(EnergyAsia, August 14 2012, Tuesday) — Australian farming and environmental groups want New South Wales (NSW) state to follow the example set by neighbour Western Australia (WA) in banning coal exploration and mining in its wine growing and tourist areas.

WA mining minister Norman Moore announced last month a ban on coal mining within a 230-sq km zone in the state’s Margaret River region, sparking calls in NSW for similar action to prevent coal-related pollution in the lush Hunter Valley.

The WA government took action after the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) found that coal mining and exploration posed “an unacceptable environmental risk” particularly to underground water supply.

As a result of this decision, four coal applications have been terminated or refused while five applications have been withdrawn.

“The government has now decided that the advice should also be applied to the whole of the coal mineralisation extending through the identified 230-sq km zone and applications for coal exploration or mining should not be supported,” Mr Moore said.

“This decision sends a signal to the industry – applications will not be accepted to explore for or mine coal in this area.”

Under the Mining Act 1978, the Minister for Mines and Petroleum can terminate or refuse applications if the Minister is satisfied on reasonable grounds that it is in the public interest to do so. This provision will be invoked if explorers are unwilling to withdraw their coal applications.

Mr Moore said: “I would emphasise that this decision is based on unique and local circumstances existing only in the Capes region. It will provide some future certainty for local residents and landowners without adding unnecessary sovereign risk to the state’s A$107billion resources sector.”

He added that any future applications for exploration or mining activities for commodities other than coal in the Capes region would be reviewed on their own merits and would be subject to the same rigorous assessments before any approval would be considered.