Anglo American ok to extend debated coal mine in Australia

Anglo American ok to extend debated coal mine in Australia

The expansion plan seeks to extend the existing mine, which is due to run out of coal in 2017.

Anglo American (LON:AAL) has secured preliminary approval for its controversial coal mine expansion in Australia’s Hunter Valley, in a move described by horse breeders as the "beginning of the end" for their industry.

New South Wales’ (NSW) planning and environment department said Tuesday that a scaled-back plan to extend the life of Anglo’s Drayton South open-cut mine can be approved, but with certain requirements.

One of the most important conditions is that the open pit will have to remain behind a natural ridge line and leave a buffer zone along the nearby area of Saddlers Creek, home to several renowned wineries, resulting in about 100 million tonnes of coal resource being left untapped.

Locals, particularly horse breeders and wineries owners, have fought the project because they think it would have major consequences for both the regional economy and the environment in the same way Rio Tinto’s Bengalla mine is said to have ruined the wine industry in the 1990s.

But Anglo American has argued for about a year that the extension project would no have significant impacts in the area; instead, it would protect the roughly 500 jobs at its existing Drayton mine, which is due to end production in 2017.

Today’s resolution by planning officials supports Anglo’s claims, as it states the project’s impacts would not be significant enough to cause the thoroughbred studs to move, adding that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association president Cameron Collins told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation these were "disappointing" news:

"This is an unacceptable situation," he said.

"We expect the Department to be an independent arbiter and to apply the highest levels of scrutiny and rigorous scientific triple bottom line assessment to these matters at arms length from the Proponent.

Anglo American’s proposal is to expand the mine’s capacity to 6.4 million tonnes per year, from around 3 million per year it currently produces. The miner originally wanted to make of Drayton South an 8 million tonnes per year operation, but the NSW government rejected such plan last year.

The Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), which has the final word on this, is due to hold a public hearing on Sep. 10.