Cotton and mining cannot share land

New research claims underground mining and irrigated cotton growing may be unable to share land.

Commissioned by Cotton Australia, the research was compiled by Dr Peter Bacon.

He said, based on evidence, soil level droppings could be unavoidable in underground mining below irrigated crops.

“The problem would be quite severe, and on the evidence that’s come out on the area around Emerald, we are looking at a subsidence, for a two-metre seam, of 1.3 metres,” he said.

“That would have a catastrophic effect on cotton grown in that area.”

The report was released in central Queensland where 94 per cent of irrigated land is covered by mining exploration or other licenses, Farming Ahead Online reported.

While the mining industry peak body agrees underground mining causes subsidence, it says the impact can be limited.

Michael Roche from the Queensland Resources Council, said industry is ready to be held accountable for any damage caused.

“It does mean going back and re-levelling properties…it can be done,” he said.

“This is a good review of the impacts of underground coal mining…but we don’t accept that you can’t rehabilitate and that you must have one or the other.”

The report also said underground mining inevitably results in subsidence and that mining cannot be done economically without causing some surface subsidence. It may be in small areas or extend over large area, and the effects may be immediate or delayed.

Roche congratulated Cotton Australia for the report, saying it addresses industry concerns over the impact of underground coal mining.

"However, I can say that the report's major finding – that underground mining causes subsidence – isn’t really news given that much of the research referenced in this report was commissioned and paid for by the mining industry," he said.

"Up for debate are two questions. First, can the effects of subsidence be managed; and secondly, is it clear that if there is an impact, that the coal industry will be held responsible?

"To both questions, the QRC contends the answer is 'yes'," he said.

Cotton Australia water policy manager Michael Murray said some land should not be harmed at all.

“The amount of land we are trying to afford ultimate protection to accounts for 1 to 2 per cent of good agricultural land in Queensland,” he said.

“It hasn’t been demonstrated that you can rehabilitate prime agricultural land, so what we are saying is that very small amount of land should be no go for mining.”

Lance Pendergast from the Department of Agriculture has been working with growers to boost their water efficiency.

He said any subsidence would significantly impact the industry.

“Irrigation relies on delivering water efficiently from one end of the paddock to the other…so the risk of any subsidence, anywhere on that field just imperils the whole operation,” he said.

However Roche said total bans are usually called for by people who do not understand how the industry is regulated and the amount invested in land rehabilitation.

"It is traditional practice for mining companies to buy the properties where their target resource is located, and if necessary, create an additional buffer to isolate them from surrounding activties.

"Property boundaries are determined topside, not by the location of economically recoverable resources that have a much smaller footprint," he said.

The final Central Queensland Regional Plan will release late 2013.

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