When it goes through the final stages of getting a mining licence for its Watermark site, Chinese mining company Shenhua will be up against a tiny yet formidable foe: the koala.
The vulnerable marsupial has a "core" part of its habitat on the proposed coal mine site on the Liverpool Plains near Gunnedah in northern NSW, and about 260 of the animals would have to be forcibly relocated for three decades if the project goes ahead and hundreds of hectares of trees are bulldozed.
Court action has been launched against the mine with the aim of stopping the relocation, which some koala experts have predicted could prove fatal for the population.
But if they survive the "translocation", they face other dangers.
A report by Cumberland Ecology, prepared as part of the mine's approval process, identified seven main risks faced by koalas.
These include more koalas being hit by cars because of increased traffic in the area; a decrease in population because the loss of habitat would force them to remain on the ground for longer and be vulnerable to attack from predators; and the possibility of "overbrowsing", meaning koalas eat all the food in one area and it can't grow back quickly enough to sustain them.
Other risks they face include the spread of koala chlamydia, including introducing a new strain to a different area when the koalas move; noise affecting the mammals' behaviour and impacting on their reproductive success and long-term survival; and stress from being relocated that could lead to death.
To help offset these risks, the mine has proposed a number of remedies, including appointing an environmental officer to look after koala welfare, planting new trees, mentioning the mammals in a site induction, and searching for koalas in trees before they are felled, leaving the area overnight if any are discovered to help them leave of their "own accord".
However, if this does not work, the koalas will be removed and taken to a new place to live.
Nicola Chirlian, chairwoman of the Upper Mooki Landcare group – which has launched action in the Land and Environment Court to protect the koalas – said a planned planting of trees in other areas to offset the hectares being bulldozed would not grow quickly enough to be of any use.
"I don't know what the koalas will be eating for the 30 years it takes the trees to grow," she said.
"They'll be very hungry."
Over the three decades of the project, 847 hectares of koala habitat would be cleared. Official estimates put the number at 262 koalas affected over 30 years, of a population of 12,753.
However, conservationist Deborah Tabart, chief executive of the Australian Koala Foundation, said suggesting the population was in the tens of thousands was "complete nonsense".
"[I]n the whole area, the Gunnedah Catchment, there's only 1500," Ms Tabart said."
"The quality of the habitat on the impacted part of the mine is like a five-star restaurant, and the offset area, which we're completely opposed to, is like a cafe that just serves coffee.
"Shenhua said the absolute opposite [that the mine site has the least suitable habitat]. And that's why I wrote to Premier [Mike] Baird, saying they're working off shocking data."
She said that hearing the Premier's comments to a NSW Farmers conference on Tuesday that the "science had come back" on the mine made her want to scream.
"I wanted to scream at the radio and say the science we've read for the PAC [Planning Assessment Commission] is like a high-school project," Ms Tabart said.
"I believe that everyone should be calling for a royal commission or a senate inquiry."
On Tuesday, the mine's approval appeared to be one step closer, after Mr Baird told the assembly of farmers that the mine would not have a significant impact on the environment.
"Now it hasn't proceeded yet, there's no licences come in, but ultimately I'm in a position where I have to rely on the expert advice and that's what I'm going to do," he said.
The statement put him in a position that Ms Chirlian described as ironic.
In June, the Premier publicly pledged his support for Gunnedah koalas by wearing a badge for Project Koala, a conservation effort based in the area.
"It seemed to me to be really ironic that all these politicians are wearing these badges ... but it's kind of like they're hanging these Breeza Plains koalas out to dry," Ms Chirlian said.
Ms Tabart agreed.
"If this project goes ahead, the koalas on this site and surrounds are doomed," she said.
"I know the region like the back of my hand, and I'm in my 60s now, and let me tell you, [if this is approved] my children will be eating dirt. I'm so angry as a private citizen.
"This is bigger than koalas. This is the wrong mine in the wrong place. There is no due process."
Koalas in NSW are considered threatened and are protected by legislation at a state and federal level.
The Upper Mooki Landcare group will argue that the NSW Planning Assessment Commission did not properly consider whether the mine would put the koala population at risk of extinction, as it is required to do for any threatened species under the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.