Various technical topics related to science, energy, climate change and coal & gas.


Postby HVPA_research » Fri Jul 01, 2011 1:23 am


15 APRIL 2011


The Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud Preservation Alliance (BGSPA) was established in 2006 in response to the sudden and dramatic expansion of proposed mining within the Gloucester Valley. Licences were granted for coal and coal seam gas exploration which extended over the best farming land, river systems, valued tourist areas and privately owned residential areas. Major expansion plans were announced for existing mines operated by Gloucester Coal (GCL). It seemed that the entire valley from Stroud to Barrington was about to be swamped.

The aim of BGSPA is to ensure that general rural character of this area is preserved by opposing developments that are injurious to this character and environment. It seeks to raise awareness within the community about the extent and impact of proposed mining. The members are rural landholders and local town residents who are either impacted by current or proposed mining or who are generally concerned about the impact of all this proposed mining on the natural resources and amenity of the valley.

BGSPA has a broad focus and undertakes activities in its own name but also acts as an “umbrella” organisation and supports other groups that are dealing with a specific issue such as the Johnsons Creek Conservation Committee (JCCC), the Gloucester Residents in Partnership (GRIP) and The Gloucester Project (TGP).


1 BGSPA welcomes the establishment of this strategic review, although we regard the process with some scepticism given that it was initiated in the dying days of the former government apparently in a belated attempt to placate widespread and growing community anger and concern about the rampant growth of the coal mining and coal seam gas industries.

2 BGSPA is concerned that the terms of reference are too narrow and that the strategy is aimed simply at facilitating the continued expansion of mining throughout the state albeit with some tinkering around the edges to try to hose down community anger. There has been talk of getting the balance right between mining and other land use whereas in reality, the balance is pushed a long way in favour of mining. No other industry has the power that the mining industry has to ride roughshod over the property rights of others.

3 BGSPA recommends that the strategy be broadened to encompass a full scale review of all resource utilisation within the state and involving all stake holders so that issues such as food and water security, community amenity (including health and lifestyle issues), alternative land use, other industries (eg tourism) and the environment are considered and given equal weight to mining. This review should result in the development of a State Strategic Plan for the sustainable utilisation of all resources.

4 BGSPA rejects the claim made in the Scoping Paper that mining is compatible with other land uses. Mining has a very large footprint and impacts such as dust and noise are felt well beyond the immediate mine. The fact that there has been a groundswell of public anger and concern developing over recent years is indicative of this incompatibility.

Within the Gloucester Valley, from Gloucester to Stroud Road, increasing numbers of landholders are affected by current and proposed future mining. Landholders who have lived their whole lives here are devastated. More recent arrivals have said they would not have moved here had they known what was coming. Planned capital investments in grape growing, aquaculture, horse breeding and niche agriculture have been put on hold or abandoned.

5 BGSPA notes that community anger and concern is deep and growing. The extent of this was reflected in the recent state election results. Against the trend of a massive state-wide swing to the coalition, the result in Upper Hunter (where the majority of coal mining is located) saw a 6% swing against the sitting National Party member. Compare this with the neighbouring seat of Myall Lakes which recorded a 15% swing to the National Party and the true picture is revealed – a 21% turnaround in support for the coalition in this electorate on top of the collapse in the ALP vote. This result is profoundly significant and it is all down to community anger about the rampant mining onslaught.

6 BGSPA strongly advocates the removal of Part 3A and all other instruments that deny communities and local government a strong voice in the planning decisions that affect their lives, livelihoods and lifestyles.

7 BGSPA recommends that the artificial separation of the exploration and mining phases be addressed. The impact on landholders begins with the granting of an Exploration Licence, especially where this occurs in an area where there are extant Mining Leases. It is complete sophistry to suggest that the purpose of the EL is to just find what resources exist in the state. As the Scoping Paper reveals, the extent and location of the coal resources is well known. The EL merely allows the company to define the details of the resource prior to applying for a Mining Lease, which is virtually guaranteed to be granted.

An example from the Gloucester Valley serves to illustrate this point. GCL operates a coal mine at Stratford. In 2006 it applied for a new EL adjacent to its exiting EL within which is its Mining Lease. EL6904 was subsequently granted. It covers 17 square kilometres and twenty four properties. GCL has forecast that mining within EL6904 would not occur until after 2020. This effectively has put the lives of the affected landholders in limbo for at least 13 years. They face many unanswerable questions about what might happen and how best to deal with the situation. A great sense of uncertainty and anxiety is ever present. No expenditure can be made without wondering whether it might be wasting money. Some opt to allow their properties to fall into disrepair. The most insidious impact is the fact that the landholders’ capital investment in their properties is now frozen. Proximity to a coal mine and the possible future development of a coal mine does not attract buyers. Properties in this area are no longer able to be sold. GCL is the only buyer in the market – and it won’t be making an offer for many years, if at all. Some people are now in desperate financial straits. Innocent people’s lives have been ruined.

8 BGSPA strongly advocates that mining be banned within one kilometre of a water course.

9 BGSPA strongly advocates that the State Strategic Plan referred to in Point 3 should identify and declare areas to be exempt from mining because alternative land use is more sustainable, more productive or more socially desirable. Conversely, areas of significant mineral resources that are not critical for food production, water conservation or alternative land uses should be identified as potential mining areas. This would provide certainty for landholders and communities and obviate the conflicts and stresses caused by the present approach.

Australia has vast mineral resources within its sparsely populated areas. We are facing significant changes to rainfall patterns that will result in large swathes of agricultural land becoming unviable. We need to nurture and protect our rivers and productive agricultural and grazing land such as the Gloucester Valley and the Liverpool Plains.

After several generations of population migration from the country to the city, we are witnessing the beginning of a movement from the cities back to the country - the so-called “tree-change” phenomenon. This is widely acknowledged by governments as being beneficial because it reduces demand for resources and infrastructure in the cities and brings economic renaissance to rural and regional communities. However, if increasing numbers of tree-changers find their dreams of rural life turning into mining nightmares, this driver of rural growth and sustainable development will be still-born.

10 BGSPA notes that noise impacts of mining operations are grossly underestimated and that monitoring and reporting regimes are lamentably weak. It recommends a complete review be undertaken to establish what really is the mining impact footprint and the implementation of a more vigorous monitoring regime.

The experience of residents in proximity to the Stratford mine well illustrates this fact. Those living up to seven kilometres from the Coal handling and Processing Plant (CHPP) are subject to regular intrusive and sleep disturbing noise. Noise impact maps produced to support the mine’s original approval don’t even show these residences as being within the noise impact zone.

11 BGSPA is deeply concerned that no consideration is given to the cumulative impacts of successive or multiple mining approvals.

The Gloucester Valley has two Mining Leases in which GCL operates open-cut coal mines (Stratford and Duralie), extensive coal EL’s held by GCL and Gloucester Resources (GRL) in which intensive drilling programs are being conducted and overlying this, an extensive EL held by AGL for the development of a major coal seam gas field.

GCL obtained a foot-hold in the valley by initially seeking approval for a so-called “boutique” open-cut coal mine at Stratford in the mid 1990’s. Since then it has undertaken a program of “expansion by stealth” which has seen the Duralie mine open and expand and several new pits at Stratford open. Each individual expansion has been able to be presented as a “minor modification” but this piecemeal approach being taken to the expansion of GCL’s operations impedes the capacity of affected residents to evaluate the combined impacts of successive expansions. There is deep concern in the community that as a result of the piecemeal approval process, there has been no attempt to identify or assess the cumulative impacts of what is, in reality, a massive mining project covering a distance of 20 kilometres with a life stretching into the future for several decades.

This has now been exacerbated by the recent approval of AGL’s coal seam gas project.

12 BGSPA contends that the real costs of mining are not being identified. The assessment of a mining lease is always looking for and accepting as desirable, the short term profit from mining, and discounting the long term costs to the environment and nearby communities, regardless of the significance or size of the resource. The fact that mining is by definition not sustainable whereas many industries, such as tourism, that it displaces are sustainable, is ignored. The communities where mining is endemic frequently suffer from health problems, loss of amenity, displacement and in some cases, complete eradication. They are expected to cop it on the chin for the sake of short term financial benefits to the wider community.

A specific example serves to illustrate this point. To the south of its processing plant, GCL plans to open two small pits to extract approximately 5 Mt of coal. This is a pathetically small resource. To obtain this resource, the village of Craven will be effectively wiped off the map and its residents displaced, a large tract of productive grazing land will be taken over, a magnificent stand of ironbarks will be cut down and the lives of surrounding landholders will be negatively impacted for years. This is not sensible. It is not right.

13 BGSPA recommends that compensation be provided for landholders displaced or negatively impacted by mining. What of those landholders who planned to spend the rest of their lives on their property? If they are eventually forced to sell, shouldn’t they be recompensed for the years spent improving their properties and nurturing the land? No-one can give these years of their lives back to them. Merely paying market rate for a property does not adequately compensate landholders forced to sell against their will nor does it reflect the real value to the company of obtaining that land. Similarly, those who choose to stay and ‘put up’ with the mine as a neighbour should be provided with compensation for the loss of amenity.

14 BGSPA is deeply concerned that the emerging growth industry of coal seam gas extraction is being ushered in with unseemly haste. The government and investors are blinded by the prospect of vast profits and are sweeping all risks due to potential failures of new technology and uncertain geology under the carpet of “if there is a problem we will fix it later”. The risks to human and environmental health are not trivial but are being treated as such. The precautionary principle is being ignored.

15 BGSPA contends that the current Community Consultative Committees are inadequate and need to be revamped to ensure that they have meaningful terms of reference and prescribed authority, and are truly representative of the community and vehicles for genuine consultation about all aspects of a company’s current and future activities that have an impact on the community.

16 Preoccupation with the resources boom is blinding decision-makers to alternative land-use options and development strategies. The Gloucester Valley has many characteristics that make it an ideal location for such options and strategies. It is a popular tree-change destination and a tourism “hot-spot”. Climate change models predict that the Gloucester Valley will be an advantaged area in future, an important consideration for food-production and water security. Much developmental work has already been undertaken by The Gloucester Project (TGP) on a model for the sustainable economic development of the region. BGSPA supports and commends the work of TGP and recommends that the Ministerial Sub-Committee closely considers its submission.

17 BGSPA expects that the Ministerial Sub-Committee will facilitate a further round of community and stakeholder consultation once it has had a chance to consider all submissions.

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