With the controversial Shenhua Watermark Coal Project that was slated for the fertile Liverpool Plains now scrapped, NSW Farmers is calling for bipartisan support to permanently extinguish 11 petroleum exploration licenses (PELS) that continue to threaten valuable agricultural land.
With a by-election set to be held in the Upper Hunter on May 22, NSW Legislative Council Independent, Justin Field, will this week bring on a bill to cancel the expired petroleum exploration licenses.
NSW Farmers is backing the move to remove the petroleum exploration licenses with NSW Farmers President, James Jackson, saying the association has and always will support any government in making decisions that act to protect agricultural land.
“It was heartening last week to see the NSW Government’s commitment to buy back the Shenhua mine and guarantee the security of local food and fibre production on the Liverpool Plains,” Mr Jackson said.
“Mining and gas extraction are important to NSW, and in the right place and at the right scale, are an important part of our state’s economy.
“It was a case of the wrong mine in the wrong location for the Shenhua project. The eleven petroleum exploration licenses (PELS) are also in inappropriate areas where gas extraction can have long term significant detrimental consequences for agriculture, water and the environment and they must be cancelled. We also must look to introduce a new process to ensure this does not happen again.”
Mr Field has long been vocal on the issue. He announced he would launch a bill to permanently cancel the petroleum exploration licenses after the NSW Government said it would pay Chinese-owned mining company Shenhua $100m to withdraw from its Watermark coalmine project last month.
“Four of the twelve Zombie PELs encroach on the Upper Hunter and the Liverpool Plains. It makes no sense to pay $100 million to protect the Liverpool Plains from the Shenhua coal mine but allow gas exploration, development and pipelines,” Mr Field said.
Farmers, environmental groups and communities have fought the Shenhua mine proposal for 13 years.
Wrong mine, wrong place
Liverpool Plains farmer and NSW Farmers Vice President, Xavier Martin, said the NSW Government’s decision to stop the mine has ended 13 years of deep uncertainty for farmers.
“It was a great shock (when it was first announced) and it has really impacted farming communities in the 13 years since,” Mr Martin told community radio 2ser 107.3. “We are now in a euphoria about the decision.
“For over more than a decade, people have been afraid to spend money on improving their assets including repairing cattle yards or painting the house and with succession planning, because how do you get your sons or daughters or anyone to invest in a landscape that is about to be destroyed.”
“This area has some of the best soils and water in Australia and as a nation, short term energy extraction gains should never compromise long term food and fibre production goals,” Mr Martin said, adding it presented unimaginable risk to quality and quantity of groundwater.
“What many people may not know about this landscape is that almost every town, village and farm in this region relies on this groundwater for human consumption in addition to it being vital for agricultural production.
“The potential risk in compromising this groundwater resource should have been enough to stop this project in its track’s year ago, as it had really affected confidence in our rural community.”
The National Farmers Federation also welcomed the decision to quit the mine.
“After more than 13 long years, farmers and the Liverpool Plains community can almost breathe a sigh of relief that this process has finally ended,” President and Liverpool Plains farmer Fiona Simson said.
“The fertile black soil of the Liverpool Plains is some of the best farm land in Australia. It is a region of national significance. It is also home to the largest single underground water resource in the Murray Darling Basin. The proposed mine was never in the national interest and should never have been considered in the first place.”
Environmentalists, farmers unite
Lock the Gate Alliance welcomed the decision and said it was testament to the hard work and never give up attitude of Traditional Owners, farmers and other community members who refused to accept the mine would be built on the Liverpool Plains.
“The government must be congratulated for taking this opportunity to end the uncertainty this mine created for the community and protecting this incredibly important area. It’s a very significant step,” Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said.
“It’s crucial that the government now works with the local community on a process for returning the land owned by Shenhua, including providing ownership of cultural sites to Gomeroi Traditional Owners and facilitating a shift back from mining to farming.”