Mining licences on hold

THE State Government's announcement it would put a 60-day moratorium on new mining exploration licences, including those for coal seam gas projects, has been met with mixed reactions from conservation and agricultural groups.

Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Brad Hazzard announced at the weekend a number of measures, including the moratorium as a transitional arrangement while the finer points of the Government's new land-sharing policy, aimed at regulating the balance of energy, agriculture, mining and conservation interests, were finalised.

Among other changes was also the requirement all applications for coal seam gas, petroleum and coal exploration licences be put on public exhibition.

According to Mr Hazzard, the interim measures were aimed at boosting the transparency of the process while the new policy was finalised.

Carmel Flint, co-ordinator of the North East Forest Alliance, said while the new measures were a step in the right direction, there were several key areas which had to be addressed including the lack of discussion about biodiversity protection in the draft policy.

“The other concern is that there have been such large areas already issued with exploration licences in NSW, so this doesn't actually give us anything in the short term for those areas. It doesn't require, for example, that individual wells as they're drilled for exploration are publicly exhibited,” Ms Flint said.

“As I understand it, there previously wasn't any public exhibition of exploration licences, so that's a good thing, but because we're so far advanced and so many areas already have had licences issued, it doesn't really go far enough as it's currently drafted.”

Ms Flint also said there needed to be clarification of what would happen to current exploration licences which were coming up for renewal.

NSW Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham was sceptical about the announcement, particularly in the light of a major gas well leak which occurred near Dalby in Queensland yesterday.

“The NSW Government's 60-day moratorium on issuing licences will not stop any drilling. It is token,” Mr Buckingham said.

“What we need is a 12-month moratorium and an independent inquiry to examine safety, health and environmental issues of coal seam gas.”

More enthusiastic though was NSW Farmers Association president Charles Armstrong.

Mr Armstrong said the measures would help address the concerns of NSW farmers facing direct impacts as a result of gas and mineral exploration and mining.

“Imposing a moratorium until a new planning regime is implemented is a clear sign that this Government is taking the concerns of farmers seriously,” Mr Armstrong said.

“The Government has followed through on a pre-election promise to take a responsible and balanced approach to mining exploration in NSW.”

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