NSW buys back BHP Caroona coal exploration licences

The NSW Government has bought back BHP’s Caroona coal exploration licences on the Liverpool Plains for $220 million.

The decision comes after locals spent more than 10 years fighting the mining leases on the area, as well as the impact ongoing protests against Shenhua’s Watermark coal mine and its effect on agricultural land have had on the region.

According to the ABC, the state determined that a potential mine would pose too great a risk to the region’s agricultural future, and its underground aquifers.

“This decision guarantees the future of the state’s most productive and fertile farming land, providing confidence for local farmers to invest in an industry that has the potential to be one of the food bowls of the world,” NSW premier Mike Baird said, according to The Australian.

The decision was welcomed by agricultural lobby group NSW Farmers.

BHP had previously claimed there would be minimal impact on farming and agricultural land from the project.

Greens resources and energy spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham described the government decision as a win for the region.

“This is an historic victory for farmers, Greens and the community who have fought a decade long campaign to save the Liverpool Plains from coal mining,” Buckingham said.

“The NSW Government have today woken up to the reality that new coal mines are unviable and the Greens are calling on Mike Baird to commit to a transition plan away from coal.”

Commenting on the cancellation of the project, and the government buyback of the licences, BHP Minerals Australia president Mike Henry acknowledged the state’s “willingness to come to an acceptable agreement in respect of the cancellation of (Caroona’s exploration licence) EL6505”.

“While we believe that Caroona would have been developed responsibly, we accept the Government’s decision and appreciate its willingness to work with us to agree an acceptable financial outcome for the cancellation of our exploration licence,” Henry said in an official statement.

“The Caroona Coal Project was studied extensively and developed cautiously for almost 10 years.  We carried out extensive planning to ensure there would be no mining under the black soil plains, consistent with the conditions contained in our Exploration Licence.

“It was also subject to extensive scientific research which showed the proposed project could have been developed in an environmentally sustainable manner.

“We would like to express our sincere appreciation to the local community for working closely with us over the past 10 years through the project’s lengthy consultation process.”

The licences for exploration were originally granted in 2006, with BHP paying $100 million at the time.

Following the deal with BHP, it is understood Baird has also begun negotiations with Shenhua over segments of its land rights.