Back off, BHP
MATTHEW CAWOOD AND ALAN DICK
Simmering tensions over BHP Billiton’s controversial plans to mine coal in a huge area of prime Liverpool Plains farming country boiled over on Monday, when landholders turned up in force to blockade a mining exploration site.
They barred BHP’s access to Tim Duddy’s property, “Rossmar Park” at Caroona, where the giant mining corporation wants to undertake exploratory drilling.
Locals say they are determined to maintain the blockade on a rolling roster until BHP agrees to a special set of land-use terms drafted by the Caroona Coal Action Group (CCAG).
BHP was granted coal exploration rights in 2006 over 250 square kilometres of some of Australia’s best farming land on the northern plains, north-west of Quirindi.
The coal resource under the plains has been estimated at half a billion tonnes, with a mine life of up to 60 years.
Local farmers and residents, led by CCAG, have waged a protracted campaign to ensure that mining doesn’t damage the plain’s agricultural interests, and are demanding an independent survey of the region’s underground terrain because of fears mining will damage the region’s water resources.
Many farmers have refused BHP access to their properties because they see the terms of access BHP proposes as inadequate.
The issue came to a head last Friday after Mr Duddy put a grader across his farm entrance gate. BHP had already done preliminary work on the property in preparation for drilling.
From The Land, July 24, 2008.
Farmers blockade coal miners in NSW
He was served with a court order that forced him to let the surveyors in, but friends and neighbours arrived and blocked the road with vehicles.
The protesters have settled in, with some spending a cold night beside campfires along the driveway.
BHP Billiton plans to drill about 300 bore holes – a few centimetres wide but hundreds of metres deep – across the district.
“This is beautiful farming land and we don’t think it should be part of another coal mine,” Mr Duddy said last night.
The mining company is about two years into a five-year exploration project and has received permission from other landholders to drill test holes.
“We need to be sensitive; this is a process that takes a long period of time,” said Stephen David, the managing director of the Caroona Coal Project.
A court hearing in Gunnedah will assess Mr Duddy’s case on July 31.