Finding ways to co-exist

DESPITE changes to a proposed mine near Springsure, coal explorer Bandanna Energy still plans to create a partly open-cut thermal coal mine on the Central Highlands.

Managing director Ray Shaw spoke openly this week with Rural Weekly CQ about its 2011 annual report - released on Wednesday - and its plans for the future in Central Queensland.

Bandanna Energy has Australia's largest inventory of thermal coal licences across the Central Highlands and the Galilee Basin, among other areas.

Mr Shaw said plans for the Arcturus mine on the Highlands had changed from an entirely open-cut mine to a primarily underground mine. But plans remained to mine shallower reserves of thermal coal in an open-cut mine for between five and six years before changing the mine to an underground operation.

Mr Shaw said the company had secured a 14% stake in the Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal, with stage one plans for the export of some four million tonnes of thermal coal and options to secure stage two export allocations. This coal, he said, would be provided for export largely from the Arcturus, Springsure Creek and Arcadia mine proposals, transported along the Blackwater train system to Gladstone and shipped overseas.

The three projects were planned for an area of agricultural land which may be protected from some mining operations under the state's proposed strategic cropping land policy.

Mr Shaw said both farmers and miners had to find ways to co-exist.

He said the company had always planned for the eventuality that it would have to minimise and mitigate its effects on any land that was assessed as the state's most valuable cropping lands.

Mr Shaw said: "We know the landholders in the area want to know from us exactly what our plans are and where exactly a mine is going to go. But all we can do is go and tell them that we just don't know yet - we don't want to announce our plans and then find out that we then have to adjust them once the policy is in place."

He said there was "just as much uncertainty" about the new policy for miners as there was for primary producers. "I guess the bottom line is that there are going to be a lot of eyes on any new mine under this policy and we'd only be shooting ourselves in the foot if we did the wrong thing."

But Mr Shaw could not guarantee the company would not go ahead with its next stage in the environmental approvals process for Arcturus and Springsure Creek before the policy was made into law.

He said: "In the ideal world, at least the draft legislation would be put before Parliament before we'd be putting in our environmental impact statement."

The last stage in the EIS process for the Springsure Creek proposal was approved after a ministerial cut-off date for proposals in the area, which angered local farmers.

Minister for Natural Resources Rachel Nolan said she had approved the project partly on the basis of a written assurance from Bandanna that it would mitigate all effects and could rehabilitate the land.

Mr Shaw said that the document referred to had "a bit more confidential information" in it than was currently in the public realm.

But he said: "The bottom line is that we aren't trying to create some sort of Eureka Stockade here."

"We are looking at all the options to minimise any effects on the land, including subsidence and part of that could be leaving more pillars of coal because, ultimately, leaving some of the coal in the ground to preserve the land is a better option for us than leaving the whole project."

Mr Shaw said the company was doing everything it could to prevent damaging any land deemed to be strategic cropping land.

The company's plans for other regions, including for its Alpha Coal mine in the Galilee Basin, were on track. But Bandanna would have to wait until one of the larger companies exploring the greenfield basin developed a rail connection.

Mr Shaw said water supply was also a "key consideration" for the Alpha project and the company had been working with SunWater to secure water allocations from the proposed Connors River Dam Moranbah to Alpha pipeline project.

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