Thu, Jul 13, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Chinese coal mine project in Australia scaled down in favor of fertile farmland

AP, CANBERRA

The New South Wales State government yesterday said it would buy back most of a Chinese mining company’s coal exploration license for A$262 million (US$200 million) to help protect some of Australia’s most fertile farmland.

It is to buy back 51.4 percent of state-owned China Shenhua Energy’s license covering the Liverpool Plains, 440km northwest of Sydney, the government said.

Shenhau Watermark Coal, an Australian subsidiary, paid the government A$300 million in 2008 for exploration rights over the prime farmland, sparking outrage from local farmers and agriculture advocates.

Coal and iron ore are Australia’s most lucrative exports and a commodity price boom driven by Chinese industrial demand at the time made coal seams beneath farmland in parts of Australia increasingly more valuable than any crop.

Australian Minister for Resources Don Harwin said Shenhau would be left to explore the mountain ridges that border the 12,400km2 flatland.

“We’ve acted today to make sure that there can be no mining on the fertile, black soil of the Liverpool Plains,” Harwin told reporters.

Shenhau and successive state governments have always maintained that the plan was to restrict mining to the ridges.

The company paid inflated prices to buy dozens of farms that would be impacted by dust, noise and traffic from the open-cut mining operations.

Farmers feared that the massive excavations threatened aquifers that provide ground water for agriculture throughout the region.

Shenhua had “expressed its disappointment” at the government’s decision, but would continue with plans to mine the smaller area, the company said.

“The Watermark Coal Mine has been subject to unprecedented scrutiny which has demonstrated the project can be developed in an environmentally sustainable manner,” Shenhua Australia chairman Liu Xiang (劉翔) said.

Former local farmer and anti-mine campaigner Tim Duddy welcomed the license change as “a very, very big win.”

Shenhua would now have to propose a new mining plan and will face stiff opposition, he said.

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