Landholders in the NSW Southern Highlands this week released detailed data that they claim shows that Korean steel giant POSCO’s wholly owned Hume Coal has been drilling exploration holes outside its existing environmental approvals in Sutton Forest.
They claim that the Department of Resources and Energy appears to have been turning a blind eye to the company’s ‘blatant flouting’ of the environmental approvals process over the past two or three years.
New Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts is currently investigating the issue.
The landholders say that data compiled and mapped by professional surveyors shows the GPS coordinates for the holes the company has approval to drill against the actual holes that it has drilled with the difference in many instances being hundreds of metres off the approved coordinates.
We have asked the minister to immediately call a halt to the drilling program in the Southern Highlands at least until there has been a full audit of Hume Coal’s activities in the area.
We understand that the department is now taking this complaint very seriously and a full investigation is underway.
These environmental approvals were given under certain conditions including the protection of the Hawkesbury aquifer which overlies the coal seam and feeds into the Sydney water supply.
If a company is shown to have ignored the approvals it has and drilled wherever it wanted, then I think the community would have a right to be extremely concerned.
The random nature of the drill holes means that no one really knows the environmental impact of the holes and what any cumulative impact might be on the aquifer and the environment in general.
At the same time Hume Coal was forcing local landowners into ‘a flawed and costly arbitration process’ in a bid to get access to farmland that the company did not even have approval to drill.
We are seeing some landholders in the Southern Highlands forking out tens of thousands of dollars just to prove that drilling would interfere with their farming activities. This is drilling the company only thinks that it might get approval to do.
The system is incredibly unfair and weighted strongly in favour of the coal company. It is totally flawed and a complete denial of natural justice.
So far we have seen six landholders forced into the arbitration process by the company with another four having recently received letters demanding land access.
When landholders refuse access they are forced in to arbitration and then have to cover the costs. One local farmer has so far spent $80,000 fighting Hume Coal.
The family has had to compile extensive documentation proving they have improved their farm significantly (one of the few ways they can prevent access).
Hume Coal now wants to drill 22 holes, up from four at the beginning of the process, on a property that is just 140 hectares.
A number of other properties are in the same boat.
The company now also wants to drill in the remnant endangered highland shale woodland that the family has worked hard to protect.
Peter Martin, Southern Highlands Coal Action Group