Farming and environmental protection groups are celebrating a decision by a coal mining company to abandon its plans to mine the property of blind NSW farmer Ian Moore, but remain concerned by its decision to continue exploratory work on surrounding properties.
NuCoal Resources yesterday agreed to halt exploratory drilling on the Hunter Valley property of Ian and Robyn Moore while an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the granting of its licence is conducted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
The company’s permit to conduct exploratory drilling on an area of farmland west of Singleton was granted to Doyles Creek Mining in 2008 by then NSW energy and resources minister Ian Macdonald. NuCoal purchased Doyles Creek Mining last year.
A report by legal firm Clayton Utz recently alleged that some licences and leases granted by the former NSW Labor Government were outside proper practice and against the public interest to benefit ALP associates.The ICAC is now investigating the claims.
NuCoal's exploration activities in its Hunter Valley permit area were also the focus of a vocal anti-mining campaign and national media attention when Mr Moore, who is legally blind, joined the Lock the Gate campaign to prevent NuCoal from accessing his property.
NSW energy and resources minister Chris Hartcher wrote to NuCoal last week asking the company to halt its drilling activities in the permit area while the ICAC investigation was underway.
In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange yesterday NuCoal said it had had positive discussions with Mr Hartcher, and had agreed not to explore on land owned by Ian and Robyn Moore for the duration of the exploration licence.
However it said it would continue exploration activities on land where it had access agreements in place with landowners, and on land which NuCoal owns.
NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson told ABC Radio yesterday that while the decision was “great news” for the Moores, NuCoal should also suspend its operations across its entire license area.
“It’s extraordinary that in actual fact this exploration license can continue whilst an ICAC review is in place,” she said.
“It smacks of media management that NuCoal is actually now suspending operations on Ian Moore’s property, but not the rest of his exploration license and not the rest of the exploration license they hold at Doyle’s Creek.”
NuCoal says it has agreements with 26 of the 31 property owners covered by its exploration permit, but local landholders have told ABC that they doubt the number is that high.
Lock the Gate alliance president Drew Hutton said NuCoal’s decison to abandon plans to drill on the Moore’s property was the first major victory for the Lock the Gate campaign.
When Mr Moore originally locked his gates on the company, NuCoal took him to a government-appointed arbitrator who upheld the company's right to drill on the property.
Mr Moore then appealed to the Land and Environment Court which imposed much tougher restrictions on NuCoal, but still upheld the company’s right to enter the property.
Mr Hutton said the campaign that was fought around the Moore's case generated enormous public sympathy.
"The people of the hunter Valley and in Australia generally have cried 'enough' with regard to mining on good agricultural land," Mr Hutton said.
"We must stop this madness now.
"There must be a moratorium on all new coal mines and on all coal seam gas development until governments and the Australian people can make considered judgments on whether they want this resources boom to engulf our precious long-term natural resources and our iconic environmental areas all in the name of the short-term dollar.
"Until that happens our campaign will continue. Landowners will lock the gate on resource companies trying to enter their properties and, if they attempt to enter communities where they are not welcome, we will block the gate.”
Mr Hutton said a spontaneous blockade had also been imposed on CSG company AGL yesterday outside the Hunter Valley town of Gloucester, where the company is licensed for 110 wells.
He said protestors were calling for AGL to halt its drilling program to allow an independent examination of the seismic and water studies for the region.