Burke approves huge gas and coal plans
Date February 12, 2013 94 reading now
Ben Cubby, Paddy Manning
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Conditional approval … Tony Burke. Photo: Andrew Meares
A CLUTCH of big coal and coal seam gas projects, including the controversial Whitehaven mine near Narrabri in NSW, have been approved by the federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke.
He signed conditional approvals for Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine, planned for the Leard State Forest, Idemitsu’s neighbouring Boggabri coalmine expansion, and a coal seam gas development planned by AGL for Gloucester in NSW.
Together, the three resources projects would have a huge carbon footprint of 47 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year – about 8 per cent of Australia’s total emissions – according to environmental impact assessments.
Whitehaven, part-owned by embattled coal baron Nathan Tinkler, was subject to a damaging hoax when anti-coal campaigner Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release claiming ANZ had stopped funding the project, causing a temporary drop in the miner’s share price. His protest is being investigated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
The mining projects had all been approved at state level. Mr Burke’s signature was seen as the final obstacle to development.
”Of all the decisions I have ever made, this is the one where I have the least idea of whether the projects are going to go ahead,” he said. ”For all three projects there are substantial issues.”
Some of the hurdles yet to be overcome are the preservation of a ”biodiversity corridor” in the Leard Forest to allow koalas and other vulnerable animals to survive, high quality offsets to partially compensate for sections of the forest which would be cut down, and a hydrogeological survey around Gloucester.
Mr Burke compared Monday’s decision to the approval granted by former environment minister Malcolm Turnbull to the proposed Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania. That process involved a series of separate ”modules” that stretched the approvals process out for years, before the project was finally canned.
Asked if his coal and coal seam gas decisions then amounted to ”Clayton’s approvals”, Mr Burke said: ”It’s a completely fair criticism. I would have much preferred to do things in the usual way, and give clear approvals or rejections. Unfortunately the NSW government chose to leak commercial information, and caused this process.”
Mr Burke was referring to a confidential letter from him to the NSW government, obtained by Fairfax Media, flagging his intention to approve the Whitehaven mine late last year. He said NSW would be excluded from the further approvals process because the letter was leaked.
Also on Monday, the NSW government granted conditional approval for an expansion of BHP Billiton’s Dendrobium coalmine south-west of Sydney. Five longwall coal panels will be dug beneath Sydney’s drinking water catchment, with some damage surface expected to eight ”upland swamps” – rare ecosystems that support a variety of plants, birds and amphibians.
The managing director of Whitehaven, Tony Haggarty, welcomed the approval and said: ”Notwithstanding the stringent environmental conditions which have been placed on the project and the difficult coal market at present, this is an excellent project and Whitehaven will be seeking to bring it into production as soon as possible.”
An AGL spokeswoman also welcomed the approval and said it would work on satisfying the 36 conditions on matters of national environmental significance and protection of groundwater.
”Conservationists are furious about Minister Burke’s decision,” said the chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Pepe Clarke.
”Leard Forest is a rich natural habitat, teeming with life, and this decision marks the death knell of this extraordinary area.”
The NSW Greens said the series of approvals made for ”a very black day for the environment in NSW”.
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Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/burke-approves-huge-gas-and-coal-plans-20130211-2e8vh.html#ixzz2KaCw91AZ