Victorian coal developers keep community worried

A rally in Melbourne in June against new coal development in Gippsland. Photo: FOE/Facebook

Gelliondale Resources, a subsidiary of Melbourne company Ignite Energy Resources Limited, have applied for a “retention licence” for a project to mine brown coal at Gelliondale, in the South Gippsland region.

The application includes a work program of “field exploration activities such as drilling, sampling, excavation of costeans or pits and surveying,” according to the company website.

The Victorian Department of Energy and Resources says a retention licence provides for “retention of rights while licensees undertake intensive exploration, research and other non-mining activities to demonstrate the economic viability of mining”.

A coal briquette plant operated in the 1930s and 1940s at Gelliondale, but a 2008 study from the Department of Planning and Community Development describes the area as “an almost pristine coastal plain. The main occupation is agricultural/dairying pursuits on small landholdings”.

Local farmer Ursula Camburn told Green Left Weekly she was concerned about several aspects of the project, including pollution from flooding incidents that are common in the area, and damage to the underground aquifer.

“My main concern is the dust. There's lead, sulphates, everything in coal. If this comes, I'm out of here,” she said. Camburn's property is on one potential route from the mine to the nearest port.

The licence application may, at first glance, appear to signify the company moving forward. However, Friends of the Earth campaigns coordinator Cam Walker told GLW it is more likely a move to buy time.

“The company claims it may be four to five years before actual works begin. They have been rumoured to be on the skids, financially, for a while,” he said, saying they cannot export coal until new port infrastructure is built anyway.

Community campaigns against new coal and gas projects have had two significant victories in recent weeks.

On November 22, the state government withdrew funding from the company HRL for a new coal power station in the Latrobe Valley. Environment Victoria said in a press release that “the Napthine Government was unable to recover $16 million of the original $50 million grant meaning taxpayers have essentially gifted HRL $16 million.”

On November 21, the state government announced an extension on the moratorium over “fracking” processes for gas extraction until June 2015. “The next test for the government will be to see whether it drops plans for a further coal allocation,” Walker said. “Mr Napthine needs to understand that new coal is every bit as unpopular as new gas operations in regional Victoria.”


So I heard that the Gelliondale retention licence application was made open to the public for submissions- with a couple of days' notice of the deadline, with submissions only accepted by posted mail, not email, apparently (so it's not only on policy level that this government department is living in the 1950s).

The coal allocation and retention licence and the rest may be sincerely intended to get new coal exports off the ground (heaven help us) but the main effect seems to be stringing along these dodgy companies, with big injections of public money, so they can make a buck off selling new shares or whatever - without ever mining a scrap of coal. The same happened with the last coal allocation under a Labor state government in 2003.

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