Communities in South Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley were delighted on November 9 to hear that Western Australian-based mining company Mantle Mining had walked away from their coalmining licences in the area.
The Victorian government granted Mantle Mining six exploration licences for brown coal in June. The licences cover almost 500 square kilometres across the Latrobe Valley and South Gippsland, including the surrounds of Mirboo North, Callignee, Jeeralang and Carrajung.
The licence grants were met with fierce opposition from community groups, such as Coal and CSG Free Mirboo North, who questioned Mantle’s intentions.
A spokesperson for the group Marg Thomas said: “Their story was that they would explore for coal, they would extract coal and use that money to build a solar-pumped hydro scheme in the Latrobe Valley. That was really difficult to understand.
“There was a strong sense that Mantle Mining's intentions or proposals were unbelievable. The other aspect that arose was that these licences can be on-sold at any time and so any promises that were made would not necessarily be honoured.”
Another member of Coal and CSG Free Mirboo North, Phil Piper, said he was shocked to see the exploration licences given the nod over such valuable farmland. “It’s a huge area that's affected, consisting of highly productive farmland and remnant bushland.”
Friends of the Earth Community Campaigner Ursula Alquier said: “Communities in these licence areas have been very vocal over the past five years about the impact new greenfields coalmining would have on their region.
“The potential for water contamination, destruction of prime agricultural farmland and the human health impacts have weighed heavily on a lot of people. There was no social licence or need for new coal mining in this area and it’s fantastic that this area no longer has to fight these mining interests.”
Coal and CSG Free Mirboo North led the community campaign against new coal projects in the region. They conducted a door-to-door survey in 2014 asking residents: “Do you want to declare this area coal and gasfield free?” A resounding 96.7% said yes. A community declaration followed in which the people removed the social licence for any new brown coal mining in the area.
This is another win for people power, after the news in September that the state government were putting a permanent ban in place on all unconventional gas mining and fracking.
South Gippsland beef farmer Fergus O’Connor said: “Having no further coal licences hanging over our heads gives us great certainty to move forward with our farming operations.
“Agriculture is the backbone of our local economy and communities like ours should not have to constantly compete with pie in the sky mining proposals.
“We are sitting on a jewel in the crown of agricultural land. Three per cent of the nation’s arable land in Victoria produces 26% of the nation’s food.
“We really feel like Christmas has come early and we can now look forward to a coal and gas field free future.”