Breeza's ag future hangs with gov't decision

Exploration, mining licence deadline looms for Shenhua

Editorial
Aa

When the government makes its decision later this year, it won't just be making a decision about whether to give the go ahead to a new mine, but also a decision about the future of agriculture on the Breeza Plain.

Aa

It's going to be a big year for those on the Breeza Plain.

Chinese coal mining company Shenhua is cranking up exploratory and environmental management plan works to have all its assessments done - and its mining lease application submitted - by the June 30 deadline of its current two-year extended (and somewhat controversial) exploration lease.

Smack bang in the middle of a sensitive area for koalas and amid the super fertile Breeza Plain, the project has the farming community worried about long term impacts on the water upon which the local cropping industry is so dependent.

Water is key, especially in such an extreme, dry season. Across the Breeza Plain right now, the only productive paddocks, despite the good soils, are where there is still irrigation. Those crops look good.

One aspect that has been magnified since Shenhua was first awarded its exploration licence in 2008, is just how important that water is for the local farming economy.

Competition for scarce water has intesnified, especially as other nearby mines step up their efforts to outbid farmers. There are water wars already playing out.

Having been in the spotlight in the past 12 months for cease and desist orders and investigations by the Natural Resources Access Regulator, perhaps the most concerning issue for farmers is the competition for water that's emerged between farmers and Whitehaven (the operator of Maules Creek and Tarrawonga mines and the planned Vickery mine extension).

When Maules Creek was approved, it was considered it had ample water with its existing 600 megalitre a year license to carry out its operations.

However, the mine has since been at the centre of concerns about declining water tables along Maules Creek and has made headlines for significantly outbidding farmers at auction, paying as much as $930/ML for temporary water.

Back at Shenhua, south of Gunnedah, among farmers' main concerns was the potential drawdown of the water table due to the planned depth of the pit.

Yet, the Maules Creek experience has shown there are further risks around water to also heed.

When the government makes its decision later this year, it won't just be making a decision about whether to give the go ahead to a new mine, but also a decision about the future of agriculture on the Breeza Plain.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by