisation as a precursor to works starting under this approval.
Vickery will be a predominantly metallurgical coal mine and service established and emerging markets in the near region.
"As noted in its June 2020 production report, Whitehaven continues to be cautious in allocating capital to expansion noting the evolving impacts of COVID-19 on coal markets and pricing," Whitehaven said.
"While there are still considerable risks and uncertainties for the global the economic outlook given the continued spread of the virus, the fundamentals of our business model continue to remain robust."
Whitehaven shares closed 2.5% higher yesterday at $1.405, valuing the company at $1.4 billion.