Coal exploration is set to continue in the NSW Southern Highland’s after a three year lease was approved by the state government.
The lease, operated by Hume Coal, expired 12 months ago and had since been in review by the Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services.
A spokesperson from the Department of Resources and Energy said the lease was renewed subject to the strict new controls implemented under the NSW Government's Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, Southern Highlands News reported.
"To address community concerns regarding protection of water resources, strict new conditions including groundwater monitoring and modelling have been imposed on the licence," she said.
"Renewal of an exploration licence in no way moves the title holder any closer to receiving mining approval, and certain site works and exploration activities require further government approvals before they can occur."
Project Manager, Tim Rheinberger, said the new lease was an important milestone in the project’s development.
"With the renewal of the lease we will continue to explore within the lease area and build on the existing exploration information we have to date, which includes more than 80 bore holes completed by Hume Coal since 2011," he said.
"Our ongoing exploration and environmental studies over the next two years will help determine the overall economic and environmental viability of a mine."
"In addition to land access agreements for exploration, Hume Coal will also continue to seek land access from landholders both within and outside the lease for the purpose of water and environmental monitoring only," he said.
He said the company recognised the importance placed on groundwater by the community and had already put in place a water monitoring and modelling program.
Hume Coal has faced protests from Southern Highlands Coal Action Group (SHCAG), for several years, with the group concerned about the impacts of another coal mine in the area.
SHCAG convenor Peter Martin said landowners being targeted by the company for land access were "distressed".
A court case is pending after the company was denied access for exploration to a property in Carters Lane last year.
Rheinberger said the remaining properties it had identified for access should provide enough data to determine the feasibility of the project.
"The only way to provide definitive answers about the future of the Project to the community is to finalise our exploration and gather detailed information about the coal resource and environmental conditions in the region. We hope to be in a position to provide this certainty during the next renewal period and we will continue our pro-active community engagement program to keep the community informed of the Project's key milestones and developments."
Rheinberger said the company was committed to supporting the local community by using local contractors for its projects.
The company has previously stated that benefits to the community would include 500 temporary jobs, 300 permanent roles, and apprenticeship programs with local schools and TAFE.
Rheinberger said the company had already spent about $900,000 with local businesses.