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Issue #1492      9 March 2011

Hunter Valley residents say NO to mining

Members of the newly-formed Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud Preservation Alliance have unequivocally declared their opposition to mining for coal seam gas and coal, as well as large scale mining for rubies and sapphires, within the beautiful north-east Hunter region in NSW.

Exploration licenses have been granted throughout most of the Barrington Tops area, despite its great natural significance.

The Alliance has stated: “When we look at the map of the areas which the mining companies intend to explore and mine, it is clear that our best farming land, our main river systems and our new residential properties cannot coexist with mining. Either mining OR our current system will prevail. They cannot both occupy the same locations.”

As demonstrated in many Hunter Valley areas, the mining proposals are potentially catastrophic for agriculture and pose a major threat to the natural environment, to the health, livelihoods and way of life of residents, and to local industries such as tourism.

The mining plague

The northeast Hunter region now faces mining on a massive scale, which would include the following operations.

Long wall mining involves opening up vast subterranean cavities that are allowed to collapse after the coal has been extracted, which usually results in subsidence, often metres deep. Gloucester mining companies have refused to deny that they would use long wall mining beneath the Mammy Johnson River and points of river convergence around Gloucester.

Open cut mines result in huge excavations and overburden heaps that ruin the landscape and spread coal dust over surrounding areas, as well as the release of toxins from fractured rocks. After extraction of the coal the original landscape is not reinstated, because of the technical difficulties and expense in doing so. In fact, the excavations are not even filled in, just reshaped and replanted. Regrowth of natural vegetation and soil structures normally takes up to 70 years.

Blasting, noise, air pollution and increased traffic from the two existing open-cut coal mines just south of Gloucester have caused major headaches for local residents. The sites of the Stratford mine, close to the Mammy Johnson River, and the Duralie mine near the Avon, are virtually finished as far as agriculture is concerned.

Coal seam gas mining is notorious for the uncontrolled escape of methane gas, (a greenhouse gas 23 times more damaging than carbon dioxide) and for the pollution of surface and subterranean watercourses. Pollution of water and soil is a particular hazard in the case of “fracking”, a practice that involves pumping water, sand and chemicals under pressure into subterranean rocks to fracture them and release the gas.

Large-scale mining for rubies and sapphires, which involves dredging or drilling through gravel beds alongside or beneath the rivers, also threatens their flow. Moreover, it involves the risk of leeching from tailings dams, and necessitates extraction of river water to fill the dams in dry weather.

Exploration licenses have been granted throughout most of the Barrington Tops area, despite its great natural significance, and despite its wildlife having been classified as an endangered ecological community. Drilling may be carried out in the Barrington sub-alpine wetlands, and large diameter drilling is also proposed in the Barrington and Gloucester Rivers.

One company that has been mining on a relatively small scale within the Barrington Tops State Forest and State Conservation Area has also been carrying out exploratory mining since 1998, without consultation with local residents. The company wants to begin large scale mining within two years, which would involve use of a floating dredge, and diversion of the river through “temporary” culverts.

Them or us

All these practices threaten the supply of fresh water from streams and rivers, as well as sub-surface water, because of subterranean fractures. Many rivers, watercourses and swamps within the Hunter have suffered a drastic loss of water from mining operations carried out near or beneath them. Forty-three streams are said to have ceased to flow altogether.

As an example of what north east Hunter communities are facing, the current mining and exploration area around Gloucester covers several hundred acres up to 35 kilometres south of the town and extends beneath the Avon, Gloucester and Mammy Johnson Rivers, as well as many local creeks. The mining area is less than a kilometre from the town’s main street.

As well as opposing coal mining in the north east Hunter, the BGSP alliance is lobbying the NSW Parliament to have the Barrington Tops State Conservation and State Forest areas declared national parks. They also want to prevent large scale mining of sapphires and rubies, and all mining in wetlands and rivers.

Needless to say, that doesn’t suit the mining corporations. They want to extract as much coal as fast as possible, because of growing public concern about climate change, which will eventually force governments to begin phasing out the use of fossil fuels, particularly for coal-fired power generation.

As a result, mining companies will cut corners wherever possible in order to boost production. And as a result of that, NSW is now littered with rivers and streams whose flows have been reduced or have even ceased to flow altogether. Good farming land has been ruined, and local communities have been badly affected by coal dust, soil and air pollution, not to mention heavy traffic, noise and devaluation of properties. And now mining is even proposed under the vast, fertile Liverpool Plains.

So far, the mining industry has enjoyed the enthusiastic support of both major political parties. The BGSP Alliance recently commented:

“This industry has been given unique privileges, including the right to occupy and exploit land owned by other companies and citizens. Governments have been persuaded to maintain the privileges for mining companies even though such laws are grossly undemocratic and make little economic sense.”

However, the blatant arrogance and greed of mining corporations is boosting public opposition. The activities of community organisations such as the Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud Preservation Alliance, and the election of progressive independent MPs and the Greens, will in time cause more of our citizens to seek a political system which, in contrast with the present arrangement, really cares for the Earth and its people.  

Next article – Roots of the Arab revolts and premature celebrations

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