Community beats back coal and gas exploration

Colac town centre.

Mining company ECI International has “submitted a surrender request” to the state government for its coal and gas exploration licence covering 500 square kilometers — including the town of Colac and a large region of the Otway Ranges — said the October 7 Colac Herald.

This is the second coal exploration venture in the area that has withdrawn after Mantle Mining pulled out of its project in the Deans Marsh area.

The withdrawal occurs less than two weeks after 100 residents packed a hall at Forrest, in the Otway Ranges, to organise opposition to the project.

The Colac Herald wrote that it believed the company “has surrendered its exploration licence because the Colac Otway region covered by permit does not have ‘enough coal to justify exploration’”. ECI International has other exploration licences in the region still active.

Whatever the real reasons, it is certain that a broad spectrum of locals had spoken out against the project. These included local federal MP Darren Cheeseman, Greens Victorian Senator Richard Di Natale, the Colac Otway Shire Council and hundreds of locals throughout the region.

In the week before October 7, hundreds of Victorians packed halls from Warrnambool to Wonthaggi in a series of public meetings opposing coal and gas exploration projects threatening their communities.

Friends of the Earth organised a “coal seam gas roadshow” that spoke to hundreds of locals in Warrnambool, Colac, Ballarat, Geelong and Melbourne. Speakers included Drew Hutton, national chair of the Lock the Gate Alliance, legal experts from the Environment Defenders Office, and Friends of the Earth’s Cam Walker.

A separate meeting in Wonthaggi organised by locals attracted more than 80 residents to hear speakers from Doctors for the Environment and Environment Victoria as well as local climate action group Groundswell Bass Coast.

Hutton repeatedly told audiences that wherever communities have stood together and refused to allow the exploration companies onto their land, they have been successful in stopping the coal seam gas juggernaut.

The news of the partial withdrawal by ECI International was greeted with applause when it was announced to the Melbourne meeting on October 7.

Walker says he hopes the new coal seam gas industry can be locked out of Victoria before it even starts, and FoE is calling on the state government to declare a moratorium on the industry until the risks are properly understood.

FoE plans to continue working with the local groups to stop the industry.