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It's official: Shenhua's Breeza coal mine plan extinguished
The 15-year battle forged by farmers on the Liverpool Plains to stop Shenhua's open-cut coal mine is finally over after the NSW Government announced on Wednesday it will buy out the Watermark mining lease for $100 million.
Announcing the agreement in Breeza, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the decision was made to strike the right balance between protecting prime agricultural land and mining.
The decision means that Shenhua will have to relinquish over 22,000 hectares of mainly farm land, bought from local farmers at heftily inflated prices.
Many of the 32 farms bought were leased back by their former owners. Some of the land is also expected to be designated to protect aboriginal sacred sites, koala habitat, and renewable energy projects.
Mr Barilaro said the NSW Government will cancel Exploration Licence 7223, releasing Shenhua from its obligations under the exploration licence.
"The NSW Government is committed to making NSW the number one investment destination for mining in Australia, but we need to find a balance, and this decision will deliver certainty to farmers and the Liverpool Plains community, while guaranteeing protection to parcels of land with high value biodiversity," he said.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the NSW Government was committed to supporting "the common sense, responsible development of our high-quality coal resources, however we are a balanced government, and we also need to protect prime agricultural land".
"The cancellation of this project will mean that no open cut coal mining can occur in the area. Coal will of course continue to be an important part of our economy and is essential to supporting jobs, and the NSW Government continues to support coal exploration in areas where it makes sense," Mr Perrottet said.
The Government said the agreement also includes:
The acquisition of more than 6,000 hectares of high biodiversity land to be managed by Local Land Services including the protection of habitat for koalas and other endangered species
Protecting significant Indigenous cultural sites and artefacts
Ensuring that water that would have been taken by the mine can continue to be used for agriculture and other productive uses
"The NSW Government thanks Shenhua for its cooperation in reaching this agreement," Mr Barilaro said.
The company had only started exploration drilling in January last year after holding the exploration licence since 2018, with that due to expire in October this year. The project has been on the table for 15 years.
Shenhua had been planning to extract 10 million tonnes of coal a year over 30 years.
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson, Georgina Woods, said, "Farmers and Traditional Owners have lived with the threat of this mine for more than a decade. It's essential that Liverpool Plains farmers can now focus on doing what they do best - growing food and fibre for Australia."
"While we would like to see the Berejiklian Government's sudden desire to protect prime farmland and cultural heritage sites from inappropriate coal mining applied elsewhere in the state where similar battles continue, today is indeed a day for celebration.