Coal! Coal! Coal!

Just as Federal Parliament girds its loins to thrash out legislation for a carbon pollution reduction scheme, presumably to help reduce the burning of coal, the NSW government has gone on an orgy of coal mine royalties.

Woronora Reservoir is the main source of drinking supplies in southern Sydney, and Planning Minister Keneally has over-ridden expert advice to approve longwall coalmining underneath it by US company Peabody Resources for the next 23 years. The advice said that extraction of long coal panels under the reservoir will crack the bedrock and dam floor, thus potentially causing serious leaks. Plugs may be required. The minister’s best defence seemed to be about job creation around the mine.

Mining company Pangea Resources applied to prospect for coal-seam gas under huge swathes of national park in Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Minister for Mineral Resources MacDonald (he of advisory committees and long lunches) will consider the proposal, so the outcome must be in safe hands.

Liverpool Plains region west of Tamworth has rich volcanic soils and aquifers that sustain highly productive farming, and also feed headwaters of the Murray-Darling river system. BHP Billiton and China’s Shenhua have paid $400 million to NSW government for coal exploration rights under the plains. FIRB approval for Shenhua to purchase (at inflated prices) some of the 25 properties on the surface of its lease has been granted. Local farmers have been blockading BHP Billiton’s access to their lease for 12 months, and taken legal action against NSW minister Ian MacDonald over his approval.

Strange idea that property owners have no control over what lies underneath. Miners say they’ll only mine ridges to limit damage to farmland, but farmers are not convinced. Hydrological study of aquifers commisioned by government seems unlikely to stop approval.

In one fell (or is that foul?) swoop our most productive farmland, main river system and carbon reduction strategies potentially take a huge hit, in exchange for mining royalties and export income. Hard to believe that the only new coal reserves lie under a water reservoir, national park and rich farmland.

Federal Environment Minister Garrett has not made any comments, of course.

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