Felton saved! Premier Newman puts it in writing.

'To be absolutely clear, no company, whatever it chooses to call itself, has a right to develop a mining operation in the Felton Valley, and companies will not be able to secure such a right under the Government.' Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, 21 August 2012.

Read the letter in full here -


584 K

New President for FOF

Vicki Green and Ian Whan

10 Nov 2013. Vicki Green was elected Friends of Felton president at the AGM on Saturday. Vicki said she was looking forward to the challenge of guiding the continuing transition of FOF from a community group with a single focus into one with a much wider influence. Having beaten the mining proposal, we could now build on the success of the food festival and the momentum and commitment within our supporter base to ensure a promising future for generations to come. In his report, outgoing president Ian Whan concentrated on the recently released Darling Downs Regional Plan, which had been promised as the solution to land use conflict between mining and farming, but had left many uncertainties. Guest speaker Professor John Cole, Executive Director of the Institute for Resilient Regions at USQ, discussed the future of the Darling Downs region in the context of the present resources boom and the resulting pressure on our society and environment. He urged us to ask ourselves what sort of country we want to leave to the next generation, and pointed out the important influence that a strong community group like FOF can exert.

Ambre Energy sells up at Felton!

12 July 2013. Great news! Ambre Energy has listed for sale the 2 small farms it bought at Felton. Full details here and here

Agent's comments:

'Owners have instructed that all serious buyers inspect and submit all offers - Akuna and Allandale are for genuine sale and will be sold individually or as a whole. Akuna is a quality mixed grazing and cropping property with irrigation quality soil type and improvements in a central location to Toowoomba and Pittsworth. Allandale is an extremely well balanced property with excellent cultivation and grazing country, situated in a renowned picturesque district central to Toowoomba and Pittsworth.'

Felton's Carnival Kids

28 Sept 2012. For the fifth year in succession FOF entered a float in Toowoomba's Carnival of Flowers parade last weekend. The float was packed with Felton children, and promoted Felton as a vital food bowl, while thanking the public for their strong support of our campaign.

More photos here



No further

22 Aug 2012. Tension is mounting on the central Darling Downs near Cecil Plains, where Arrow Energy seems determined to press ahead with controversial plans to drill coal seam gas (CSG) wells on the floodplain. Arrow’s ‘Surat Gas Project’ plans involve 7500 wells stretching from Wandoan almost to Goondiwindi.

At a meeting in Cecil Plains last week, hydrologist John Hillier spoke of the risks from CSG extraction to the valuable irrigation aquifers in the Condamine Alluvium. You can read his report produced for the Central Downs Irrigators here. The extraction of CSG involves pumping water out of the coal seam to reduce the internal pressure and release the gas - more info here. Once the pressure is reduced in the coal seam, there is an obvious risk that water from nearby aquifers will move towards the area of lower pressure. The level of risk is related to the geology of the area, and Hillier’s report shows that the particular geology of the Condamine Alluvium means there is a high risk of damage to vital irrigation aquifers in one of this country’s most important food-producing regions.

A bizarre report in Friday’s Courier Mail painted some minor tinkering with Arrow’s plan as ‘a major victory for farmers’. It’s hard to see how putting wells on the edges of paddocks would reduce the risk to underground aquifers, for example. How to interpret comments from one lobby group that ‘Arrow has addressed the reasonable concerns of reasonable people’ depends on your definition of reasonable, but laughing loudly is recommended.

In a spot of unfortunate timing for Arrow, an abandoned coal exploration bore in its Daandine gasfield caught fire on the weekend, and it’s still burning. The company was quick to deny any connection with its nearby CSG wells, but independent geologist (and there’s not too many of them these days) Dr Gavin Mudd told the Brisbane Times ‘It beggars belief that companies fiddling with methane are trying to pretend there is no risk of gas leaks.’

The bizarre notion of a 'social licence'

31 July 2012. Toowoomba Social Justice Commission's Mark Copland turns his attention to Ambre Energy's latest ploy and the concept of a 'social licence' in an opinion piece in today's Toowoomba Chronicle - 

'Felton will never be mined': Hopper

30 July 2012. Letter published in today's Toowoomba Chronicle from Ray Hopper MP - 

Ceremonial burning of Ambre Energy letters in Pittsworth

Photo: SK

Friends of Felton Protest Rally – Pittsworth, Monday 30 July 2012

Speech by Ian Whan, President


1. This is a story of courage, determination and perseverance. It’s a David and Goliath type story.  We are rapidly coming to the last chapter in this saga and I’m predicting it will end happily for the Felton community and the whole region.


2. Over four years ago the good folk of Felton learnt that Ambre Energy had plans for a large open cut coal mine and petro chemical plant right in the guts of the Felton Valley. No consultation, no request for a social license. Just “…watch out, here we come”.


3. Friends of Felton formed shortly afterwards in February 2008. Over the four and half years since then we have grown into one of the State’s most effective lobby groups; we are persistent, consistent, articulate and smart. Today we have more than 120 members and possess very high legitimacy.


4. From the outset we had one overarching objective: to see Ambre Energy off.  We didn’t form to negotiate an impact mitigation strategy or to monitor the destruction, or, God-forbid, grant Ambre Energy a social license. Our position was absolute from the outset and remains so. A social license, by the way, is tacit authorisation (to carry on) issued at the discretion of the community most affected.


5. We took this position for many reasons: To express our beliefs and protect our destiny and dignity; To preserve the food producing capabilities of the inner Darling Downs – make no mistake – if Felton falls so will the rest; To stop a lot of households from becoming ‘mine neighbours’ (and thereby suffering a multitude of ill effects without proper compensation); To honour the commitment of Felton families to the land, some of whom have lived in the Valley for more than a hundred years. Also we want to keep faith with the needs and expects of future generations, in particular food security and enjoyment of this region’s natural beauty.


6. The mining industry likes to say that it and agriculture co-exist. At best this is an over simplification and at worst an outrageous lie. I can tell you categorically that any open cut coal mine at Felton would come at the expense of food production, at the expense of community wellbeing and at the expense of the natural environment.


7. We soon discovered that traditional assessment processes are too unsophisticated to incorporate our concerns and are hopelessly biased in favour of development. Even the Strategic Cropping Land legislation, while correct in principle, defers too much to the interests of the mining industry.


8. The only instrument that can comprehend and deliver on the nuances of a complex issue is the will of the people.  If your cause is worthy and well enough expressed, democratic forces have the ability to prevail over dysfunctional assessment processes, rogue bureaucrats and lazy politicians.


9. On 4 October last year, our local member, Mr Ray Hopper came to a meeting of the Friends of Felton at the Felton Hall. We told Mr Hopper about our long journey and our wish for absolute protection from mining.  He agreed and said he would take our case to the party room. On behalf of Friends of Felton I thank wholeheartedly Mr Hopper for his representation and pay tribute to his energy, integrity, honesty and courage.


10. When campaigning for the March elections got underway the LNP announced, if elected, there would be no mine at Felton. This position has been re-affirmed by everyone from the Premier down since the election. There is a letter by Mr Hopper in today’s Toowoomba Chronicle which makes the situation crystal clear.


11. I would like to say that the rest is history.  But a mere three weeks ago this story took a bizarre twist.  Suddenly a Mr David Henderson from Ambre started-up a conversation through letters to local newspapers.  He wants us to believe that four years on Ambre had not had the opportunity to reveal all the advantages of the project.  He says intense consultation with the good folk of Felton is needed reveal his project’s true benefits and then secure the elusive social license.


12. Mr Henderson talks about a new stage of development characterised by engagement, flexibility, transparency, accountability and innovation that will ultimately deliver solutions – allowing we locals to finally see the light and grant Ambre the social license they so desperately want. 


13. Despite his way with weasel words Mr Henderson hasn’t caught up with the fact that Friends of Felton members already have the solution they fought so hard for:  NO MINE AT FELTON.  Now this solution is in the bank, courtesy of democracy forces.


14. And here’s the question: why would we allow the Government’s policy of NO MINE AT FELTON, that we fought so long and so hard to secure, to be revisited by Ambre’s bias consultants who have no understanding of all this and certainly no interest in uncovering an inconvenient truth. Their only interest is in taking a big fat fee if they can extract the elusive social license.  If we let them, these people would take the word ‘no’ and turn it upside down, jump all over it, punch it a few times and then declare it actually sounds and looks like a ‘yes’. 


15. It is not going to happen.  We are now going to demonstrate our disgust with Ambre’s disregard for government policy and the wishes of the Felton community and supporters.  We’ll do this by burning the letters from Ambre asking Felton people to take part in a rotten, sneaky process mired in bad intensions.

More photos here

Toowoomba Chronicle report here

The Australian report here -

Angry Queensland farmers boycott Ambre Energy's coalmine study

ANGRY Queensland farmers say Ambre Energy is acting in "contempt of government policy" by attempting to push ahead with a controversial coalmine.

In the company's latest controversy, a group of farmers staged a rally yesterday following revelations that Ambre was still pushing to develop the mine in southeast Queensland, despite government objections.

In March, incoming Queensland Premier Campbell Newman confirmed a pre-election promise that the fiercely opposed project would not proceed.

Queensland Mines Minister Andrew Cripps reaffirmed the government's opposition last week, saying the proposed mine -- situated on prime farmland in the Felton Valley about 30km west of Toowoomba -- was "not in the public interest".

Local farmers and opponents of the mine were angered after recently receiving letters from a consultant working for Ambre, which is seeking to obtain a "social licence" for the miner in the area.

Ian Whan, president of protest group Friends of Felton, said Ambre had been given four years to explain the benefits of the mine and said members of the protest group would not participate in the consultant's efforts.

"We are not going to engage with them because as far as we are concerned we have won the battle -- it's in the bank. We are not going to engage in some sort of biased survey," Mr Whan said.

He said farmer members of FOF owned most of the area Ambre was seeking to mine, which meant any research based on submissions not involving them would be invalid.

Ambre Energy and an external spokesman for the company did not return calls yesterday.

But Ambre recently said it believed it had support for the mine and that it would continue to conduct research and would re-approach the government if it achieved "significant support" in the community.

Mr Whan said it was "bizarre' that Ambre would be seeking to push ahead with the project after it had been ruled out by the government. He said it had been suggested the group was seeking to brush over the issue ahead of a planned $200 million float.

The company had planned to float last month, although it was forced to postpone the listing.

The proposed Felton mine and an associated petrochemicals plant is Ambre's only proposed Australian project.

Ambre owns half-shares in two mines on the northwest US coast and a nearby port, and plans to export coal to Asian markets.

Earlier this month, Ambre was sued by a partner in one of those US mines over claims it was mismanaging the mine.



Ambre Fools thumb their noses at Queensland Government

25 July 2012. Well it's hard to believe, but just when we were getting used to Felton being safe from mining destruction, Ambre Energy has reared its ugly head again. It has created a new company, Ambre Fuels (or should that be Ambre Fools?), and the CEO has written to some Felton residents saying 'We have many sets of options we think could possibly address the social and environmental concerns...'

Well guess what? We're not interested. The Queensland Government has promised not to allow mining at Felton, and therefore Ambre's plan is dead and buried. It's over, done and finished. Ambre is acting in contempt of Government policy, and its attempt to revive this nasty plan is nothing short of harassment.

Mines Minister Andrew Cripps told the Courier Mail yesterday that 'Ambre Energy was well aware of the Newman Government's opposition to its project at Felton.'

"The LNP recognises the Felton Valley in particular as representing some of the best cropping land in Queensland," Mr Cripps said.

"The LNP Government will therefore not approve any mining in the Felton Valley given that it is not in the public interest."

The bell tolls for the mining boom

23 July 2012. Think not for whom the bell tolls. A report released today by one of Australia’s leading economic forecasters says the mining investment boom will slow faster than expected, and could be over within two years.

Evidence of the slowdown emerged on Thursday when Rio Tinto announced job losses at its Clermont Coal Mine in response to falling thermal coal prices, and earlier in the week when the boss of a massive Chinese mining venture in Western Australia’s Pilbara said he would rather invest in agriculture than iron ore.

Meanwhile, farmers on the Darling Downs have been encouraged by an ideal start to the winter cropping season combined with soaring grain prices. Record temperatures across the USA and drought in Russia have pushed prices to near record highs.

There will be a shortage of food in the World this year, which is all the more reason for us to protect our most productive farming regions. The Queensland Government commences meetings this week of a Regional Planning Committee for the Darling Downs, the timing couldn’t be better.

Government reafirms commitment to protect Felton

4 July 2012. Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney has confirmed the government's commitment not to allow mining at Felton. This week, in answer to a question on notice from Ray Hopper MP, Mr Seeney stated

'The Government’s position regarding the development of open cut coal mining in the Felton Valley was made clear before the election. Our Government does not support mining in this location.'

That looks very clear, but an ABC radio news report yesterday quoted an Ambre Energy spokesman saying he believed the company can convince the Government and the community to support the project. 

What part of NO does Ambre not understand?

Today's Toowoomba Chronicle reports that Ambre has hired Mr Seeney's former Chief of Staff as a lobbyist. This looks like a desperate attempt to keep alive its hopes to mine elsewhere on the Eastern Downs, where Ambre has exploration permits over some 80,000ha from Pittsworth to Warwick.

The State Government has said it will soon release plans to define land use zones. Jeff Seeney said

'The Newman Government has a firm commitment to ensure future developments across Queensland fit in with the local community, take into account current land use in the area and have a social license to occur.'

Ambre can hire all the lobbysists in the world, but that won't change the reality that the Eastern Downs is a vital foodbowl, of great environmental importance, and home to large numbers of people. It would be crazy to allow it to be mined.

Lone protester abused by Toowoomba mining expo boss

photo: A Davies-Toowoomba Chronicle

22 June 2012. This article by reporter Adam Davies appeared in today's Toowoomba Chronicle:

A LONE protester at the Surat Basin Energy and Mining Expo yesterday was involved in an ugly confrontation with event organiser Bob Carroll.

Robert Ghysen set up a peaceful protest outside the expo perimeter on Glenvale Rd when he was confronted by an irate Mr Carroll.

In the ensuring confrontation, which was witnessed by The Chronicle, Mr Carroll accused Mr Ghysen of being a "!*?**** dole bludger" and said if he did not move on "he would drag him away himself".

A visibly shaken Mr Ghysen, who is a senior radiographer at Toowoomba Hospital, said it was his democratic right to protest under Australian law.

"I have every right to be here as much as anyone else.

"The whole situation was extremely offensive.

"Just because he does not hold the same views as me does not give him the right to bully and threaten me."

Mr Ghysen said he wanted people attending the expo to be aware of the possible effects coal seam gas mining had on the land.

"I feel very strongly about the possible effects coal seam gas activity has on the earth.

"I saw it as an opportunity to voice my concerns by setting up a peaceful protest outside the expo.

"I do not believe it (CSG) has a place in our society," Mr Ghysen said.

Mr Carroll made no apologies for the way he handled the situation.

"It is the old story. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck then the chances it is a duck.

"He was dressed like and looked like a !*?**** dole bludger.

"If he wants people to listen to his concerns then do not rock up looking like you have just stepped off a bongo bus from Byron Bay," Mr Carroll said.

Mr Carroll said he believed there were more appropriate ways in which Mr Ghysen could have aired his views.

"I am about promoting a business and industry and what right does he have to impede on that.

"If he has an issue that is fine. That is his choice.

"If he wanted people to listen to his message then there are more appropriate avenues he could have taken," Mr Carroll said.

Expo organisers attempted to have Mr Ghysen removed from the Toowoomba Showground vicinity by Queensland police.

A Queensland police spokesman confirmed they attended the expo yesterday morning at the request of the organiser.

Queensland police said Mr Ghysen posed no threat and he was allowed to continue with his peaceful protest.

You can comment on the story on the Chronicle's website here


Salt hits the fan

16 June 2012. There was a media storm this week over Arrow Energy's proposed 'Surat Gas Project'. The period for public comments closed on Thursday for the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposal, which involves drilling at least 7,500 gas wells across the Darling Downs from just north of Goondiwindi to Chinchilla via Millmerran, Cecil Plains and Dalby.

National Nine News focussed on Arrow's plan to transport all brine concentrate from the treatment of CSG water to Swanbank, near Ipswich. The report includes interviews with Ruth Armstrong (SODD), Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale, and some unimpressed Swanbank locals. Watch it here.

Alan Jones also spoke to Mayor Pisasale, listen here.

In written statement to Beef Central, Arrow Energy said “Arrow is considering several options for managing salt including our preferred option of processing for beneficial use, injection into an aquifer, pipeline to the ocean or disposal to regulated landfill."

That's precisely what the fuss is about.

All this raises another important question: What exactly are the 3 approved CSG projects doing with the water and salt they are bringing to the surface right now?

Queensland Times report here

AAP report here

Toowoomba Chronicle report here

Arrow Energy's environmental salt-bomb

8 June 2012. Community group Save our Darling Downs has called on Arrow Energy to admit its plans for coal seam gas (CSG) extraction on the Darling Downs are in disarray after details emerged that the company has no idea how to handle the huge quantities of water and salt forecast to be produced as by-products.

Figures in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Arrow Energy’s Surat Gas project reveal that the company estimates it would pump out 770 Gigalitres of water from coal seams – enough to fill Sydney Harbour one and a half times. This water would contain 3.5 million tonnes of salt.

Among the options being considered by Arrow for this water are ‘disposal to watercourses’ and ‘ocean outfall’ (pumping the water to the ocean). Either would likely have serious environmental implications.

The Arrow EIS discusses treating the CSG water to allow ‘beneficial re-use’, but has no workable processes in place to achieve this for the huge volumes of water to be extracted.

Arrow’s EIS states:

Assuming an average salt concentration of 4,500 mg/L, Arrow expects that treatment of coal seam gas water will generate in the order of 4.5 t of salt per megalitre of coal seam gas water.

Arrow estimates the salt concentration of the resulting brine to be ‘2-3%’, or 150 – 225 tonnes of brine per megalite of water. If all the water produced over the life of the project was treated (770Gl), a total of 117 – 175 million tonnes would be produced. The EIS states:

for the purposes of this impact assessment it is assumed that brine will be stored in dams and disposed to a suitably licenced landfill. The closest currently available suitably licenced waste disposal facility is located at Swanbank, near Ipswich. This EIS has assumed that all brine concentrate will be trucked to Swanbank.

The best case estimate of 117 million tonnes of brine equates to 2.9 million B-Double truck loads of 40 tonnes each, travelling through Toowoomba and down the Warrego Highway to Swanbank.

SODD spokesperson Ruth Armstrong said ‘Arrow Energy’s Surat Gas Project, if approved, will effectively be mining groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin and Murray Darling Basin. By the industry’s and the state government’s own admissions’, this water mining is not sustainable. Arrow Energy’s plan for disposal of the salt produced by its Surat Gas Project is plainly ridiculous and impractical. The truth is, Arrow has no idea what to do with the salt, and the likely outcome would be storage in dams across the Darling Downs. This would be a ticking environmental time-bomb, posing a great risk to the Murray-Darling Basin’.

Take action now! Let the government know that the Darling Downs should not be wrecked for 30 years of gas. Write a letter in response to the EIS - it doesn't need to be long or complicated. Follow the instructions below - 

Written comments in relation to the EIS are invited from any person within the submission period. The submission period starts Friday, 16 March 2012 and ends on Thursday, 14 June 2012. Submissions should be addressed to:

The Chief Executive
Attention: The EIS Coordinator (Surat Gas Project)
Statewide Environmental Assessments
Department of Environment and Resource Management
GPO Box 2454
Level 8, 400 George Street

or by email to eis@derm.qld.gov.au.

The chief executive will accept all properly made submissions and may accept written submissions even if they are not properly made. A properly made submission is one that:

  • is written
  • is signed by or for each person who made the submission
  • states the name and address of each signatory
  • is made to the chief executive
  • is received on or before the last day of the submission period

For further information regarding the EIS process for this proposal, contact the EIS coordinator by calling 13 GOV (13 74 68) or emailing eis@derm.qld.gov.au.

Time for Ambre to pack up: Hopper

3 June 2012. Our local MP Ray Hopper, Member for Condamine, has been a great supporter of the FOF campaign right from the start. He has fought hard for us inside and outside Parliament, and so it was last week when he gave this speech in the House on the LNP’s election commitment to Felton, Acland and Gowrie Junction:


29 May 2012

Mining Industry

Mr HOPPER (Condamine—LNP) (11.41 am): Last week, along with the member for Nanango, Deb Frecklington, I met with the Oakey Coal Action Alliance in Dalby about Acland stage 3 and its impact on the town of Oakey. The Acland mine was in my electorate for three terms until a redistribution and it is now in the electorate of Nanango; however, the mine impacts on a lot of people within my electorate. The action alliance was very concerned about the LNP’s promise that Acland stage 3 would not go ahead under an LNP government. Today is the first day that parliament has sat since that meeting and the first opportunity I have had to address the group’s concerns—to ask the minister a question on notice and to make this speech. Hopefully today the concerns of this group can be addressed.

This matters of public interest debate is my first opportunity to speak and to put a question on notice to the member for Callide and Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning. The minister is a man I have known for four or five terms now, and I know that when he says something he means it. I had the pleasure of touring this area with the minister before the election, and the minister made the announcement back then that Acland stage 3 would not go ahead under an LNP government. I know that the minister will answer the question put to him by me this morning. This will hopefully put to bed some of the concerns of the action group.

Stage 3 was going to affect the people of Oakey in a big way. It was going to come right in to the side of Oakey. A whole heap of prime agricultural land there would have been dug up and totally destroyed. Land can never be restored to the standard that existed before mining takes place. There is no doubt about that.

Under our new strategic plan the LNP will map Queensland. We have heard the Premier announce that we plan to double the state’s food production by 2040. Maps always cause trouble—there are lines on maps, and everyone who owns a block of dirt thinks their block of dirt is the best in Queensland—but the mapping will be carried out properly so that farmers will know where they can farm and mining companies will know where they can mine. This should have been done 20 years ago. In its last two terms in government Labor tossed this problem backwards and forwards. I had many meetings with previous ministers for natural resources and primary industries in an attempt to have planning put in place. They dillydallied. We in the LNP will do this properly so that people in Queensland will know where they are going.

I refer to the Felton mine. The people of Felton are of the same understanding as the people of Oakey. They also heard the promise made by the Deputy Premier that the Felton mine will not go ahead under an LNP government. Ambre Energy are occupying an office in Pittsworth, but they can pack their bags and move out because they will not mine Felton. It is as simple as that.

Tomorrow I will ask the Deputy Premier a question on notice about Felton. There is no better way to confirm things than to put it in Hansard. The minister will confirm in Hansard that no mine will go ahead at Felton. People will have that in writing from the Deputy Premier and can rest assured that Ambre Energy can pack their bags and move out.

I recently attended the Felton Food Festival with the Minister for Agriculture. That food festival has the potential to be another Woodford or Gympie. It really was amazing. They put on a festival just to show the produce from that valley. It was an exciting day. We had people come from the Gold Coast and Brisbane. I congratulate the people of Felton on their stance.

On Thursday I will ask the Deputy Premier a question about Gowrie Junction. Exploration permit No. 1972 was issued about two years ago. The then Labor government caused a lot of people a lot of heartache by not squashing that immediately. The then member for Toowoomba North, Kerry Shine, ran with his tail between his legs. On this issue I faced two public meetings and received 1,400 letters, which I tabled in parliament, and now our minister will put in writing, in answer to my question, that we will not mine that area around Gowrie Junction. Those people will see for themselves that this will not happen. Their homes will be protected and the future of their children will be protected under an LNP government.

Ambre Energy listing

29 May 2012. A report in the Wall Street Journal has revealed that Ambre Energy's plan to list on the Australian Securities Exchange will be delayed 'beyond June and possibly for longer'. Ambre blamed the recent drop in the share market and falling thermal coal prices for the decision. Perhaps determined opposition in both Australia and the USA had something to do with it too....




Mining with private rights not in the public interest

25 May 2012. Mining royalties are an important source of income for Queensland, and government ministers routinely use this revenue stream which ‘pays for schools hospitals and police’ as a justification for the impacts caused by mining on farmland, the environment and communities.

The existence of private coal rights in Queensland has often been kept quiet by those in the know, many of whom have done nicely out of it. Scroll down to the post on this page dated 25 Sept 2011 for more info. FOF has always argued that the existence of private coal rights in an area should act as a disincentive to mining, on the grounds that if there’s no payback to the State any mine would fail the public interest test.

It’s a complicated issue legally on a farm-by-farm basis, but areas affected are those with land granted freehold title before March 1910. Fortunately this often corresponds with productive farmland, as more valuable areas tended to be settled first when European settlers first arrived.

From our investigations the Eastern Darling Downs certainly comes into this category. Of the 2 existing mines in the area, at Millmerran the Canadian investment company Franco Nevada owns private rights, and at Acland New Hope Coal has refused to say how much it pays in royalties (which suggests it doesn’t pay much if anything).

New evidence has emerged that private coal rights also exist at some Central Queensland mines. Anglo Pacific Group PLC is listed in both London and Toronto, and describes itself as ‘a global natural resources royalties company’. According to the company’s website,  

The Company's core asset is its 50% ownership of mining and mineral rights which entitle it to coal royalty receipts from the Kestrel and Crinum mines, located in Queensland, Australia (other than Crown areas). These mines are operated by Rio Tinto Coal Australia and BM Alliance Coal Operations Pty Ltd (a 50/50 joint venture between BHP Billiton and Mitsubishi), respectively.

The Company originally owned the pastoral land under which parts of the Kestrel and Crinum mines in Queensland, Australia now operate. Pursuant to the provisions of applicable Queensland mining law, this land included the minerals beneath the land. The surface rights to the land were disposed of prior to the discovery of minerals on the property, however the Company retained an interest in the sub-surface mining and mineral rights.

As a result, the Company, by retaining an interest in the sub-surface mining and mineral rights of such land, is entitled to certain royalties payable on the coal mined from this land pursuant to the Queensland Mineral Resources Act 1989.

In 2009, the Company received A$41 million attributable to the Kestrel and Crinum royalties.


A good return for shareholders, but not much of a deal for Queensland.

If the new Queensland Government needs any more justification to protect valuable food-producing areas from mining, the existence of private coal rights is surely all it needs.

New Qld Govt to prioritise election promises

15 May 2012. On the eve of the first sitting for the new Queensland Government, Premier Campbell Newman announced that legislation to enact election promises will be passed as quickly as possible. That's good news for FOF as we look forward to the Government locking in the protection of Felton from mining.

Food Bowl or Gas Bubble?

15 May 2012. Arrow Energy (a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell and Petrochina) has released an Environmental Impact Statement for its proposed Surat Gas Project. In paper form, the EIS weighs 27kg, and locals have been given 60 days to digest it and respond. You can download it here, or read it in e book form here. The public submission period ends on 14 June 2012. Read the official DERM notice here.

Everyone knows that the EIS process is not intended to establish whether a project should go ahead or not, it is simply a mechanism to allow a project to go ahead with conditions. That said, perhaps this project will set a precedent, as the impacts and risks described in the document are huge.

This is a plan to industrialise a large part of the Darling Downs for a project life of only 35 years, risking permanent damage to the Great Artesian Basin, bringing millions of tonnes of salt to the surface and causing untold disruption to local residents and farmers.

There is a map of the project area here. It runs from Goondiwindi through Millmerran, Cecil Plains, Dalby and Chinchilla to Wandoan.

According to Arrow, project infrastructure is expected to comprise

  • Approximately 7,500 production wells drilled over the life of the project at a rate of approximately 400 wells drilled per year
  • Low pressure gas gathering lines to transport gas from the production wells to production facilities.
  • Medium pressure gas pipelines to transport gas between field compression facilities and central gas processing and integrated processing facilities.
  • High pressure gas pipelines to transport gas from central gas processing and integrated processing facilities to the sales gas pipeline.
  • Water gathering lines (located in a common trench with the gas gathering lines) to transport produced water from production wells to transfer, treatment and storage facilities.
  • Approximately 18 production facilities across the project development area expected to comprise of six of each of the following:
    • Field compression facilities.
    • Central gas processing facilities.
    • Integrated processing facilities.
  • A combination of gas powered electricity generation equipment that will be co-located with production facilities and/or electricity transmission infrastructure that may draw electricity from the grid (via third party substations).

Some EIS highlights

5.2.1 Production Wells

Throughout the life of the project (35 years expected), about 7,500 production wells will be drilled across the project development area at a rate of approximately 400 wells per year.

Production wells will generally be 300 m to 750 m deep depending on the depth of the coal seams.

Arrow proposes to install production wells on an 800-m-grid spacing. This equates to an indicative density of one well per 65 to 130 ha (160 to 320 acres).

Wells do not need to be placed on a precise grid and may be spaced as far apart as 1,500 m depending on such constraints such as environmental and social values, economics, reservoir characteristics and existing land use. As gas production ramps down, in-fill wells may be drilled between existing well locations to improve gas recovery and production.

Modelling of well life is based on probabilities and averages and Arrows current modelling suggests an average well life of 15 to 20 years.

5.2.4 Water Treatment and Storage Facilities

Coal seam gas production often requires the removal of large quantities of water to depressurise coal seams to allow the gas to flow. Dewatering can take weeks or up to several years, depending on the characteristics of the coal seam.

A typical gas versus water production curve is shown here

Coal seam gas water production across the project development area is variable but is estimated to average 22 GL per annum and peak at about 43 GL per annum over the life of the project. The predicted annual average coal seam gas water production rates over the life of the project are presented here

The coal seam gas water quality from the Walloon Coal Measures can vary from fresh water (water with very few other elements) to saline or highly turbid water. Coal seam gas water from the Surat Basin typically has the following characteristics:

  • pH of approximately 7 to 11.
  • Salinity in the range of 3,000 to 8,000 mg/L (i.e., brackish) and total dissolved solids (TDS) including sodium salts, bicarbonate salts and others.
  • Suspended solids from the well that will usually settle out over time.
  • Other ions including calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluoride, bromine, silicon and sulphate (as SO4).
  • Trace metals and low levels of nutrients.

Infrastructure required for the treatment and storage of coal seam gas water includes:

  • Feedwater and treated water storage dams.
  • Treatment facilities for coal seam gas water.
  • Brine storage dams.
  • Treated coal seam gas water and brine distribution infrastructure.

Water Treatment Facilities

Arrow has undertaken a comprehensive assessment to evaluate the various technologies available for the treatment of coal seam gas water. At the time of writing, reverse osmosis had been selected as the treatment technology of choice; however, Arrow will continue to investigate new and emerging technologies to evaluate their applicability to operations based on economics, energy consumption, brine recovery and environmental footprint of the technology.

Each integrated processing facility will contain a reverse osmosis water treatment plant with 30 to 60 ML/d of modular water treatment capacity.

Brine Storage Dams

The reverse osmosis treatment of water will produce concentrated brine. Each integrated processing facility will contain two 1,440-ML brine dams.

Coal Seam Gas Water Management Options

Although coal seam gas water is considered a waste under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld), the government may approve its use as a 'resource' on a case-by-case basis if the water has a beneficial use that would negate the need for its disposal. When used beneficially, coal seam gas water ceases to be defined as a waste.

Wastes generated during the operation of water treatment and storage facilities include filters, brine, water treatment chemicals and chemical containers.

The management options presented below apply to treated and untreated water.

Investigations indicate that there is limited demand for the beneficial use of untreated coal seam gas water in the project development area.

Substitution of Allocations

Arrows preferred approach is to beneficially use coal seam gas water by substituting existing water allocations in the area, i.e., the volumes of groundwater and surface water currently extracted by third parties in accordance with existing allocations will be replaced with coal seam gas water provided by Arrow.

Arrow has commenced discussions with relevant regulatory bodies regarding the appropriate legislative framework that would facilitate this component of Arrows Coal Seam Gas Water Management Strategy. It is expected that the third-party users will accept responsibility (legally and practically) for the impacts of their use of the water.


The benefits of injecting water are to offset the impacts of groundwater depressurisation and to provide a disposal option for any water that cannot be accommodated through beneficial use.

Arrow conducted an injection feasibility study in 2010 and is preparing environmental authority applications to conduct shallow and deep aquifer injection trials.

Further works will be required to define the extent and feasibility of injection over the project development area. The Surat Gas Project EIS assumes that the legislative framework to enable injection of coal seam gas water into shallow and deep aquifers will be developed.

Disposal to Watercourses

Disposal to watercourses will be considered in the event that beneficial uses of coal seam gas water are temporarily unavailable or the demand for water decreases and alternative disposal options are required to maintain dam integrity and safety, e.g., due to adverse climatic conditions such as prolonged rainfall or severe storms.

Coal seam gas water may be discharged, subject to holding or obtaining relevant approvals, to watercourses in a controlled manner, taking the sensitivity of the receiving watercourse into consideration. Appropriate monitoring will be required to ensure the released water adequately dilutes and does not cause any adverse effects on the receiving aquatic environment. At this stage it is anticipated that discharge to watercourses will only be conducted under emergency situations.

Ocean Outfall

Disposal of coal seam gas water to the sea via an ocean outfall pipeline is recognised as a feasible option, however it is not the preferred option. In the event that preferred coal seam gas water management options do not eventuate, the feasibility of an ocean outfall, as an emergency or alternative disposal option for coal seam gas water, will be evaluated This evaluation will be conducted at the time of detailed design of the field and facilities.

Beneficial Uses of Coal Seam Gas Water

Implementation of the proposed coal seam gas water management options will result in the distribution of coal seam gas water to the following beneficial uses:

Brine Management Options

Brine is a significant by-product of the water treatment process, which also requires specific measures to manage its storage, use and/or disposal.

Assuming an average salt concentration of 4,500 mg/L, Arrow expects that treatment of coal seam gas water will generate in the order of 4.5 t of salt per megalitre of coal seam gas water. (Ed: At the 22GL/yr average water production quoted, thats 3.4 million tonnes of salt!)

Although beneficial use is the preferred option for brine management, for the purposes of this impact assessment it is assumed that brine will be stored in dams and disposed to a suitably licenced landfill.

Brine Injection

Should Arrow identify an appropriate formation during the exploration phase of the project, disposal of brine via injection will be considered. A criterion for injection is finding a target formation where the water quality is lower than that of the brine. To date, no such target formations have been identified.

Ocean Outfall

Disposal of brine to the sea via an ocean outfall pipeline is a feasible option that is being investigated by Arrow. As with coal seam gas water the viability of an ocean outfall will be evaluated at the time of detailed design of the field and facilities.

Suitably Licenced Landfill

An assessment of waste disposal facilities indicates that suitably licenced facilities exist in the region. It is assumed that other commercial operations will be developed to capitalise on this waste stream. Arrow will develop appropriate storage capacity to manage brine until such time as permanent disposal solutions are operational. The closest currently available suitably licenced waste disposal facility is located at Swanbank, near Ipswich. This EIS has assumed that all brine concentrate will be trucked to Swanbank.(Ed: If the brine is 100% salt that equates to 85,000 truck loads of 40t each!)



Double Vision

photo: SK

2 May 2012. Felton locals were amused to read news reports this week that Ambre Energy was planning to list on the ASX. Under the headline 'Ambre $2.5b coal deal to boost listing', The Courier Mail reported that Ambre had signed an 'in-principle' agreement to supply coal from the USA to Korean power generators, which the paper said would 'significantly boost Ambre's appeal' to investors.

The whole deal is conditional, of course, on Ambre's ability to actually get coal over the Rocky Mountains and onto a boat, and there are lots of question marks over that...

Ambre Managing Director Edek Choros was quoted as saying "With this strategic partnership we have put in place one of the final building blocks required to achieve our vision of creating an integrated thermal coalmining and export business." 

Contrast this with the vision outlined by the company 5 years ago: 'Ambre Energy's vision is to develop and apply new technology to the mining and processing of carbonaceous material to provide ever cleaner and more efficient sources of energy to the transportation and power generation markets for the benefit of its shareholders, employees and customers' (Annual Report 2007, p4). 

Oh well, with Mr Choros reportedly in line to 'do very nicely' from the float, at least one part of the original vision is alive and well - even if the rest has been thrown out the window.

In an intriguing choice of words, Ambre Executive Director Michael van Baarle said "Through a number of our directors who are coal veterans, there has been existing relationships for a number of years and there has been a lot of interest by various Korean utilities for some years but it was only until recently that we have been able to consumate that." The mind boggles.

The Australian reported that 'Ambre's proposed coal-to-liquids plant in Queensland's Felton Valley was blocked after opposition from local farmers.'

Prospective investors should be aware that any attempt to revive plans to mine on the Eastern Darling Downs will be met with all the determination we can muster.

Toowoomba book launch of Rich Land Waste Land

26 April 2012. Sharyn Munro is a freelance writer, author, essayist, award-winning short story writer and 'literary activist'. She lives in a solar-powered mudbrick cabin on her mountain wildlife refuge in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, where she writes about her fellow creatures - human and non-human - their relationships and the challenges they face. 

In her latest book, Rich Land Waste Land, Sharyn exposes the real story of coal: 'how people are hurting, and rebelling, as coal pushes into hitherto unthinkable areas; how the true costs outweigh any benefits; and how all of us will ultimately pay the price.'

FOF is delighted that Sharyn Munro will perform a Toowoomba book launch at Mary Ryan's Books on Tuesday 8th May at 10am. Full details here -


435 K

Mines Minister confirms Felton protection

26 April 2012. 'No company has a right to develop a mining operation in the Felton Valley, and companies will not secure such a right under an LNP Government.'

So wrote Andrew Cripps, Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, in a letter printed in the Toowoomba Chronicle on 12th April. Read the letter in full below -

Food Festival feedback

24 April 2012. There has been an avalanche of positive feedback to the inaugural Felton Food Festival held earlier this month. 

Self-described 'raggedy home baker' Phil wrote a terrific story accompanied by excellent photos on The Fresh Loaf, a website for amateur bakers and artisan bread enthusiasts.He wrote

'The plan was to bake an oven-load of country breads (Campagne) that included 3 x 2kg miche scored with the Felton Food Festival logo. The formula used Laurie's organic white 100% hydration starter, a mixture of organic plain white flour, milled and sifted wheat flour, whole-grain spelt and whole-grain rye flour. Some final wood was placed in the oven and a draft door set in place until bake time. It was time to try and sleep.' Read more here.

Food enthusiast and blogger Rhubarb Whine wrote

'Felton was absolutely gorgeous, and the festival probably was hosted in the best possible place - a large open field shared with cows and chooks, surrounded by rolling hills, gorgeous scenery, fresh local produce of every kind imaginable.' Read more here

There is a comprehensive report from the Pittsworth Sentinel here, and more photos here


Felton Food Festival a resounding success

18 April 2012. What a day it was! The public response to the inaugural Felton Food Festival on Sunday was simply overwhelming. The organisers had been hoping for an attendance of 500 people, in fact there were many thousands -  possibly 5000 or more. The car parking attendants were swamped with cars arriving nose to tail. Some stall holders sold out of produce within a couple of hours. The atmosphere was happy, friendly and relaxed. Star attractions Alastair McLeod and Costa Georgiadis were absolutely brilliant, and entertained the crowd with cooking and gardening demonstrations interspersed with good natured banter. Minister for Agriculture John McVeigh was a great sport and judged the 'cook-off' between Alastair and Costa (which was only ever likely to have one winner in spite of Costa's attempts to influence the judge!). 

There are more photos here

There's a short amateur video here

Lots more photos on the FFF facebook page here

Toowoomba Chronicle report here

Come to the Felton Food Festival!

11 April 2012. What better way to celebrate the Year of the Farmer 2012 than coming along to the inaugural Felton Food Festival THIS SUNDAY 15th April. With free admission, lots of local food products, kids activites, and star attractions chef Alastair McLeod and landscape gardener Costa Georgiadis, it's sure to be a great day out for all the family. The Felton community is looking forward to welcoming you.

Here's a brochure -


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What's going on??

Photo: SK

6 April 2012. Just as we were all breathing a sigh of relief that we'd finally won the battle to protect Felton from mining, an Ambre Energy drill rig turned up at a Felton farm and started drilling for coal on Wednesday. The site in question is 5km east of the Felton Hall. Ambre was clearly acting in contempt of Queensland Government policy not to allow mining at Felton. It looks like a direct challenge to the authority of the newly-elected Queensland Government. FOF called a protest at very short notice, and around 50 supporters gathered at the site yesterday morning.

Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps yesterday told AAP the government was committed to keeping open-cut coal mines out of Felton.

"Ambre Energy has no right to develop a mining operation in the Felton Valley and will not secure such a right under a LNP government."

The Australian reported earlier in the week that Ambre Energy was in financial trouble. According to the report, 'A small-time Queensland resources company whose plans to mine the fertile farming soils of the state's Darling Downs region were rejected by the incoming state government is at risk of financial collapse.'

Ambre Energy should save its shareholders money and pack up now.

Media reports: Toowoomba Chronicle (open for comment)


The Australian

Australian Financial Review

More photos - click here

We've Won!

31 March 2012. It's probably fair to say that most people are a little cynical about promises made by politicians during election campaigns. There have been many examples of incoming governments at both State and Federal levels performing backflips once elected, hence the cautious mood of FOF members since the landslide LNP victory in the Queensland election.

We knew the LNP had made key commitments to protect Felton, Acland, and Gowrie from mining. In response, Ray Hooper acheived a huge majority for the LNP in the seat of Condamine (including 80% of the vote at the Felton booth).

Then we held our breath. 

It is now clear that Campbell Newman is a man of his word. In an interview with ABC radio on Wednesday he said

'We've actually ruled out a number of projects, for example, we have in the election campaign said that we don't support Stage Three of the Acland open cut coal mine. We've also said we didn't support the coal to liquids project at Felton. So that's where we're saying it's just inappropriate.'

On Thursday, in an interview with Steve Austin on ABC Radio 612 in Brisbane, Ray Hopper made it quite clear that the LNP would be keeping its promises. Listen to the 2 minute interview and another with FOF President Ian Whan here.

It's hard to believe, but after more than 4 years we can finally say


Media reports: The Australian

Toowoomba Chronicle (check out the comments!)

Looking ahead

27 March 2012. Friends of Felton was formed in February 2008, immediately after Ambre Energy's plans became known to Felton Valley residents.  This timing coincided with aggressive encroachment by mining into SE Queensland.  The imposition of large scale mining on intensive cropping land and closely settled communities inevitably led to conflict.  Unfortunately, Queensland's governance of the interface between mining and intensive settlement at that time was virtually non-existent.  In addition George Street showed little capacity to understand the shortcomings of its regulatory environment and even less interest in making changes that would restore balance, equity and sustainability. 

It was left to organisations such as Friends of Felton to point out the failings of the entire regulatory system and the sheer insanity of allowing large scale mining to destroy the farmlands of the inner Darling Downs.  Over the last four years, public awareness about the excesses of the mining industry has grown exponentially.  Much of the credit for this goes to nation-wide organisations such as Lock the Gate

Gradually, governance of the mining industry has started to follow the tide of public opinion and proven once again the value of People Power.  But the fight for balance, equity and sustainability is far from over.  While the Felton Valley is certain to be saved, there is still too much reliance in this country on fossil fuel - both for local power generation and for boosting export earnings. Literature now coming out the US shows that adding the cost of externalities to the price for coal (to generate power) would at least double the cost of electricity to consumers.  The implications of this revelation are clear.  The social costs of generating renewable power (with few if any externalities) are now less than the social cost of power generated from fossil fuels.  Consequently Australia, and indeed the planet, should be moving to renewable power generation as a matter of urgency.  With our home base safe, Friends of Felton intends to remain involved in 'power politics' by contributing in every way possible to a more sustainable energy future.

Election result guarantees Felton protection

25 March 2012. FOF congratulates Ray Hopper on his re-election as member for Condamine in a landslide LNP victory. We thank Ray for his longstanding support, and we look forward to the speedy implementation of the LNP's No 1 commitment.

Felton's Fine Without a Mine!

New report shows renewable energy is miles better

L-R: Trevor Berrill, Ian Whan (FOF), Mark Ogge. Photo: SK

17 March 2012. Yesterday in Toowoomba, FOF hosted the launch of a report prepared by renewable energy consultant Trevor Berrill into the clean energy policies of Queensland political parties in advance of the upcoming state election. Beyond Zero Emissions Strategic Director Mark Ogge was also present to lend BZE support to the launch which was held to coincide with the Toowoomba Energy Summit 2102 - an event which seemed mainly concerned with digging up and pumping out as much fossil fuels as possible.

Key points of the Berrill report:

Both the ALP and LNPs policies on energy and mining promote the massive expansion of coal and coal seam gas (CSG) mining across Queensland. CSG is promoted as a 'cleaner' fossil fuel despite the fact that recent studies cast strong doubt on the 'cleaner' nature of coal seam gas, and that it will have little effect on reducing the impacts of global warming. A swap to much cleaner renewable energy is required. 

Both Parties support the massive subsidization of these mature industries, which is contrary to a 2009 G20 country's commitment to phase out subsidies to fossil fuels and support development of clean alternatives. In the past five years, the ALP Government has spent over $6.9 billion subsidizing port, rail, road and other infrastructure associated with this industry. Another $13 billion is forecast to be spent in subsidies by Government in coming years.

The costs of this industry to the Queensland economy are growing, both on sales and job losses in other sectors, social disruption of rural communities and miners' families, and pollution costs. The external costs of pollution from our current coal-fired electricity generation alone are estimated at $6 billion each year. By comparison, current royalties from coal mining are about $2.3 billion each year.

For the Felton Valley community, a comparison of a Sustainable Energy (SE) Plan with the Ambre Energy coal to liquids fuels proposal shows:

·         Costs and benefits from the SE Plan accumulate slowly over time indefinitely, allowing for progressive installation due to the modular mass produced nature of the technology.

·          Costs and benefits of the Ambre Energy project are both immediate and relatively short term (40 years).  A range of polluting effects would occur at all stages of this project. Long term impacts may be unusable farm land and the necessity for on-going pollution monitoring.

·         Both projects provide jobs, but the SE plan provides jobs which are sustainable into the future, not for a short-term of 40 years. 

·         Many similar skills are required for construction in both projects but the SE plan generally exposes workers and the community to far less harmful chemicals or dust.

·         The Ambre Energy proposal does not address Queensland's spiralling greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. Without carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), the proposal provides no GHG emission benefits and is an energy intensive processes that wastes almost 60 percent of the energy in the coal. GHG emissions, including tail pipe emissions, range from 6.7 Mt CO2e per year without CCS to 3.3 Mt CO2e per year with CCS.  In comparison, total Queensland transport sector emissions in 2007 were about 19 Mt CO2e per year.

·         The SE Plan could provide electricity for both local home and industry use, and electric vehicles. Renewable energy powered electric vehicles are the most GHG friendly form of transport, while also eliminating other fossil fuel emissions from the tail pipe of vehicles.

In response, an un-named spokesperson for the resources industry told the Courier Mail that 'analysts tended to confuse the issue around funding and forget that the industry paid significant user charges and royalties.'

The big problem with that argument as far as Felton (and a fair chunk of the Darling Downs, Scenic Rim, and Lockyer Valley) is concerned is that the Queensland Government stands to gain very little in mining royalties due to the existence of private coal rights (scroll down this page to the posts dated 25 Sept 2011 and 18 June 2011 for more info).

Download the report here -


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Bimblebox sells out in Toowoomba

17 March 2012. FOF was proud to host a screening of the new documentary Bimblebox at Grand Central Cinemas in Toowoomba on Thursday night. The only problem was we were swamped with demand for tickets, and had to turn people away at the door. Paola Cassoni, the remarkable co-owner of the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, was at the screening to answer questions at the end. People were extremely generous, and our donation bucket was overflowing. All profits were donated to Bimblebox to support distribution of the film across the country. For information about other screenings, DVD sales, or how you can help click here.

Pittsworth Show celebrates the best in agriculture

Photo: SK

17 March 2012. Last weekend, FOF once again had a well supported stand in the pavilion at the Pittsworth Show. This year the show celebrated its 105th birthday with a great display which upheld its reputation as a showcase of agriculture on the Darling Downs. It seems bizarre that one of the 3 principal show sponsors is none other than Ambre Energy - a company whose plans for the region would wreck local agriculture. The FOF stand (picured) had a display of the wide variety of food produced in the Felton Valley and which was very well received by the public.

Huge Crowd Rallies in Brisbane

13 March 2012. FOF members were amongst the huge crowd that descended on Brisbane yesterday to protest against coal and CSG expansion in Queensland. First stop was a park in the inner-city suburb of Ashgrove, where morning tea was provided by local members of The Greens and Katter's Australia Party (just think about that for a moment!). From there we marched to the electorate offices of Kate Jones MP and Campbell Newman for protests. Then it was off to the Brisbane Convention Centre for a rally organised by radio personality Alan Jones AO. 1100 people packed the venue to listen to 5 brave country women who battle coal and CSG in their daily lives. Lee Kernaghan gave a special performance, and from there it was off on foot across the river to protest outside the Queensland Government executive building.

There are photos and video here

Comprehensive report here from BeefCentral.com

The Social Costs of Mining

13 March 2012. Following are the comments made by FOF president Ian Whan after introducing candidates at the Gowrie Junction Forum held on 10 March 2012

From perspective to expectations to reality

Large scale mining, wherever it occurs, alters the landscape and causes damage to the natural environment.  In remote areas, such damage is generally accepted as the cost of having a viable mining industry.  The Environmental Impact Statement that precedes every large mining project is claimed to minimise and mitigate impacts on the natural environment.

But when large-scale mining is attempted in closely settled areas, additional social costs arise.  There are three main costs that make mining on the inner Darling Downs inappropriate and therefore socially unacceptable:

  • First, mining on the Darling Downs leads to the permanent alienation of scarce cropping land and in the process, threatens food security. 
  • Secondly large mines can destroy the rural community and small towns that they invade; 
  • Thirdly, people left living close to mines suffer mine-related externalities and often end-up with emotional, mental and physical problems, for which they are not compensated. 

Proof of the dire consequences of mining on the inner Darling Downs exists at Acland.  The experience of Acland has proven that intensive farming and mining should be considered as mutually exclusive activities.  It is imperative that they be kept well apart. 

We know all this, but still reports come out of Brisbane saying that coal mining is a highly suitable value adding opportunity for this part of the world.  The EIS for expanding the Acland mine to stage 3 makes no distinction between coal mining activities in the Surat Basin and coal mining on the Darling Downs.  We wonder whether the report writers consulted with anyone living at Acland before arriving at this profound conclusion.  Perhaps the conversation goes like this: 'Hey Mr Coordinator General, we've written this wonderful EIS for stage 3.  We found a nice new home for the blue-eyed speckled-back cricket but we couldn't do anything to allay the dislocation, stress and anxiety and health risks faced by hundreds of Acland residents'.

It's high time that the people living west of Ipswich were shown a little respect.

We are not naive.  We know the power of money and how it makes good people do some pretty ordinary things.  We also know that agents of big money will always be sneaking around in our backyard looking for the next piece of Australia to hock-off for a quick buck.  But let's get one thing clear.  Nothing else west of the Great Divide is going to get ripped out of the ground and hocked-off without the knowledge, involvement and blessing of the residents who are directly affected.

State Election Candidates Forum 10th March

4 March 2012. Residents throughout the region (i.e. roughly the Toowoomba Regional Council area) are invited to a State Election Candidates Forum to be held at Gowrie Junction Community Hall, Old Homebush Road, from 6.30 pm to 10.00 pm on Saturday 10th March.

With the State election now only weeks away FOF has combined with a number of local community groups to create an opportunity for the Toowoomba regional community to question election candidates on their environmental platform and credentials regarding coal and CSG mining impacts, and a range of other environmental concerns.

These groups are HOPE, Toowoomba Coal Mine Action Group and the Oakey Coal Action Alliance.

The Candidate's Forum committee is now inviting questions to be submitted from members of the community. These will then be consolidated and put to a panel of election candidates during the Forum evening.

The Candidates Forum will be independently adjudicated and set out so as give the community audience the maximum amount of time to gauge the performance of the various candidates present from the 5 electorates chosen for their relevance to the Toowoomba and Darling Downs Region. The proceedings of the evening will be audio-recorded for later Podcast, and it is expected that a significant media contingent will be present.

Please submit questions to friendsoffelton@live.com or office@hopeaustralia.org.au by Thursday, 8 March. For any further information about the Candidates Forum, please contact the office of HOPE on 07 4639 2135.


Bimblebox tickets selling fast

4 March 2012. Tickets are selling fast for the Toowoomba screening of Bimblebox (see poster below). Tickets will only be sold on the night of the screening if they have not sold out before, so in order to avoid disappointment please purchase in advance - either from the Social Justice Commission Office, Cathedral Centre, 123 Neil St, Toowoomba (normal office hours), or from the FOF meeting at Felton this Tuesday 7pm at the Felton Hall. For more information please email friendsoffelton@live.com

Bimblebox comes to Toowoomba

28 Feb 2012. Friends of Felton is delighted to announce a screening of the documentary Bimblebox, straight from its world premiere at the Byron Bay Film Festival - please see flier below. The film includes footage shot in Central Qld, Felton, Acland, and the Hunter Valley. The star of the film, Paola Cassoni will be our special guest at the screening, and will say a few words at the end. Tickets cost $10 and should be pre-purchased at the FOF meeting at Felton on  6th March, or from the Social Justice Commission, 123 Neil St, Toowoomba. Tickets are limited so get in quick! Inquiries - please email friendsoffelton@live.com


20 responses so far to Pollie Watch 2012

27 Feb 2012. So far 6 candidates for the Qld election and 14 for the Toowoomba Regional Council election have responded to our 2 questions on the Ambre Energy proposal for Felton and the issue of mining in the region. Which ones have given straight answers and which have ducked the questions? You be the judge - visit our election page Pollie Watch 2012.

Jobs Jobs Jobs, or Con Con Con?

23 Feb 2012. Mining industry claims of all the 'jobs jobs jobs' that it creates have been called into question by research published this month by The Australia Institute. Author Dr Richard Dennis is critical of the assumptions that are built into economic models which routinely claim a 'jobs multiplier' of 3 to 1 - in other words it is commonly claimed that for every job created in mining another 3 are created in the rest of the economy. Dennis' paper suggests that these claims are exaggerated, and often jobs created in mining simply displace those in other sectors. You can read the paper here.

Writing in the SMH, Ross Gittins states 'The Australia Mines and Metals Association says ''213,200 people are directly employed in mining, oil and gas operations in Australia, with an additional 639,600 indirect jobs created by the resource industry''. Did you notice how the second of those suspiciously precise figures was exactly three times the first? Spurious accuracy is one of the signs that a con job is in progress.'

In news which further diminishes the employment claims of the minining industry, Rio Tinto this week announced that over the next 2 years it will convert its iron ore trains in the Pilbara to driverless automation, threatening the jobs of 500 train drivers. news.com.au reported that

'The plan, which forms part of Rio Tinto's so-called mine of the future plan, was launched in 2008 and includes 150 driverless trucks - some of which are already operating - and autonomous drills.'

Back at Felton, one of the characteristics of the local economy is the large number of people employed in agriculture and related industries. A survey carried out by FOF in 2010 shows 540 people are employed in agriculture within 10km of the site of Ambre Energy's proposed development. So many jobs would be displaced by the development due to the shut down of local agriculture, that the net longterm jobs effect would likely be negative.

People power forces LNP to rule out Acland mine expansion

Photo: The Australian

23 Feb 2012. A lively crowd of over 300 people gathered at Jondaryan on Monday to protest against the proposed Stage 3 expansion of New Hope Coal's Acland mine. The crowd marched to the coal dump alongside the Warrego Highway where trains and trucks are loaded with coal, showering the local area and inhabitants with coal dust. The march was lead by Lock the Gate President Drew Hutton, radio personality Alan Jones, Greens Senator Larissa Waters, and Leader of Katter's Australia Party Bob Katter.

The protest had an immediate and significant result with the announcement by the LNP that it would not allow Stage 3 to go ahead if elected.

Media reports -The Australian, Brisbane Times

Big Day Out in Jondaryan - Monday 20th Feb

17 Feb 2012. Lock the Gate Alliance in conjunction with the Oakey Coal Action Alliance have organised a major rally at the township of Jondaryan (40 kms west of Toowoomba) on Monday 20th February - which is aimed at exposing the scandal that is the Jondaryan coal dump as well as opposing the Stage 3 Application of the New Hope Coal Acland mine.

The rally will begin at 12 noon with participants gathering at the open ground on the eastern edge of the Jondaryan township at 11.00 am, beginning with a Welcome to Country by Community Elder, Lois Kelly, followed with speeches by Alan Jones, Drew Hutton and Peter Faulkner.

The march will then continue for 800 metres from the edge of the Jondaryan township across the Warrego Highway to the rail coal loading facility operated by New Hope Coal.

Alan Jones, Australian broadcaster and leading campaigner for the protection of our food security and water resources from coal mining and CSG will lead the march beside leading environmental campaigner, Drew Hutton. 

They will be joined by prominent members of the local community including doctors, 94 year-old community matriarch, Mrs Lorette Reynolds and Toowoomba Regional Councillor, Mike Williams - son of the great Australian icon R.M. Williams - who plans to ride on horseback. There will be many other politicians, celebrities and prominent Queensland identities lending their support, including Bob Katter and Aidan McLindon from Katter's Australia Party, and Senator Larissa Waters from the Greens. Both Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman have also been invited.

There will be a fleet of buses bringing supporters in to attend the event from right across South East Queensland.

The rally and march will provide great theatre for both the Australian and international media in attendance, as well as drawing attention to serious environmental and social issues. 

This event will set the agenda for the Queensland election for political parties to respond to farmers calls to protect our farmland, our water and our communities from mining.


Election spotlight

14 Feb 2012. What do our politicians and candidates think of the Ambre Energy plan for coal mining development at Felton, and what are their thoughts on mining and CSG in general on the inner Darling Downs? Find out on our election page Pollie Watch 2012.

Newmont permit is part of the 1%

4 Feb 2012. The Wall St Journal reports that Newmont mining is close to selling 2 coal permits - namely the 13,000ha MDL 304 at Felton and the 12,000ha MDL 299 near Millmerran.

Only last week, Queensland's new Strategic Cropping Land (SCL) legislation became law. Let's be frank, the amount of land protected is very small. Even though only 4.1% of Qld is suitable for cropping (according to the Qld Govt), the amount of land given some protection under the new legislation may be as little as 1% (and incredibly Coal Seam Gas wells will be allowed anywhere). The official Government Orwellian phrase that they have 'got the balance right' between mining and agriculture reveals clearly how much influence the resources industry wields over our democracy.

With regard to Felton, the good news is that a large proportion of the cropping land in the area will qualify for inclusion in the protected 1%. This includes a very large part of MDL 304 which Newmont has put up for sale. It makes you wonder if the prospective purchasers are aware that the chances of mining being allowed are very slim - profitable for Newmont perhaps, but a nasty surprise for the purchaser.

Last October, FOF raised the alarm when Chinese State-owned company Shenhuo applied for a coal exploration permit adjacent to MDL 304. In an interview with The Australian newspaper, Natural Resources Minister Rachel Nolan said

"The Felton Valley does have very high-quality agricultural soil, as identified by the government's trigger maps, so it's very unlikely that any new mining proposal would proceed," she said. 

Shortly after that report, Shenhuo withdrew its application, amid suggestions that the company was unaware of the new SCL policy.

The other factor involved in both Newmont permits is the existence of private coal rights. It's highly likely that all of the land concerned was granted freehold before March 1910, and therefore it is likely that royalties from any coal mined would be payable to the landowner (or a previous landholder), as is the case with the land at Millmerran mine owned by Canadian investment company Franco Nevada. The big question is: If the Queensland Government stands to gain no royalties, why on earth would it allow mining to take place? See posts on this page dated 25 Sept 2011 and 18 June 2011 for more info on this.

So where does that leave the Newmont sale? Surely the Queensland Government must step in immediately before any sale takes place, to make it clear to prospective purchasers that there is little chance of mining being allowed to proceed. 

Pollie Watch 2012 goes live!

3 Feb 2012. Like to know what our politicians and aspiring politicians think about Ambre Energy's plan for Felton, and the issue of mining and coal seam gas in our region? Our new webpage POLLIE WATCH 2012 has the information you need. Click here

Acland attracts national attention

Acland mine. Photo:SK

26 Jan 2012. Doctors for the Environment Australia has spoken out strongly against the Acland coal mine, operated by New Hope Coal. The mine, situated some 50km NW Toowoomba, is an environmental and social disaster area. The company has applied to the Queensland Government for permission to expand from the present 4.8Mt/yr to 10Mt/yr (Stage 3), which would involve mining the entire town. In a statement on its website, DEA states:

In our view, stage 3 cannot be supported on public health grounds and the existing pollution requires drastic remediation.

DEA has written to Minister Burke to indicate our view that the Commonwealth must intervene to take responsibility for these failures. We have provided a detailed critique of the air pollution demonstrated in the EIS. We have also written to the Queensland Ministers Wilson, Hinchliff and Darling.

DEA was prompted to intervene by a letter from the Oakey Coal Action Alliance. This letter is a comprehensive summary of the environmental and public health impacts of the existing mine, and essential reading for anyone wishing to learn more about Acland and the impacts of mining. You can read it here -


What's so special about mining?

18 Jan 2012. Queensland's mining lobby has this quaint habit of uttering half-finished statements it imagines unlocks some great truth that should be self-evident to all people.  When subject to even the most casual scrutiny, these statements are revealed as self-serving, banal and meaningless.  Three examples will be enough to demonstrate the truth of our observation. 

First example: 'mining and agriculture coexist'.  This utterance is meant to fool ordinary people into thinking that miners and farmers get along like a house on fire.  The truth is, it is impossible to conduct mining and agriculture in the same place at the same time.  In this sense mining and agriculture are mutually exclusive and often the ability to grow crops on good land post-mining is lost forever.  It is disingenuous to refer to the simultaneous existence of mining and agriculture, somewhere within the vastness of Queensland, as proof of coexistence.  Real physical separation makes any notion of coexisting null and void.  Demonstrative separation from mining is what farming precincts want.  Everyone needs to understand that mining and agriculture are not bed-fellows. 

Second example: 'let the science decide'.  Miners make this utterance in relation to assessing the social acceptability of particular mining proposals.  They are saying that the fate of all mining proposals should be decided by an Environmental Impact Study.  The trouble is, the environmental impact studies applied to mining projects in Queensland are not scientific.  They are performed by consultants hired by the proponent and the terms of reference rarely include the very issues considered by those stakeholders most affected as important.  Accordingly the basic principles of 'good science' are violated.  Everyone need to understand that environmental impact studies are initiated by a development application and once the project gets to the EIS stage it has close to a 100% chance of being approved. 

Third example: 'mineral resources belong to everyone'.  This little throw-away is meant to justify miners having the right to access land against the express wish of the affected landholder or indeed the whole community surrounding that land.  So it has now become common place to see police arresting law-abiding citizens trying to do no more than protect agricultural land and communities from the risks of permanent damage and degradation.  There are lots of things that belong to 'everyone' which are far more important to a civil society than digging up minerals.  It is simply unconscionable that Queensland landholders cannot refuse entry by miners whose only motivation is personal gain.  Miners are not the agent of the government or society; they are business people seeking to make profits for themselves.  Why miners should have the backing of 'police presence' to undertake a standard commercial activity, can only be explained in terms of system failure.  Everyone needs to understand that mining is not an essential public service.  It is a standard commercial activity with the exception of two rather nasty characteristics.  First, the mining industry is dominated by filthy rich people with a penchant for garnering influence in all the right places.  Secondly, actual mining activity generates huge externalities that continue to go unrecognised and unpriced.  Ordinary citizens are right to stand in the way of mining activities that they believe will harm current and future generations. 

Spin and bribes

Warning: readers may find this advertisement offensive

11 Jan 2012. Some more 'highlights' from the Ambre Energy annual reports (see post below this one).

It is interesting that Ambre pride themselves on their community engagement and highlight that "a Community Liaison Group has been established to guide project consultation" and yet this group has not heard from, or met with Ambre CTL since September 2010!


Ambre states that: 'Community liaison and support activities are ongoing and have included sponsorship of local events, such as the Cambooya Campdraft, the Heritage Royal Toowoomba Show, and the show's 'Little Hands on the Farm exhibit.' It's bad enough that a Royal agricultural show would take money from a company planning to wreck one of this country's most productive farming areas, but for Ambre to use children for their own propaganda purposes is offensive in the extreme.


Ambre boasts it has invested $16 million on the Felton project, 'including approximately $9 million in local communities surrounding the project.' The implication seems to be that by spending money on land, drilling contractors and bribes to community groups, somehow the proposed destruction can be justified. No fair minded person would agree with that.

Misleading Propaganda

9 Jan 2012. If there was a prize for Misleading Propaganda 2012, Ambre Energy would surely be the unbackable favourite - in spite of the fact that the New Year is only a few days old. The annual reports just published on its website (available here) are the stuff of fairytales.

ambreCTL is the name it has given to its proposal for the destruction of Felton. CTL supposedly stands for 'Coal-To-Liquids', but we prefer 'Can't Trust this Lot'. The annual report runs to some 60 pages, but pages 2 & 3 are enough to give the reader a fair idea of the content.

It talks of a clear vision involving a cleaner, alternative use of coal.

It talks of a clear strategy; to operate our project in a safe and environmentally sound manner.

It claims to value the environment; by promoting sustainable development.

The annual report of the parent company, Ambre Energy, contains the following quote from its Chairman: 'Responsible environmental performance and promoting sustainable development is one of our core values'

In case you've been mesmerised by the weasel words, let's just remind ourselves what this project involves:

A large open cut coal mine and petrochemical plant in the highly-productive fertile Felton Valley adjacent to Hodgson Creek- an important tributary of the Murray Darling river system. The coal would be washed, with tailings collected in a series of dams. The washed coal would supply a petrochemical plant next to Mt Rolleston, an area important for indigenous heritage and biodiversity. The operation would have a huge demand for water, equivalent to the consumption of Toowoomba - a city of 100,000 people - the source of this water has not yet been identified. Large quantities of CO2 would be emitted to the atmosphere - 5 times as much as the fuel produced on a weight for weight basis - with no plans for carbon capture and storage. Large quantities of solid waste from the plant would be dumped back in the mine pit - which the company has said might have to be lined to prevent toxins leaching into groundwater aquifers. Large numbers of people would be directly affected by this operation - 4,000 people live within 10km of the site, and would be at risk of severe health impacts from pollution, blasting, vibration and noise.

So when Ambre Energy talks of a cleaner use of coal we must ask cleaner than what? When it talks of concern for the environment and sustainable development we can only laugh.

If Ambre Energy really did care about the environment it would be promoting renewable energy, in the same way that FOF has proposed the establishment of solar and wind power at Felton as an alternative to coal mining. That would allow the generation of power without harming food production, the environment, or the health of thousands of people. That really would be sustainable development.


Back Plains Hall full for FOF meeting

Photo: SK

4 Jan 2012. Over 90 people packed the Back Plains Hall last night for the monthly FOF meeting. Local residents expressed their alarm at plans by Ambre Energy to carry out coal exploration drilling in the area. FOF is firmly of the opinion that the Eastern Darling Downs is no place for coal mining. It is simply too valuable for food production and the environment, and is home to large numbers of people. FOF encourages landholders approached by mining companies to follow the example of  others in the area and simply say no.

Here is the presentation given by FOF President Ian Whan to the meeting -


Back Plains: No place for a coal mine

21 Dec 2011. Ambre Energy is planning a program of coal exploration drilling in the Back Plains/Mt Molar/Nobby area, some 10-20km east of Felton. Just like Felton, this is a closely-settled vital food producing area with great environmental importance. Quite simply, this is no place for a coal mine. Friends of Felton encourages affected landholders to refuse to cooperate with Ambre Energy and talk to their neighbours. More detailed advice can be requested by email to friendsoffelton@live.com . The next FOF monthly meeting will be held on Tuesday 3rd January at the Back Plains Hall, starting at 7pm.

Acland rehab claims hard to swallow

Acland mine

15 Dec 2011. Listeners to ABC Southern Qld last Friday morning could have been excused for checking the calendar to see if it was April Fool's Day, because they were treated to a story about New Hope Coal's Acland mine, and what a good job it was doing with land rehabilitation after mining.It goes for about 10 minutes and you can listen to the whole thing here

Anyone who has driven past the Acland mine can see for themselves the impact on the landscape. Much of the rehabilitated land has a slope so steep that a goat would struggle to stay on its feet, and the sparse cover of grass is obviously much less productive than neighbouring unmined land.

In the executive summary of the Environmental Impact Statement for its proposed Stage 3 expansion of the mine, New Hope states:

'Based on a conservative assessment, it is anticipated that there will be a significant net reduction in the land suitability rating as a result of the Project. The suitability of post-mine features with steep slopes (such as spoil piles, coal reject dumps and tailings dams) for cropping and grazing purposes is constrained by the slope angle, the nature of soil cover and altered moisture profile and waste material quality. These constraints would increase the risk of erosion significantly if cropping or grazing were undertaken on these areas.'

Furthermore, the EIS lists one of the 'key elements' of the project as

'generation of five potential final voids, comprising 560.1 hectares (ha) within the total area of the Project equalling 7 347 ha'

'Voids' is a posh word for holes in the ground, which would no doubt collect contaminated water from surrounding spoil heaps and coal seams. Maybe New Hope will do trials of fish farming?

Hutton fined, evidence alarms

Arresting officer arrives in QGC vehicle. Photo:SK

10 Dec 2011. Last Thursday, Lock the Gate President Drew Hutton was fined $2000 for obstructing a CSG company without reasonable excuse. That's pretty much the way the case was reported in the media, however what was not widely reported was the alarming evidence presented in court revealing the apparent collusion between the CSG company (QGC) and Police in Hutton's arrest. The arresting officer gave evidence on Wednesday, and under cross examination revealed that:

  • The Police had a choice of Acts under which to make the arrest, but QGC had requested he be arrested under the Petroleum & Gas Act.
  • QGC had drafted a letter for police to give to Hutton.
  • The arresting officer had been driven to the site to arrest Hutton in a QGC vehicle.

Sydney Morning Herald report here

Toowoomba Chronicle report here


Felton Food Festival - 15 April 2012

4 Dec 2011. The Inaugural Felton Food Festival, to be held at Felton on 15 April 2012, is an initiative of Felton growers who want to highlight the region as a superb producer of a variety of quality fresh food. It is an opportunity for local growers and food producers to showcase and sell their products.

The Felton Food Festival is packed with exciting events. Celebrity Chef, and owner of Tank and Brett's Wharf Restaurant, Alastair McLeod will provide cooking demonstrations and competitions and Celebrity Gardener Costa Georgiadis, from Costa's Garden Odyssey will be on hand to give growing advice. The event will attract people from across South East Queensland to sample local produce and food.

The organising committee has produced a beautiful calendar filled with magnificent artwork done specifically for the festival, with great recipes from chefs, cooks, and restaurants around the region. They make a great Christmas present, and are on sale now for $20. For more information, please email feltonfoodfestival@gmail.com or visit the feltonfoodfestival facebook page

Stop the Felton mine threat now!

1 Dec 2011. Newly elected president of Friends of Felton, Mr Ian Whan, has called on the Bligh Government to immediately withdraw its support from the Ambre Energy bid to establish a coal mine and petro chemical plant in the Felton Valley.  According to Mr Whan, Queensland is about to get Strategic Cropping Land legislation designed to protect farming country from developments such as open cut coal mining - of the sort proposed by Ambre Energy.  If this legislation is worth anything, it should stop Ambre from establishing at Felton given the highly productive nature of Inner Darling Downs land resources. 

Mr Whan sees introduction of the Federal Government's carbon tax as further justification for scrapping the Ambre proposal.  According to Ambre's own figures, its coal to liquid processes would produce 5 tonnes of CO2 for every litre of fuel, with no plans for carbon capture and storage.  Mr Whan said this is precisely the sort of operation that the carbon tax is designed to discourage; if the Queensland Government really does believe in a clean energy future, as it claims, this proposal should be ruled out immediately.

Friends of Felton has proposed the establishment of renewable energy infrastructure as an alternative to coal mining development - an initiative that would generate enough power for 160,000 homes without harming food production, the environment, or the health and well being of thousands of people.

To cap it all off, legal advice obtained by Friends of Felton indicates that the Queensland Government would receive very little in royalties from mining at Felton due to the existence of private coal rights in the area.

Four years ago, when Ambre Energy made known its plans to mine in the Felton Valley, there was a presumption afoot that miners could establish anywhere they liked.  But according to Mr Whan, the times have caught up with miners thinking they can encroach on areas characterised by significant food production, high settlement density and outstanding environmental values.  Mr Whan is adamant that the Queensland public now wants tight controls on where miners can enter and establish.  Everyone knows the mining industry is a great money spinner but there has to be strict limits on where it can operate; as a country we should be smart enough to get the balance right, he concluded

Video of last week's LNP announcement

30 Nov 2011. You can view a video of last week's LNP announcement at Felton plus answers to questions via the updated links at the bottom of the story immediately below this one.

LNP stands by commitment to protect Felton

Jeff Seeney (l) with Ray Hopper (r). Photo: SK

24 Nov 2011. LNP Parliamentary Leader Jeff Seeney, accompanied by member for Condamine Ray Hopper, came to Felton yesterday to announce that an incoming LNP government would stand by the promise given at the last Queensland election not to allow mining at Felton. Mr Seeney said the LNP was commited to introducing 'statutory regional plans' which would protect the inner Darling Downs from mining. He said the LNP was opposed to the proposed expansion of the Acland mine operated by New Hope Coal.

After the announcement the LNP issued the following media release -


THE LNP has pledged to protect prime farm land on the inner Darling Downs at Gowrie Junction and the Felton Valley from mining and coal seam gas extractions.

LNP Parliament Leader Jeff Seeney told landholder meetings this week an LNP government would not allow any mining or coal seam gas activity at either Gowrie Junction or the Felton Valley.

'These will be 'no go zones' under an LNP government,' Mr Seeney said.

'The LNP will quickly introduce Statutory Regional Planning Schemes to protect prime farm lands on the Darling Downs and the Central Highlands.

'This regional planning should have been done a long time ago. It should have been done before the Labor government made any mining and gas approvals.'

LNP Member for Condamine Ray Hopper said the LNP had delivered what it had promised - protection for the two iconic farming areas.

'This is about protecting prime farm lands that can sustainably produce food and fibre for generations to come.

'Only the LNP will protect prime farming land through Statutory Regional Planning and administration. This is a win for commonsense and a win for famers and their communities,' Mr Hopper said.

Mr Seeney said as in most other areas of government service delivery, the tired, 20-year Labor government had failed to plan and failed to administer.

'The LNP wants to provide assurances to rural communities.

'We will get more boots on the ground from government departments to make sure whatever approvals are given, are administered properly - but we can only do this if we are in government.

'The LNP will restore accountability in government.'


Queensland Country Life report here

Video of the announcement and response from FOF's Rob McCreath here

Video of questions and answers on topics including Strategic Cropping Land, LNP opposition to expansion of New Hope Coal's Acland mine, Campbell Newman's lunch with Ambre Energy, and CSG in 3 parts here - part 1 part 2 part 3


Race Day best ever


13 Nov 2011. Yesterday's FOF fundraising Race Day at Clifford Park, Toowoomba, was a roaring success. 250 people packed the Grand Marquee on a warm sunny day. The Cool Nights Big Band played superbly, and the auction, raffle, and calcutta provided great entertainment while raising valuable funds for our campaign.

Grateful thanks to our race sponsors - Forbes Batteries, Pittsworth Vet Surgery, Hannas, Glenmar Fuels, Ray White Rural Pittsworth, Rosedale, and Oakey Vet Hospital

More photos here

Strategic Cropping Land Parliamentary Hearing

13 Nov 2011. Last Thursday, the Environment, Agriculture, Resources and Energy Committee of the Queensland Parliament held a Departmental Briefing and Public Hearing into the Strategic Cropping Land Bill 2011. Transcripts and submissions are available on the committee's website here.

FOF was invited to give a statement to the Public Hearing, which was delivered by FOF President Ian Whan:

The Strategic Cropping Land legislation should act as an absolute barrier to entry by mining into qualifying areas.  This is what Friends of Felton has been campaigning for since our formation, more than three and a half years ago.

But the compromise implicit in the proposed framework is proof that mining and agriculture do not and cannot co-exist.  What you give to one, you take away from the other.

If the government's objective is to protect SCL then the miner's wish to have access to ALL land has to be denied.  Miners have no interest in protecting SCL.  So why are they involved in deciding the definition of SCL?  It's obvious their involvement is leading to excessive compromise that undermines the integrity and value of the government's original aims and objectives.

It is imperative that the trigger points which define SCL accord with REALITY.  Those currently proposed do not.  The minimum changes we demand are as follows:

1.    The minimum assessable farm size on the Eastern Darling Downs is currently set at 50ha.  This is way too high.  The figure should be 10ha - the same as proposed for the Coastal zone and the Granite Belt.
2.       The maximum qualifying slope is currently set at 5%.  This is too low because it doesn't reflect reality or good farming practice.  The maximum should be at least 8%.
3.       There should be buffer zones around SCL that are proportional in width to the proposal development.  For an open cut coal mine, the buffer between its boundaries and any SCL should be at least 10km.

You can read the full FOF submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry below.

ABC News online report here


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New President for FOF

Ian Whan (l) with Rob McCreath (r). Photo:SK

9 Nov 2011. After almost four years at the helm of Friends of Felton, foundation president Rob McCreath has decided to step down.  Replacing Rob will be Mr Ian Whan, another landholder in the Felton Valley.  Ian was unanimously elected at the Friends of Felton AGM last Tuesday night. 

Speaking after his election, Mr Whan said the Felton community owed a great debt of gratitude to Rob and Sally McCreath for their accomplishments since formation of Friends of Felton.  Mr Whan explained that three years ago, everyone thought miners could enter and establish on any property they liked.  Back then government ministers wanted incumbent landholders to believe that their interests and preferences were protected by the Environmental Impact Assessment process.  Until recently the Queensland Resources Council was claiming that the environmental impact assessment process was scientific and objective. 

According to Mr Whan, governments are slowly getting the message that not all rural land is the same and should not be regarded as equally available to miners; with a little work and dedication it is possible to direct mining away from the most highly productive and closely settled rural communities.  He added the idea of planning for balance between preservation and development is regarded as essential by the public at large but is yet to get effective traction with policy makers. 

Mr Whan warned that the fight to save scarce farming land and rural communities is far from over.  The fact that miners are still meddling in agricultural policy regarding Strategic Cropping Land suggests the government feels it has been captured by the mining industry and must comply with that industry's every wish.  Wrapping up, Mr Whan said he wanted to continue the magnificent achievements of Rob McCreath with the general aim of bringing about fair and reasonable balance between established and new industries.

Toowoomba Chronicle report here

More AGM photos here

Significant win for FOF

Friends of Felton has claimed a significant win in its campaign to protect the Darling Downs from mining development.

The Queensland Government has confirmed that Shenhuo International Group Pty Ltd, a large Chinese state-owned mining company, has abandoned its application for a coal exploration permit  (EPC 2706 ) over an area covering around 5000ha of the Condamine River floodplain between Felton South and Tummaville.

Friends of Felton objected publicly to the application on the grounds that the area in question is clearly an unsuitable place for mining, comprising top quality farmland and including stretches of the Condamine River and Thanes Creek.

This is a significant win which will give great encouragement to our group and also to others across Australia in the Lock the Gate movement that are opposed to the unrestricted expansion of the mining industry into important food-producing regions, places with high environmental importance, and densely populated areas.

The Queensland Government should reject other coal permit applications for the inner Darling Downs, and mining companies holding existing exploration permits should save their shareholders' money by surrendering them.

Media report -

Australian Financial Review


Mining challenge to cropping land policy

28 Oct 2011. A challenge to the Queensland Government's commitment to protect the State's best cropping land has emerged with an application by a Chinese state-owned company for a coal exploration permit over an area of the Condamine River floodplain between Felton South and Tummaville on the inner Darling Downs.

Shenhuo International Group Pty Ltd has applied for the permit EPC 2706 covering around 5000ha of deep rich alluvial black soil, including stretches of the Condamine River and Thanes Creek.

The land in question is undeniably strategic cropping land, while the rivers and creeks are priceless waterways. This is clearly an unsuitable place for coal mining. Mines Minister Stirling Hinchliffe must show that the Queensland Government is genuine in its undertaking to protect the State's best cropping land by rejecting this permit application immediately.

In an interview with The Australian newspaper, Natural Resources Minister Rachel Nolan said "The Felton Valley does have very high-quality agricultural soil, as identified by the government's trigger maps, so it's very unlikely that any new mining proposal would proceed," she said. "If a company wants to spend money exploring where they are unlikely to be allowed to mine, that's a matter for them."

Surely the sensible course of action would be for the Queensland Government to simply reject the permit application before the company wastes any money on exploration. This would reassure the farming community that the Government really is serious about protecting the State's best farmland.

Toowoomba Chronicle report here

Carbon tax deals body blow to Ambre Felton project

Artist: Sharon O'Phee

17 Oct 2011. The passage of the 'carbon tax' bill through the lower house of parliament last Wednesday has landed yet another blow against Ambre Energy's crazy coal-to-pollution-and-liquid fuel plan for Felton. The company's own figures state its proposed petrochemical plant would produce 4.2 million t/yr of CO2, and there would be more emissions from mining operations. At the starting price of $23/t CO2 equivalent, that would result in an annual carbon tax cost of around $100 million. The economics of this project have always been questionable, they now look unfeasible. 

Gunnedah forum focuses on food security

A drill rig working near Breeza, Liverpool Plains, NSW

17 Oct 2011. Around 600 people packed the Gunnedah Town Hall last Wednesday for a Food Security Forum organised by the Caroona Coal Action Group and Mullaley Gas Pipeline Accord, and chaired by broadcaster Alan Jones. Speakers talked about the challenges from rising population and declining availability of farmland, the physical and mental health impacts of mining, impacts on water supplies, and ways in which local groups across the country could work together to protect our food producing areas.

Moree Champion report here

Photo gallery here


Invites you to attend


SATURDAY 12th November 2011 at 3pm, At the


 Dinner, Raffles, Calcutta, Auction & Live Music by

The Cool Nights Big Band.

Prize for best His and Hers Hats

RSVP Essential for Catering, 5th November.

Tickets ($65) must be pre-purchased.

More info: friendsoffelton@live.com

Ambre Energy scholarships an insult to farmers

6 Oct 2011. An announcement by Ambre Energy offering scholarships to school children has been branded an insult to the agricultural industry. Two scholarships worth $1000 have been offered to Year 10 students at Pittsworth and Clifton State High Schools undertaking agricultural studies in 2012.

Ambre Energy's plans to industrialise the inner Darling Downs threaten to pollute and destroy a priceless food-producing region. Open-cut mines and petrochemical plants would shower the surrounding area in dust and fumes, while draining and polluting water supplies. The company's announcement offering scholarships to school children studying agriculture is offensive in the extreme. It will be seen for what it is - a desperate attempt to buy public support for a highly unpopular agenda which is clearly not in the public interest.

Ambre Energy has applied for a mining lease for a large open-cut coal mine and petrochemical plant on a 2000ha site in the Felton Valley, 30km SW Toowoomba. It would have major impacts on food production, the environment, and the health and well-being of thousands of people. The company also holds coal exploration permits over a large part of the inner Darling Downs all the way from Pittsworth to Warwick, and is investigating the feasibility of mining at Backplains near Clifton.

Toowoomba Chronicle report (with lots of comments) here

Balance and public health

2 Oct 2011. Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) is a voluntary organisation of medical doctors in all states and territories.  It works to address the diseases - local, national and global - caused by damage to the earth's environment. DEA is a branch of the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE), based in Switzerland with branches in 35 other countries.

DEA has made a submission to the Queensland Government with regard to its plan to introduce buffer zones to protect some towns from mining (see 20th Sept post on this page for more info). It pulls no punches. In response to the government's question on 'striking the balance', it states:

"Balance is inappropriate in public health, either there is a risk or there isn't. A public health measure that accepts that some individuals might become ill as a result of financial gain is unacceptable. That taxation of profits will provide revenue to help build hospitals is a spurious argument."

You can read the submission here

Coal is an expensive fuel

2 Oct 2011. An article published last month in the Medical Journal of Australia raises the alarm about the health and environmental impacts of mining and burning coal.

Here is the summary -

Australia's coal conundrum is that all political parties say they are concerned about climate change while sanctioning an unprecedented expansion of coalmining and coal seam gas extraction in Australia.

Australia's coal contributes to climate change and its global health impacts.

Each phase of coal's lifecycle (mining, disposal of contaminated water and tailings, transportation, washing, combustion, and disposing of postcombustion
wastes) produces pollutants that affect human health.

Communities in which coalmining or burning occurs have been shown to suffer significant health impacts.

The health and climate costs of coal are unseen, and when costs to health systems are included, coal is an expensive fuel.

Read the article in full here -


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A right royalty mess

Millmerran mine. Photo: NR

25 Sept 2011. It's common knowledge that State government budgets benefit from mining royalties. It's also common knowledge that mining developments often cause harmful environmental and social impacts. The decision to approve a new mining development is usually justified by the Queensland Government on the grounds that mining royalties are needed to fund schools and hospitals, with the implicit message that the trade-off with harmful impacts is justified in the public interest.

What then if a proposed mining development would not return royalties to the State? This appears to be the case with regard to coal mining in some parts of Qld, including the inner Darling Downs. Have a look at Section 8 of the Qld Mineral Resources Act 1989

In Feb 2011, Mines Minister Stephen Roberston stated in answer to a question in parliament that: For the 10 years ended 31 December 2009, total royalties collected by the State amounted to $11.4 billion. This contribution has enabled the State to fund schools, hospitals, police and infrastructure.

He also revealed that:For the ten years ended 31 December 2009 royalties on coal accruing to parties other than the Crown amounted to approximately $554.1 million.

In May 2009, the same Minister was asked by AAP to respond to FOF claims that Felton coal would be royalty free. He stated "We first need to establish if there is going to be a mine at all before royalties are discussed.The public interest test will balance a range of considerations including environmental, economical and social impacts across the community."

Fast forward now to this month. A report in The Australian on the same topic quoted an unamed spokesperson from the Dept of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation. The report said The Queensland government has said it will not take into consideration whether or not the state will receive royalties when considering whether to approve mining applications.

This seems completely illogical. 

A report in The Australian a week earlier questioned how much royalties the Qld Govt received from the Acland mine. A farmer who sold her farm to New Hope Coal said her lawyer had asked for $20,000 to ascertain whether she had private coal rights. New Hope said in a statement that coal rights at its New Acland Mine were "held by several parties including the crown, individual land owners and the New Hope Group". 

Makes you wonder just how much the Qld Govt does receive in royalties from Acland. If New Hope aren't saying, then perhaps they've got something to hide. Maybe there's some connection with the record profit the company announced this week?

The other existing coal mine on the inner Darling Downs, the Millmerran Commodore mine, is also affected by private coal rights. Canadian 'royalty and stream company'  Franco Nevada states on its website that Franco-Nevada holds a 5.82% gross royalty on the Commodore Coal Mine and an 8.3125% net profit interest on the adjacent Millmerran Power Station, located in Queensland Australia and operated by InterGen. The coal royalty covers 153 hectares of land, approximately 10% of the total mine area. Franco-Nevada received royalty payments for production in 2008 and 2009, but there was no production from the royalty area in 2010. Total mine production and reserve figures are not publicly available, however the operator has estimated reserves on the royalty area are 6Mt at August 2010, and that production will resume from the royalty area in approximately 2020.

A Felton farmer was told by his lawyer that it would cost $5000 for a QC's opinion on who owned the coal rights over his farm, but that would just be an opinion and the issue couldn't be decided for sure without going to court. The same lawyer advised that in his lifetime's experience of dealing with mining issues he knew of no court case to decide the ownership of royalties.

Given this is obviously such a complex legal area, it would be interesting to know exactly how in the past it was decided which parts of which coal deposits would pay royalties to Govt and which would not.

It would also be interesting to know how on earth the Qld Govt could contemplate allowing mining at Felton if it stands to receive little or no royalties in compensation for the massive impacts such a development would have on food production, the environment and the community.

Carnival of Flowers time, but not all rosy on the Darling Downs

Photo: SK

25 Sept 2011. Journalist Miriam Bauman interviewed a number of FOF supporters during Toowoomba's Carnival of Flowers parade, and subsequently sought comment from Ambre Energy and a number of independent experts in areas such as land rehabilitation, food security, and the health impacts of mining. Her comprehensive report includes a short video of the FOF Carnival float, and can be viewed here.



Buyer beware worthless Felton coal permit

20 Sept 2011.

Prospective buyers of a 13,000ha coal permit in the Felton / Brookstead / Pittsworth area of the Darling Downs have been warned to take into account the consequences of Queensland's Strategic Cropping Land policy.  With this policy now in place, there is next to no-chance of any mining ever being allowed in the area.

Multi-national mining company Newmont recently announced it has put Mineral Development Licence MDL 304 up for sale. The area in question covers some of the very best land in Australia, with rich black soil producing consistently very high yields of a wide range of crops. It would certainly comply with the strictest definition of Strategic Cropping Land.

Newmont is entitled to try to cash in a worthless permit, but the last thing we need is a repetition of the situation at Caroona on the Liverpool Plains of NSW, where the Chinese Government-owned mining company Shenhua paid hundreds of millions of dollars for a coal permit and then assumed that it had the right to start mining.

 The Queensland Government should make it clear to any prospective purchasers of MDL 304 that the chances of mining being allowed in the area are extremely remote.

Buffer zone plan

20 Sept 2011. The Queensland Government is considering public comments on its plan to introduce buffer zones to protect communities from mining. You can read our submission below - 


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Tremendous support for FOF at Carnival of Flowers

photo: SK

19 Sept 2011. On Saturday, FOF once again entered a float in Toowoomba's Carnival Of Flowers parade. This was our fourth year, and it gave us a great boost to get such tremendous support from the crowds lining the streets. Grateful thanks to David Evans Group for lending the tractor, and to Felton Produce for lending the trailer. There are more photos here.



Daft Planning Scheme should be redrawn

14 Sept 2011. As part of the process of drawing up its draft Planning Scheme, Toowoomba Regional Council carried out a series of public meetings around the region. Residents were invited to 'come along and have your say' over the plan that would set the course for future development. There was lots of butcher's paper, whiteboards, plenty of council staff and quite a few councillors on hand to facilitate proceedings.

The pervading sentiment at those meetings was the need to ensure development occurred in a sustainable manner. It was strongly argued that our farmland, the environment, clean air and water, parks, gardens, and heritage should be protected. After all, these characteristics of the region combine to make it such a desirable place to live, work, raise a family, come on holiday, and all the other things people do.

The draft Planning Scheme that has been produced seems to have completely disregarded the opinions and interests of residents. The maps look like they've been drawn up by miners and developers. Mining leases marked where none exist, a town rezoned from 'rural residential' to 'rural' to facilitate its destruction by mining, a huge new toxic industrial estate on prime farmland with neighbouring farms trapped in a buffer zone, new railway lines to carry coal across the region, high voltage power lines and gas pipelines criss-crossing the region, and major new roads leading to farmland. In the city of Toowoomba, residents have noticed with alarm the scrapping of conservation zones, which will enable developers to demolish whatever gets in the way.

Given the public furore over this scheme in the past couple of weeks, it seems surprising that our council seems to have gone into hiding on the issue. You would have thought that a council that had put so much work into a plan like this would have been out in the media defending it. The reluctance of our elected councillors to defend such an important piece of council policy suggests that they do not support it. It would appear that this draft Planning Scheme has been drawn up by council bureaucrats with a 'development at all costs' agenda and councillors have been told to stay silent.

There are many questions that require an answer. If the bureaucrats are giving orders to the councillors, who gives orders to the bureaucrats? Do the councillors care? (We believe most are decent people and they do). Are they just weak? (Some may be but surely not all) Do their political ambitions hold them back? (If they stay quiet about this they can probably forget those ambitions.)

The resources boom to our west provides great opportunities for business in the Toowoomba Region, whether we allow our own backyard to be destroyed or not. Only a fool (or someone with a vested interest) would suggest that we sacrifice everything for short-term greed.

The draft Planning Scheme must be completely redrawn to reflect the long term interests of residents of the Toowoomba Region. The councillors that have the best interests of the region at heart should drive this process and if the hired help won't co-operate they should be shown the door. Any severance payments due on their contracts would be money well spent.


It's time to say no to Ambre

9 Sept 2011. Ambre Energy announced its first plan for coal-to-pollution-and-fuel at Felton in January 2008. Since then, it has changed plans many times. It has changed the target area, changed the end product, chopped and changed the scale of the project, started and stopped an EIS process, and still seems no nearer to getting a viable project off the ground. The Felton community is held hostage - farmers are unwilling to risk expanding their businesses, people who want to retire are unable to sell up and move on, and new people who would normally jump at the chance to buy property at Felton stay away. Meanwhile, it seems Ambre Energy is allowed to take as long as it likes. The mystery is why it has taken the Government so long to reject a crazy plan that would have such harmful effects on food production, the environment, and the community. Here's a decision-making chart to make things easier - 

Draft Mining Scheme

30 Aug 2011. Toowoomba Regional Council has released a draft Planning Sceme for public comment. You can read the whole thing on the TRC website here.

Amazingly enough, on the maps in the document, the 2000ha area at Felton that Ambre Energy is targetting for its proposed coal-to-pollution-and-petrol project is marked as a MINING LEASE. Ambre Energy has applied for a mining lease over the area in question, but it has not been granted (and never will be if we have any say in the matter). Likewise, a mining lease is shown on the maps for the area targeted by New Hope Coal for the Stage 3 expansion of the Acland mine. No lease has been granted there either.

This raises more questions about the objectivity of our council. Recent media reports show councillors are split 50:50 over support for the CEO. No doubt some of the councillors have principles, its about time they stood up for them.

Look at the maps here -


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Round One to Hutton

photo: SK

30 Aug 2011. Last Thursday Drew Hutton, President of the Lock the Gate Alliance, appeared in Chinchilla Magistrates Court on a charge of obstructing a mining activity under section 805 of the Petroleum & Gas Act. Given that the mining company in question (QGC) had cleared much more vegetation than allowed under its agreement with the landholder, Drew is arguing that he had a 'reasonable excuse' under the law. The case was adjouned until December. It has the potential to be a landmark case which should force mining companies to treat landholders across Qld with more respect. 

Media reports -

ABC News online

Alan Jones audio

Party time in Pittsworth


22 Aug 2011. Last Friday night Ambre Energy held a party in Pittsworth to celebrate the opening of its office. Ironically the event was promoted by the newly-formed Pittsworth and District Alliance, which uses the slogan 'Building a sustainable future'. It is hard to imagine a project less likely to build a sustainable future than that proposed by Ambre Energy for Felton - huge open-cut coal mine, petrochemical plant to convert coal to petrol, destruction of a vital food bowl, contamination of surface and underground water, massive water consumption, staggering CO2 emissions (5 times as much as the fuel produced according to Ambre's figures), bulldozing of Aboriginal sites and important remnant vegetation, and the venting of pollution into the air with the potential to affect the health of thousands of people in the surrounding area - including the residents of Pittsworth.

To mark the event, we held a party of our own on the pavement outside. It had a 'harvest festival' theme, to highlight the food production that this country stands to lose if the crazy Ambre plan is allowed to proceed. By the time it got dark we had 100 at our party - approximately double the numbers inside - and the atmosphere was much better!

Alan Jones fights for Felton


17 Aug 2011. Listen here

18 Aug 2011. Another editorial here






Ambre Energy's secret Clifton coal export plan

17 Aug 2011. Details have emerged of a secret agreement signed by Ambre Energy to develop plans to export coal from the heart of the Darling Downs through the port of Newcastle.

The May 2011 newsletter on the website of the ATEC Rail Group - http://www.ateclimited.com.au/ - states:

 'In April, ARG signed an MOU with Ambre Energy to further assess the feasibility of Border Railway. Ambre Energy has a major minerals development project around Felton in south-east Queensland, with the potential to be developed into an export coal project, exporting through the port of Newcastle. The MOU allows ARG to work with Ambre to progress the feasibility of Border Rail."

Ambre Energy has applied for a mining lease over 2000ha at Felton for a highly controversial proposal to produce petrol from coal. The coal in the Felton area is known to be of poor quality with a high ash content making it unsuitable for export. The company also holds exploration permits over more than 50,000ha from Pittsworth to Warwick, including areas such as Nobby, Clifton and Allora. The company recently carried out drilling next to Backplains School. It is likely that the coal designated for export would come from this area.

In April the company applied to the Queensland Government (scroll down this page to the story dated 29April 2011 for more info)for permission to combine two coal exploration permits under the name of the 'Clifton Ridges Project', in order to extend the timeframe for exploration and avoid any moves by an incoming LNP government to reject permits in the area when they come up for renewal. In May, an Ambre Energy spokesman told the Toowoomba Chronicle 'The only reason these permits have been combined is because they sit right next to each other and combining them makes them easier to manage.' The truth has now emerged.

Ambre Energy has plans to turn the inner Darling Downs into one huge mine pit. This area is a vital food-bowl which has fed our country for generations; it must be protected at all costs.  Our elected representatives at all levels have failed us and future generations. They know what's being planned behind the scenes but they have failed to act. Landholders have no choice but to lock the gate.

Governments can change the rules if they really want to

16 Aug 2011. It's amazing how easy it is for a government to change the rules if it decides to do so. After years of campaigning by many community groups, Premier Anna Bligh announced yesterday that exclusion zones of 2km would be established to protect towns with more than 1000 people from mining. 

Credit where it's due, this is certainly a start, and recognition should be given to the tremendous campaign run by the Toowoomba Coal Mine Action Group.

Health studies carried out here and overseas show that 2km is much too small a buffer to protect residents health. Protecting only large towns looks like a token effort in the run up to an election. We will keep up the fight to ensure proper protection for all residents in rural areas, not to mention our food producting areas and the environment.

Abbott changes his mind

16 Aug 2011. Two days after saying that farmers should have the right to say no to mining companies seeking access to their land, Tony Abbott backed away from the statement.

The Australian report here

Abbott: It's ok to say no

14 Aug 2011. In a significant move, Federal opposition leader Tony Abbott has backed the right of farmers to refuse entry to mining companies.

On Friday Mr Abbott told Sydney radio host Alan Jones "If you don't want something to happen on your land you ought to have a right to say no."

The Australian report here

Oakey Food Security Forum packed out

photo: SK

14 Aug 2011. There was standing room only at the inaugural Food Security Forum in Oakey on 4th August. People came from all over Queensland and northern NSW to listen to speakers including Drew Hutton (Lock the Gate), Bob Irwin, Ruth Armstrong (SODD), Craig Hanlon (Friends of Felton), Heather Brown (Oakey Coal Action Alliance), Andrew Bate (Golden Triangle Group), Bob Katter MP, and Aidan McLindon MP.

MC Alan Jones told the crowd 'The farmer is usually left with no defences. I'm sorry but the defence is here and the battle begins tonight.'

Toowoomba Chronicle report here

Some ideas to solve the current crisis

29 June 2011. FOF recently prepared a submission for an information-gathering initiative driven by our local Regional Development Australia committee. It summarises our position on topics including:- the reasons for growing opposition to the unrestricted expansion of mining; why we're so determined to stop the Ambre Energy project planned for Felton; what's wrong with the current mining approval process; what can be done to improve the situation.

You can read the submission in full here -

Let's speak up for Acland

Photo: Glenn Beutel

29 June 2011. A request for help from Acland:

The Queensland Coordinator General will likely be making a decision on the Stage 3 Expansion of New Hope Coal at Acland in the next month or two. His office has said that letters from the public are still allowed. Please consider taking a few minutes to write and voice your concerns soon. These could include:

Environmental grounds- New Hope Coal intends mining a further 5400 hectares of good Darling Downs farming land, to bring their total so far to 7,400 hectares. Scientists agree this will never be returned to cropping in the future. There will be a 540 hectare void left at the end of the mine life. Lagoon Creek will be diverted and mined under for 8 km and flooding risks will be high. The local koala colony will be decimated and thousands of hectares of native vegetation destroyed.

Social and Heritage Grounds- the township of Acland will be lost, including the lovely Tom Doherty Park and the heritage listed Acland Number 2 Colliery. The community funded Acland War Memorial is to be moved to Kulpi, against the wishes of Acland residents and relatives of diggers past and present. The last resident of the town may be forced to leave his home. Acland will be wiped off the map, with no opportunity for descendants of former families to visit the township in the future, see their forbears house or street, sit in the park or visit the unique and fascinating underground colliery. There is also mounting belief that landowners may not have been informed of their coal royalty rights when negotiating sales of their property.

Health Grounds-10 million tonnes per year of Acland coal will be mined over the next 30 years, most headed for export overseas. Greenhouse gas emissions will be enormous. Dust, vibration and noise to nearby  farms could be 3 x worse than current levels, which is already described as often extreme. The coal dump at Jondaryan is already having health impacts on the residents of this town, but coal dust (and its toxic components) and noise will be much worse if this expansion is approved. Heavy vehicle traffic and damage to roads will increase the risk of accidents. Uncovered trains mean residents all the way from Jondaryan to the port of Brisbane are exposed to the dangers of coal dust. Asthma, and heart disease are just some of the health effects of coal mining.

Please send your letters- long or short, handwritten or typed. Include your memories or thoughts of Acland, make your letter heartfelt or scientific, or simply based on what you think is an issue of common sense and fair play to rural communities.

Acland may be the first domino to fall on the Darling Downs. If we say nothing, the office of the Coordinator General, Queensland Government and mining companies will think Queenslanders don't care and will see this beautiful agricultural region as theirs for the taking. Have your say and let us flood this office with letters:


Mr Keith Davies

PO BOX 15517

City East

QLD 4002

Ph 0732383131

For further information on this threatening project click here

Significant first step


27 June 2011. Last week was busy but significant. On Wednesday we joined with the Toowoomba Coal Mine Action Group and the Lock the Gate Alliance to hold a protest outside the inaugural Surat Basin Mining Expo in Toowoomba. Our protest was timed to coincide with the arrival of Mines Minister Stirling Hinchliffe. We were there to remind the Minister of the promises he made to us at the Toowoomba Community Cabinet meeting in March - where he told us he was listening to our concerns about the rapid spread of mining & gas permits across the inner Darling Downs and the suburbs of Toowoomba, and where he also told us he was considering amendments to mining legislation to protect closely settled areas( a few weeks later he granted a coal exploration permit (EPC 2240) over Cabarlah and Geham - a picturesque touristic area just to the north of Toowoomba).

The day before the protest, the Minister announced that he would reject an application for a coal exploration permit (EPC 2490) over the northern part of Toowoomba and Murphy's Creek. This is great news and a significant first step.

On Wednesday afternoon the Minister met with reps of the 3 groups responsible for the protest, who presented him with these requests:


1.Protection of all residential, rural residential and closely settled areas
Current exploration permit applications over such areas should be rejected immediately, including those over Highfields(EPC 2359), Pittsworth (EPC 2356), and Warwick (EPC 1648). Current exploration permits over such areas should be withdrawn, including those over Gowrie Junction (EPC 1979), Cabarlah (EPC 2240), and Hodgson Vale (EPC 1145). The Stage 3 expansion of the New Acland mine should be rejected immediately.

2. Protection of important food-producing areas The Bligh government's proposed Strategic Cropping Land legislation will protect very little good agricultural land from coal mining and won't stop coal seam gas at all. We must protect our food bowls. The Ambre Energy proposal for Felton should be rejected immediately on the grounds that it is not in the public interest.

3. Protection of aquifers and the Great Artesian Basin We need an independent, transparent and multi-disciplinary study of important aquifers that are vulnerable to mining, including coal seam gas. This needs to focus on inter-connectedness between aquifers and mining would need to avoid such areas. There also needs to be a clear idea of how the extracted, polluted water can be safely dealt with.

4. Protection of environmentally sensitive areas Currently coal and coal seam gas mining threatens nature refuges, wetlands and world heritage areas. These must be given a wide berth..

5. Give landowners the last word on whether miners can enter their properties The law in Queensland currently gives this to mining companies who often use it ruthlessly.

Our reps were surprised when the Minister said he was 'not aware' of the 3 current EPC applications listed above, given that FOF and many others had spoken to him about them at the Community Cabinet meeting in March. When they showed the Minister maps, he asked if he could keep them (even though they'd been printed from his Department's website)!

In a media statement announcing the rejection of EPC 2490, the Minister cited pressure from local MP and member  for Toowoomba North Kerry Shine. It seems surprising that Mr Shine didn't ask the Minister to also reject EPC 2359 when he was at it, given it covers the suburb of Highfields, which is also in his electorate. Mr Shine should be fully aware of that, as FOF sent him maps in March.

Perhaps there was some other reason for the Minister rejecting EPC 2490? The word is that a well known private school in north Toowoomba made a huge fuss (and rightly so) when it was alerted to the possibility of drilling rigs moving onto its playing fields. Families with children at schools in Pittsworth, Highfields and Warwick would surely argue that their schools are equally worthy of protection....

Maps of the permit applications here

Media reports - The Australian here

Toowoomba Chronicle here


Nationwide protest

26 June 2011. Our yellow protest signs are everywhere. Last weekend they even appeared on the front page of The Australian newspaper. Grateful thanks and best wishes to the Caroona Coal Action Group on the Liverpool Plains, NSW, who let us copy their design three and a half years ago.

Private coal rights - a major scandal

Original Felton title deed dated 1876

18 June 2011. This week Alan Jones lifted the lid on a major scandal involving coal mining in Queensland. The issue is the existence of private coal rights over much of the Darling Downs and southern Queensland. The scandal is that while the mining companies knew,and the Government knew, most farmers were kept in the dark - and many were ripped off.

Listen to Alan Jones interview on royalties with FOF's Rob McCreath here

Listen to Alan Jones subsequent interview on the same topic with Ipswich City Councillor David Pahlke and land agent George Houen here

The simple point here is if the Queensland Government stands to gain nothing in royalties in return for the destruction of valuable food producing land (and towns), then why is mining allowed to take place?

Alan Jones speaks up for Acland

18 June 2011. Radio personality Alan Jones has used his top-rated national radio show to turn up the heat in the fight to protect Australia's food producing areas from mining. He has focussed on the town of Acland on the Darling Downs, where he grew up, which is now threatened with destruction itself. Jones calls it 'a metaphor of Australia'.

Last Sunday he came to nearby Goombungee to open the exhibition by local artist Nicki Laws titled Acland: Fragments and memories from a town undermined. Read the Toowoomba Chronicle report here.

Listen to Alan Jones' interview with Glenn Beutel, Acland resident, here

Listen to his interview with Acland district farmer Dr Tanya Plant here








Can we have our cake and eat it too?

18 June 2011. In April, FOF's Rob McCreath gave a presentation with Drew Hutton from Lock the Gate Alliance to the Bribane Ideas Festival. You can watch a video of the presentation here

The Impacts of Mining are Cumulative

Millmerran mine. Photo:NR

8 June 2011. The mining industry never tires of telling us what a tiny area of land it takes up.  The Queensland Resources Council claims that just 0.1% of the state is 'under mining lease'.  Excluding islands, Queensland is 1,723,936 square km.  One one-thousandth of this is in fact 1,723 square km or 172,300 hectares; not exactly a small area if the land itself is already being used for something else and the affected community is opposed to being moved-on.  Inland Australia is not a great empty space waiting for a benevolent developer; settlement density is more-or-less proportional the land's productive capacity, and the scope for co-existence between industries wanting access to the same land is extremely limited. 

Regardless, the area of land currently being mined is a poor indicator of the spatial impact of mining, both now and time hence, after all of the mineral resources have been extracted.  Interested parties wanting a comprehensive picture of mining's footprint would have to be supplied with the following data:

  • The location and area of land already mined-out and its status (eg, wasteland, rehabilitated, etc)
  • The location and area of land currently being mined and its estimated productive life as a mine
  • The location and area of land being explored with a view to it being mined in the future; special note should be made of areas being explored for more than one resource eg, coal, gas, bauxite
  • An aggregation of the above showing the cumulative footprint of the mining industry over its projected life
  • Some objective estimate of the externalities flowing from particular mining activities that act to increase the effective size of the footprint eg, dust, noise, congestion, water pollution, etc

Continue reading - click here

It's a National Crisis

photo: Vanessa Hunter, The Australian

30 May 2011. Alan Jones, Radio 2GB (Sydney), has the largest breakfast radio audience in Australia. In the past few weeks he has focussed on the threat from mining and coal seam gas to Australia's food producing regions.

Listen to his interview on 26th May with Drew Hutton from the Lock the Gate Alliance here

Listen to his interview on 20th May with Qld Premier Anna Bligh here

The Australian is Australia's only national newspaper. This weekend it published a series of articles on the same topic. 

Heather Brown writes:

THE next time you hear the words two-speed economy, think two-speed morality instead. On one hand, the Australian mining industry is booming, and politicians and mining executives keep telling us how lucky we are. Then there's the rest of Australia, and it's struggling. The bush is doing it tough and there is a rising tide of anger beginning to sweep across the nation. It has nothing to do with the fires or floods, commodity prices or the rise of the dollar. They are all cycles that the tough, resilient people of the bush know how to survive. Not this time. Rural Australia is rapidly being crucified for the benefit of the mining boom, a tsunami-like force so destructive of scant water resources and delicate farmland that recovery will be impossible. continues here

Graham Lloyd writes:

THE sunburnt country and land of sweeping plains immortalised by Dorothea Mackellar in her poem My Country will soon be mined for coal. continues here

Lloyd again:

KYOGLE farmer Jim O'Neill has seen the US documentary GasLand and heard the rumours of meat contamination on the Darling Downs.continues here

No place for Felton project in a clean energy state

Stephen Robertson & Julia Gillard at Kogan Creek last month

16 May 2011. Friends of Felton welcomes the Ministerial Statement made in the Queensland Parliament last Thursday by the Minister for Energy and Water Utilities, Stephen Robertson. (Click here to read the statement in full - scroll down to page 1449)

The Minister told Parliament 'The Bligh government is committed to a clean energy future and is determined to transform Queensland into a clean energy state.' He highlighted the launch last month of the Kogan Creek Solar Boost project which is forecast to generate 44MW of electricity and avoid 35,600 tonnes per year of CO2 emissions.

Ambre Energy's controversial coal-to-fuel project at Felton would emit 4.2 million tonnes/year of CO2 according to the company's own figures.  Ambre Energy has no plans for carbon capture and storage.

CO2 emissions from Ambre Energy's proposed Felton project would cancel out annual savings from the Kogan Creek solar project in just three days. There is simply no place in a 'clean energy state' for a project as dirty as that being proposed by Ambre Energy.

Ambre Energy has applied to the Queensland Government for its project to be declared a Project of State Significance.  A more appropriate description of Ambre's application would be: a Project of Significant International Embarrassment.

The Ambre Energy proposal includes a large open-cut coal mine and petrochemical plant on a 2000ha site in the fertile Felton Valley, 30km SW Toowoomba, on the Eastern Darling Downs. It would have major impacts on food production, the environment and the health and well-being of thousands of people.

Friends of Felton has proposed the establishment of renewable energy infrastructure at Felton as an alternative to coal mining development. Research shows the Felton Valley has very high levels of solar irradiation and promising sites for wind power, with the potential to generate over 700MW of electricity - enough to power 160,000 homes.  This plan would not harm food production or the environment and it would generate a significant number of new jobs.

Koalas can save us - but first we have to save them

Felton koala(photo: SK)

12 May 2011. There are compelling reasons for protecting and preserving wild koala populations throughout Queensland.  First up, there is an international expectation that we Australians will do whatever has to be done to save this most iconic of animal species.  But more basic still is the relationship between healthy, vibrant and sustainable koala populations and our own wellbeing.  The condition of the natural environment that will protect and preserve koalas is the same as that needed to protect and preserve all life.  Put simply, 'koala survival' is a surrogate measure of our own future on the planet; koalas are the canary in the cage that can monitor the sustainability and quality of life as we know it. 

The prevailing management regime is leaving the wild koala population in south east Queensland open to the threat of extinction.  This threat has many dimensions but the main problem is unbalanced development that results in 'total loss of habitat'.  Coexistence between koalas and 'moderated development' (as can apply in the case of residential and agricultural development) is possible provided a sophisticated koala management plan is adhered to - more on this later. 

The types of development that are decimating the koala population are those that totally destroy the natural environment.  The 'best' example of destructive development is open cut coal mining, where all vegetation is removed and the quality of surrounding vegetation is compromised by toxic dust.  The destructiveness of open cut mining is accentuated by the fact that rehabilitation of the soils and landscape is not yet possible.  Taking the mining option maximises the chances of maximum regret later on.

It is apparent that reforms are needed to better preserve koala habitat.  Friends of Felton advocate the following:


All major development proposals intending to locate in areas suitable for koalas - either now or historically - must be assessed in terms of consequences for the protection and preservation of koala populations.  The assessment itself would be triggered and conducted under the commonwealth government's Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999).  Inclusion of an EPBC assessment in the terms of references applying to a mine's EIS could be sought by relevant parties interested in the sustainability of the koala populations.

This reform could be achieved by amending the existing EPBC Act.  Following the recent Senate 'inquiry into the health and sustainability of Australia's koala population' there is every chance that such a reform will be promulgated in the near future.  Since there is a strong overlap between ideal koala habitat and good quality country, an amended EPBC Act would bring about greater balance in the face of encroachment by mining. 

South East Queensland is presently blanketed with mine exploration permits; potentially all of the Darling Downs could be destroyed by mining.  Reasonable people know that there is a desperate need for some 'balancing mechanism' that will protect areas already supporting highly productive agriculture and long established farming communities.  'Koala protection' could be the game-breaker we have all been looking for. 

Can established farming communities do more to protect and preserve local koala populations?  Most definitely, and some land care groups have already taken up the challenge.  Tree planting projects, coordinated through local land care agencies can harness the enthusiasm and resources of town and country and koala action groups.  Friends of Felton is currently using its community network to seek out opportunities to improve koala habitat in the Felton Valley.

Ridiculous beat-up or shifty shuffling?

4 May 2011. In a report in today's Toowoomba Chronicle, an Ambre Energy spokesman gave the following unconvincing explanation for the company's attempted shuffling of exploration permits in the Clifton/Allora area:

'The only reason these permits have been combined is because they sit right next to each other and combining them makes them easier to manage.'

If that's the truth, why doesn't Ambre Energy apply for the new permit to run until May 2012 - the same expiry date as existing permit EPC 1245?

Ambre Energy moves to lock in Clifton coal permits

29 April 2011. The Dalby office of the Mining Registrar this week confirmed that Ambre Energy had applied for a new permit to explore for coal. The new permit, provisionally coded EPC 2505, would result from combining two existing permits, EPC 1810 and EPC 1245, covering an area of around 50,000 hectares immediately west of Clifton and Allora (see map below).  Although most of this area is highly productive agricultural land, Ambre Energy is already calling it the 'Clifton Ridges Project'.

LNP parliamentary leader Jeff Seeney recently said that an LNP government would not renew existing coal permits at Felton and would make the protection of productive agricultural land on the Darling Downs a priority issue.

Ambre Energy's application for a new exploration permit is clearly an attempt to roll-over existing permits for another five years, just in case the LNP wins the next election.  This is obvious considering that EPC 1245 is due for renewal in May 2012 and EPC 1810 in December 2014.

The Clifton/Allora area is one of the most productive food producing regions in the country.  With increasing awareness of food security worldwide it would be insane to allow any of this land to be destroyed by coal mining.

If the Queensland Government approves Ambre Energy's application it will go down as a further example of the inherent bias that puts mining ahead of vital food production and common sense.  The Government should reject Ambre Energy's new application and withdraw the company's existing exploration permits when they expire.




50 K

Game over for Ambre at Felton?

Proposed mine site Aug2010. Photo:SK

16 April 2011. At long last, the Queensland Government has released proposed criteria to identify 'Strategic Cropping Land'. Full details are available on the DERM website - click here

In an improvement over the previous draft proposal, the Eastern Darling Downs has been identified as a 'strategic cropping land zone' in its own right. A technical report released with the criteria states:

'This new zone recognises that Eastern areas receive more reliable rainfall and have regionally distinct landscape features, and consequently farming systems, on these more sloping landscapes.'

FOF reaction: while we have reservations about the narrow focus of the SCL policy, and some concerns about the detail (particularly the minimum area requirement of 50ha which seems much too large), we broadly welcome this announcement. Given the undoubted presence of a significant area of SCL within the site identified by Ambre Energy for its proposed Felton project, it seems clear the proposal is now impractical and should be abandoned without delay.

Hysteria erupts

2nd April 2011. It's not our normal practice to publicise Ambre Energy media statements on this website, but the latest one is so comical we have posted it in full below - with our response.

Hysterical claims require substantiation says Ambre Energy

Published on 25/03/2011

Opponents of the proposed coal-to-liquids project, ambreCTL, have been challenged to substantiate their claims or apologise publicly.

Ambre Energy Director, Michael van Baarle, today branded comments made by opposition group, Friends of Felton, as 'desperate' and 'dishonest'.

'Ambre Energy accepts that not everyone will welcome our project and we acknowledge that groups and individuals have the right to question and oppose us. In fact we actively encourage input and welcome differing viewpoints.

'However the so-called 'friends' of Felton are making poisonous and unsubstantiated allegations which are unsettling the local community.'

Mr van Baarle said Ambre Energy had worked hard to build and maintain relationships based on respect, trust and honesty with local farming and business communities, and with all levels of government.

'I can state categorically that the so-called 'friends' group does not represent the Felton district, where we have some solid support. In fact, it has attracted membership from noisy individuals, ideologically opposed to mining in any form. I would question whether they have the best interests of this area at heart and whether some of them even live in Queensland.'

Mr van Baarle said Ambre Energy approached its business dealings and community interactions in an honest and open way.

'We have resisted 'tit-for-tat' public arguments on the untrue claims of our opponents. However the statements have become increasingly offensive and hysterical.

'We are not threatening the health of local children, nor will 'volatile organic compounds' allegedly released from ambreCTL poison local chickens.'

Mr van Baarle said Friends of Felton's alleged 'expert findings' into the health impacts of coal mining had no traction or acceptance in the scientific community.

'Our project will create 530 full-time jobs. The notion that we would willingly jeopardise the health and well-being of our workers or that of surrounding communities in any way is offensive.'

He said ambreCTL would not render food production on the Darling Downs obsolete, kill the local koala population or poison the Murray-Darling Basin system.

'Agricultural industries on the eastern Darling Downs can co-exist with and enjoy the mutual benefits associated with other local industries, including those that have a coal mining component. Millmerran Power Station nearby is a notable local example which is conveniently ignored,' he said.

'We understand there will be a level of apprehension within the community, but we urge people to look for the facts and not be distracted by emotive half-truths and lies.

'Undertaking comprehensive, robust environmental impact studies is costing us tens of millions of dollars. We do not cut corners, the same can't be said for the Friends of Felton. Where is their science, where is their proof, where is their evidence?

'Every claim we make can be substantiated. These claims are always analysed by the public and the media. We ask people to treat Friends of Felton's comments and assertions with the same degree of scrutiny,' Mr van Baarle said.


Hysterical claims require substantiation says Friends of Felton (a response to Ambre Energy)

Published on 1 April 2011

Proponents of the proposed coal-to-liquids project, ambreCTL, have been challenged to substantiate their recent claims regarding the Friends of Felton community group or apologise publicly.

Friends of Felton spokesman Rob McCreath today branded comments made by Ambre Energy Director, Michael van Baarle, as 'desperate' and 'dishonest'.

'Friends of Felton, accepts that not everyone will welcome our campaign to protect farmland, the environment, and the community from coal mining development, and we acknowledge that Ambre Energy has the right to question and oppose us. In fact we actively encourage input and welcome differing viewpoints.

'However Ambre Energy is proposing a poisonous project which is unsettling the local community.'

Mr McCreath said Friends of Felton had worked hard to build and maintain relationships based on respect, trust and honesty with local farming and business communities, and with all levels of government.

'I can state categorically that Ambre Energy does not represent the Felton district, where we have solid support. In fact, it has attracted support from noisy individuals, motivated by selfish greed. I would question whether they have the best interests of this area at heart and whether some of them even live in Queensland.'

He added that Friends of Felton always approached its business dealings and community interactions in an honest and open way.

'We have resisted 'tit-for-tat' public arguments on the untrue claims of our opponents.  However the statements have become increasingly offensive and desperate.

'Fine particle emissions from mining and blasting operations threaten the health of local children, just as they have at Singleton NSW. There is a high risk that volatile organic compounds released from the petrochemical plant, as detailed in the ambreCTL Initial Advice Statement, would poison local food production.'

Mr McCreath said Friends of Felton's expert findings into the health impacts of coal mining were well proven and Ambre Energy's rejection of them had no traction or acceptance in the scientific community.

'Our alternative proposal for renewable energy at Felton would create a large number of jobs without wrecking the environment, and secure our capacity to produce high quality food for a growing population. The notion that we would prefer to support coal mining development which would jeopardise the health and well-being of surrounding communities in any way is offensive.'

He said approval of ambreCTL would set a precedent to allow rapid expansion of coal mining across the eastern Darling Downs, threaten the local koala population, and risk poisoning the Murray-Darling Basin system.

'Experience from the Hunter Valley shows that agricultural industries cannot co-exist with coal mining. The Acland mine is a notable local example,' he said.

'There is an understandable level of apprehension within the community, and we urge people to look for the facts and not be distracted by emotive propaganda and attempts to buy community support.

'Using language such as 'comprehensive' and 'robust' to describe environmental impact studies is standard practice for a mining company seeking approval for a controversial project likely to cause great environmental harm. Ambre Energy may have spent tens of millions of dollars on consultants, but Friends of Felton will not cut corners on our response to the EIS, which will be supported by science, proof, and evidence.

'Every claim we make can be substantiated. These claims are always analysed by the public and the media. We ask people to treat Ambre Energy's comments and assertions with the same degree of scrutiny,' Mr McCreath said.


Money can't buy Ambre Energy love

23rd March 2011. Ambre Energy's announcement of a 'foundation to support community development' is nothing more than a desperate attempt to buy support for a project that would have terrible consequences for food production, the environment, and thousands of people.

Ambre Energy's proposed project at Felton involves a large open-cut coal mine adjacent to Hodgson Creek (in the headwaters of the Murray-Darling river system), with the coal being processed in a petrochemical plant to produce fuel. Water consumption would be at least 8000Megalitres/year, equivalent to that of the city of Toowoomba - the company has not revealed the source of this supply. The company's own figures estimate CO2 emissions from the petrochemical plant alone at 4.2million tonnes/year at first stage, with no plans for carbon capture and storage - this is five times the quantity of fuel produced. Solid waste from the plant would be returned to the mine pit, with the company admitting that the pit 'might need to be lined' to prevent toxins from leaching into groundwater aquifers.

Visiting UK health expert Dr Dick van Steenis, who visited the region last week, raised great concerns over potential health risks from fine particulate emissions (PM2.5 & PM1) from mining operations, and the release of volatile organic compounds from the proposed petrochemical plant, as detailed in Ambre Energy's Initial Advice Statement. Evidence from around the world shows such emissions lead to increased rates of cancer, asthma, lung disease, and low birth weight babies.

Over 1000 children go to school in Pittsworth and Southbrook, within 8km of the proposed petrochemical site boundary. 35% of Queensland's eggs are produced at an egg farm within 1km of the site.

No amount of money can buy acceptance of this project. What price can be put on clean air, the health of children, clean food, or on the safety of water supplies?

Friends of Felton has fought this project for over 3 years, and we are more determined than ever to stop it.

ABC online news report here

Health Forum raises the alarm for Toowoomba

Dr Dick van Steenis. Photo:SK

19th March 2011. On Wednesday night, Friends of Felton organised a community health forum on The Health Risks of Open-Cut Coal Mining. An audience of 230 people heard a stark message:

Coal is abundant throughout the Toowoomba region. There are 2 existing mines at Acland and Millmerran, and they will be joined by many more if no action is taken. The human health impacts of mining are severe and well-documented.

Dr Dick van Steenis, visiting expert from the UK, pointed out that the most dangerous dust particles are the very small PM2.5 and PM1 size which get into the lungs. Australia does not have a standard for PM2.5 (unlike the USA), and mines commonly monitor only larger PM10 particles. Dr van Steenis said coal mines should be required to 'foam' coal after washing, ie spray it with an commercially-available additive which could reduce dust emissions from trucks, trains and conveyors by 85% at a very low cost. Dr van Steenis expressed great concerns over the pollution emitted by coal gasification plants, such as the one proposed by Ambre Energy at Felton. Potential dangerous pollutants included poly cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Dr Andrew Jeremijenko, Doctors for the Environment, raised concerns about the risks of a major accident occuring at a development such as that proposed for Felton. Drawing on his experience working in the gas industry in North West WA, he cautioned against believing standard industry assurances that nothing could go wrong. With 2 brothers working in the coal industry, he told the forum that claims made by mining companies that their workers would be part of the community were not often realised, as most mining workers were simply too tired after a long shift to get involved in community groups.

Wendy Bowman told the forum of her experience living and farming in the Singleton area of the Hunter Valley, NSW. Since the late 1980s, there had been a rapid expansion of coal mining in the Hunter. She was forced to sell her dairy farm after a nearby mine drained the irrigation aquifer the farm relied on, and contamination from coal dust caused milk to be rejected. She was subsequently forced to move home again when dust levels in the air became unbearable.

FOF showed detailed maps of 4 applications for coal exploration permits in the local area that are currently on the desk of the Mines Minister. These cover densely populated centres such as Highfields, Pittsworth, Meringandan, and Warwick. View the maps here

Toowoomba Chronicle report here

Listen to Dr van Steenis interview with Philip Adams on Radio National here

Listen to Dr van Steenis interview with Jane Paterson on ABC radio Country Hour here

Cabinet Comes to Town

Photo:Dave Noonan, Toowoomba Chronicle

18th March 2011. A large crowd of protesters turned out on Sunday to greet the Premier and her Ministers who came to Toowoomba for Community Cabinet. The focus of the protest was rising anger over the unhindered expansion of the coal and gas mining industry across the Darling Downs and into the suburbs of Toowoomba.

Channel Ten News video here

ABC News video here

Channel Nine News video here

Queensland Country Life report here

Toowoomba Chronicle photo gallery here

LNP promises to keep its promise

John-Paul Langbroek shakes on it with Felton youngsters (photo Sare Katchaloo)

9th March 2011. The Queensland Opposition LNP held a shadow cabinet meeting in Toowoomba last Sunday. FOF went along to demand the LNP keep the promise it made at the last election not to allow mining at Felton if elected. As reported by the Toowoomba Chronicle on 6th March 2009, leader Laurence Springborg (now deputy leader) promised to protect the Felton Valley and Haystack Plain from mining, saying

"These are iconic areas. Its stupid to be mining areas as irreplaceable as those."

Member for Condamine, Ray Hopper, backed him up.

"You've heard it from the boss today," Mr Hopper said."We will not allow mining at Felton or Haystack if we are elected on March 21."

On Sunday, LNP leader John-Paul Langbroek was quick to assure FOF that the LNP would keep its promise. Laurence Springborg was to the point - "I made the promise and I intend to keep it" he said.

There was a large contingent of people from the suburbs of Toowoomba, ouraged at plans for mines close to residential areas.

Toowoomba Chronicle report here

Toowoomba forum to highlight health risks of mining

5th March 2011.The Toowoomba community is becoming increasingly alarmed at the threat posed by coal mining to the health of residents and the environment.

A Government decision is pending on an application by the Acland mine to destroy a town which was once home to 400 people. Here at Felton, there are controversial plans to mine coal and process it in a petrochemical plant a few kilometres upwind of Pittsworth. In the suburbs of Toowoomba, other companies are assessing the viability of mining at Gowrie Junction and Hodgson Vale. Virtually the entire Toowoomba Region is covered in mining and exploration permits, most of which have been granted without the notification of landholders and residents.

So what are the risks to the health of local residents? FOF has organised a public forum in Toowoomba on 16th March to examine the health impacts of open-cut coal mining, and provide answers from experts.


Dr Dick van Steenis MBBS

Dick is a retired physician and independent public health advocate. He has carried out extensive research into industrial pollution and consequential health impacts. He has pioneered innovative research methods, including the study of school health records and school asthma inhaler use to measure the influence of coal mining on the health of local communities. His research has drawn attention to the health risks of fine dust particles (PM1 and PM2.5), levels of which are often not measured by coal mines.  He contributes peer-reviewed articles to medical journals and lectures extensively around the world in the field of environmental medicine. He has been an expert witness at many public enquiries, and is an advisor to local governments.

Listen to Dr van Steenis on Late Night Live, Radio National, 10pm Tuesday March 8th (repeated 4pm March 9th)

Dr Andrew Jeremijenko

Andrew worked initially with the Royal Flying Doctor, and then in Asia for 8 years.  He assisted victims of the Bali bombs, Marriot bomb and Australian embassy bombs as well as earthquake and tsunami victims while overseas.   He was a finalist in the Pride of Australia medal for the peace prize.  He is a specialist in Occupational and Environmental Medicine and has worked for large resource companies such as BP and Woodside. He currently works in the Mater Private Emergency and has started a private company TeleDr.com that connects remote patients with doctors via the internet or video phones.

Mrs Wendy Bowman

Wendy is a semi-retired farmer and long time resident of the Singleton area of the Hunter Valley, NSW. Wendy has experienced the impacts of coal mines first-hand, having been force to move home twice. She was forced to sell her dairy farm when a nearby mine polluted and drained the farm's irrigation aquifer, and subsequently was forced to move home again when the dust from surrounding mines became unbearable. She is a member of the Singleton Shire Healthy Environment Group and has been an outspoken critic of unhindered mine expansion in the Hunter.

Ambre Energy accused of misleading conduct in USA

20th Feb 2011. Ambre Energy's plans to export coal from the west coast of the USA to China (no kidding) have hit a snag, with a report in the New York Times that a subsidiary company 'did not convey the full scope of its plans to state regulators'.

The report states:

'Court records show that leaders of the company planning to build the facility, now called Millennium Bulk Terminals, tried to limit what state officials knew about its long-term goals during the early permitting process last year. The company's initial application described a facility that could export up to five million tons of coal per year. But court records show that the company hoped to greatly expand that amount in a second phase to 20 million tons or even 60 million tons annually.

Constrained by a narrow window for construction - called the 'fish window' because it is based on when salmon in the river would be least affected - Millennium wanted to work fast but without jeopardizing relationships it had developed with state agency officials, records show.

'It is fair to say that all agencies have worked positively and constructively with Millennium but cautiously as they are out of their comfort zones in progressing the permits in such a tight timeframe,' Jeff Torkington, Millennium's chief executive until October, wrote to the company's board and other executives that month.

Even as he urged the company... to use 'ongoing transparency' with the state, Mr. Torkington wrote that Millennium should deliberately wait at least two months before proposing an expansion. Otherwise, he wrote, 'Millennium will be perceived as having deceived the agencies' and the company's 'good reputation would be lost overnight.'

Read the full report here

Environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper has posted links to internal Ambre Energy documents on its website. The group states:

'Last year, after Australia-based Ambre Energy proposed the unprecedented coal export terminal in Longview, the proposal was immediately denounced by public health groups, many local residents, conservationists, and others, who cited the experience of other communities hit hard from the impacts of dirty coal export terminals.  At a whopping 5 million tons per year, Ambre's proposed coal export terminal would roll back Washington's significant commitments to reduce carbon pollution. 

Now, citizens are outraged that Ambre misled the public by actually planning a much bigger and dirtier facility than feared.  There is no other way to put it.  Ambre lied to the public.  In its application to Cowlitz County, Ambre claimed that it had no future plans to expand. 

Misleading the public is the opposite of honesty and integrity.  In short, Ambre made a deliberate decision to: (1) mislead the people of Cowlitz County; and (2) mislead federal, state, and county officials.  Cowlitz County citizens and Columbia Riverkeeper is demanding swift response from the Cowlitz County Commissioners who approved the project under false pretenses.' 

Read more here. There's a comprehensive report from The Daily News here

Huge crowd protests against mining at Gowrie Junction

19th Feb 2011. A huge crowd estimated at around 700 people gathered last night at the Gowrie Junction community centre in protest at plans for coal mining in the area. Local residents were outraged that an exploration permit for coal has been granted over the area to Australia Pacific Coal. 

Member for Condamine Ray Hopper MP spoke out strongly against the plan, and the following message was read out from Kerry Shine MP (Toowoomba North) -

'I advise I am concerned about the issue and I have gone to see the Minister to express my concern.  I have asked the Minister to look into a possible amendment to the Act to the effect of not allowing even an application for exploration so close to towns or cities.'

Residents hoping for strong support from Mayor Peter Taylor were underwhelmed by his promise to 'carry on as we've been doing'.

Given that virtually the entire Toowomba Region is covered by mining permits of one form or another, it's obvious that residents have a choice: sit back and allow this beautiful region to be destroyed for short term greed while our council stands by, or speak up now before it's too late.

Last night's meeting may be remembered in the future as a turning point in the campaign to defend the Darling Downs from mining.

Ambre Energy project would kill koalas

Felton koala 30th Jan 2011

13th Feb 2011. On the 30th January, 20 Friends of Felton members carried out a koala spotting walk around the area targeted by Ambre Energy for its proposed open-cut coal mine and coal-to-CO2-and-petrol gasification plant. While by no means a comprehensive survey(a relatively small proportion of the 2000ha site was covered), in the space of 4 hours, 2 koalas were found on the southern boundary, and evidence (droppings and scratch marks on trees) was found of their presence elsewhere. There is no doubt that approval of the Ambre Energy project would result in the death of the local koala population. Concerns over declining koala numbers in Australia are such that the Senate has launched an inquiry. More information here.

Read the Friends of Felton submission here -


803 K

Council must intervene to stop coal mine on Toowoomba's outskirts

13th Feb 2011.The recent announcement by Australia Pacific Coal Ltd that it is targeting the area between Gowrie Junction and Kingsthorpe for open-cut mining has provoked public outrage. This is a densely-populated and productive agricultural area on Toowoomba's western outskirts. It is close to many rapidly-expanding residential areas including Highfields and Cotswold Hills.

 There is no doubt that an open-cut coal mine in this location would have a serious impact on the health and lifestyle of many thousands of people.  These people would suffer the effects of dust, blasting, noise, lighting, increased traffic and reduction in property values. Mining would also destroy prime farmland and cause harm to the natural environment.

The Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor was quoted by the Toowoomba Chronicle as saying the Council would have no input into the Gowrie Junction application until the company produced an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The truth is the EIS process is not designed to determine whether a mine should go ahead; it is designed to determine the conditions under which the mine goes go ahead

Acland, 25km to the north-west of Toowoomba, provides a glaring example of the impact of open-cut coal mining on the surrounding environment and near-by communities. A decision is pending on an application to the Queensland Government by New Hope Coal Ltd to permit the New Acland mine to destroy the entire town.  Acland was once home to around 400 people and was the inaugural winner of the Queensland 'Tidy Town' competition. Land rehabilitation post-mining at Acland has been an abject failure.

The towns of Singleton and Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales have been greatly impacted by the expansion of mining in recent years. Data from the National Pollutant Inventory shows that these two centres produce half of all NSW's dust.  Dust from mining activities in the Hunter Valley causes high levels of asthma and cardio-vascular disease in the local population.

Toowoomba Regional Council has a moral obligation to act in the best interests of its residents. It is unacceptable for the Council to turn a blind eye to the destruction of the region it represents. It must intervene immediately to protect the region's residents, its farmland and the natural environment. Council should do this by demanding that the Queensland Government reject immediately the Gowrie Junction mining application.


Mining threatens Toowomba suburbs

Gowrie Junction farmer Andrew Kath. Photo: Nev Madsen

3rd Feb 2011. Today's Toowoomba Chronicle reports that  a mining company, Australia Pacific Coal, has applied for an exploration permit for coal that takes in a large area on Toowoomba's western boundary. The Chronicle reported that Mayor Peter Taylor said he was not aware of the application, but claimed Toowoomba Regional Council could not influence decision-making. He said council would not have input into the application of Australia Pacific Coal's mining plans until the company lodged its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). 'There are coal leases over the whole area which we don't deal with directly on a day-to-day basis,' Cr Taylor said.

The point here is that this company has not yet been awarded an exploration permit by the Queensland Government. Surely common sense would suggest it's simply mad to contemplate mining in such a densely populated and productive agricultural area? Surely the Mayor should pick up the phone to the Minister for Mines and ask him to reject this application - or is our Council going to sit on its hands and allow the Darling Downs to become one big coal pit?

Coexistence is a myth

3rd Feb 2011. Mining companies often claim that mining and agriculture can co-exist. Recent experience in the Hunter Valley, NSW, shows what a myth that is. The Newcastle Herald reported last week that over 800ha of vineyards have been lost to mining in the Upper Hunter in the past few years, with the latest closure being the award-winning Arrowfield Estate, formerly the largest vineyard in the southern hemisphere.






Kingaroy UCG trial stopped by Government

3rd Feb 2011. Good news. The Queensland Government has shut down the Cougar Energy underground coal gasification trial at Kingaroy saying the company has not been able to show that it can operate without posing "unacceptable risk of harm to the environment". The trial had been suspended since the end of last year when cancer-causing chemicals were found in nearby water bores (see earlier posts on this page). Congratulations to the Kingaroy Concerned Citizens Group which has run a great campaign. Mining expert Judy Bailey from the University of Newcastle told ABC news the gasification process will inevitably produce toxins.

The Kingaroy episode raises a couple of serious questions -

Why was Cougar allowed to carry out a trial of suspect technology in such a productive closely-settled area, close to important groundwater aquifers?

Why was Cougar allowed to monitor itself?


Lessons for Felton from the floods


23rd January 2011. So what can we learn from the floods?

1.      Open-cut coal mines are like buckets  they fill up with water during heavy rainfall.

2.      The water becomes contaminated with nasties including salts and heavy metals.

3.      The water must be pumped out to allow mining to recommence.

4.      If the mine is near a creek or river, that's where the polluted water ends up.

5.      No matter how 'robust' or 'rigorous' environmental conditions are for a given mining project, when things get difficult a mining company will simply apply for 'special permission' to get around the conditions.

If permission was granted for an open-cut mine at Felton, the evidence is clear. Sooner or later that mine would flood - either from Hodgson Creek, overland flow, or directly from heavy rainfall - and the water would collect toxins from the mine pit. The water would be pumped out into Hodgson Creek from where it would travel down the Condamine River (past towns such as Dalby, Chinchilla, Condamine, and Surat), then into the Balonne River (through St George), then on down the Murray-Darling river system all the way to Adelaide.

Whatever way you look at it, Ambre Energy's project looks like a non-starter.

When the going gets tough, the conditions get weakened

New Acland mine flooded. Photo:Jacinta Cummins

23rd January 2011. The Courier-Mail reported yesterday that 44 coal mines in Queensland have asked the State Government to suspend environmental regulations so they can pump contaminated water into creeks and rivers.

According to the report, Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said miners needed help dealing with what was now an emergency. "It's a balancing act and a challenging situation for a regulator", he said.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Drew Hutton called on Sustainability Minister Kate Jones not to relax environment laws. "This is completely intolerable. These companies are asking the Government to allow the biggest single release of toxic material in the state's history and to make it legal. This is corporate bullying of the worst sort. These are our creeks and rivers, not mining company drains," he said.

Another report in yesterday's Toowoomba Chronicle revealed the 3 major coal mines on the Darling Downs had all experienced flooding. Premier Anna Bligh was quoted as saying "Every single mine is required to have an environmental authority to release water and we are working with every single mine to work out how we get that water out of the pits."

No prizes for guessing what that means.

Felton floods again

13th Jan 2011. Hodgson Creek at Felton flooded again this week - the second major flood since Christmas. The heavy rain that caused devastation in Toowoomba raised the creek to a level nearly as high as the Boxing Day flood.

Photos taken on Monday within Ambre Energy's proposed project area show clearly just how the site acts as a natural water trap, draining into Hodgson Creek from the hills to the West. Building a mine and petrochemical plant there would be asking for trouble. Ambre Energy could build a huge levee bank along Hodgson Creek, but what would it do about the water running off the surrounding hills, how would it prevent the mine pit from flooding, and how would it prevent pollution of the Murray Darling river system and groundwater aquifers?

Look at the photos here and judge for yourself.

Mines pollute rivers (again)

Baralaba mine, Jan 2011. Photo:Lyndon Mechielsen

7th Jan 2010. Record flooding in Queensland has covered an area equivalent to the size of France and Germany combined.

Coal mines pits are flooded - see photos here from the Australian.

So what will happen to this water? Only last February, Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones announced new rules for the discharge of water from mines, in response to a major pollution incident early in 2008 - when toxic water from mines including the Ensham mine contaminated the Fitzroy River system all the way to Rockhampton. The present flood levels are in many areas higher than 2008.

The website set up by the Dept of Environment and Resource Management to monitor water quality in the Fitzroy Basin reports "The department has been notified of 13 coal mines and 4 coal seam gas operations that have released water outside of their EA conditions since 30 November."

The CEO of the Qld Resources Council told ABC TV news that his organisation had asked the Qld Government for "special consideration" to pump water out into river systems. He downplayed the risk of pollution saying it would be like "adding a thimble full of water to a swimming pool".

Surely the concern is not the volume of water, but what it contains? If the Qld Government caves in on this one, and gives the mining companies special consideration, it will be evidence of the total inadequacy of the assessment process for mining applications. What's the point of imposing strict conditions on mines if these are not upheld?

With regard to Felton, the recent flooding has shown it would be mad to allow an open-cut mine to be built next to Hodgson Creek. There are reports here from the Toowoomba Chronicle and ToowoombaNews.com.au . Those who witnessed the water pouring off the hills and down the gullies and creeks will be amused by the statement from Ambre Energy that "flood levees would be built near the mine to stop floodwaters from entering the pit." No doubt that's what  the Ensham mine plans said too.

Nobel prize-winning scientist David Karoly says Australia's current extreme weather is evidence of climate change, and we can expect more of the same if we carry on burning fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow. Watch his interview on ABC TV News here. It's seems rather ironic that so much media attention has focussed on the urgency of getting our coal mines working again..

Felton floods show madness of mining plan

29th Dec 2010. Rainfall of around 250mm (10inches) over 36 hours on Monday & Tuesday caused major flooding in the Hodgson Creek at Felton, as the photos below show. Ambre Energy proposes building an open cut coal mine next to Hodgson Creek, washing the coal and putting it through a petrochemical plant, before dumping the solid waste back into the mine pit (and there would be a lot of it given the 35% ash content of the coal).

The environmental impact of a flood such as this week's on Ambre Energy's project would clearly be horrendous. The mine pit would be flooded, tailings dams swept away, and toxic pollution would be carried off down the Murray-Darling river system.

It would be simply insane to allow this project to proceed.

For more Felton flood photos click here

Ambre Energy's proposed mine site, 27th December. Photo: Sare Katchaloo

ZeroGen dumping sounds death knell for Ambre's Felton project

Artist: Sharon O'Phee

21st Dec 2010. The Queensland Government has withdrawn support for the much-vaunted ZeroGen 'clean coal' project in central Queensland. According to a report in the Sunday Mail, ownership of the project will be passed to the Australian Coal Association with taxpayers investment of $150 million written off.

The Australian quoted Premier Anna Bligh as saying "What the research shows us is that this technology works. What it also shows us . . . is that it is not yet economically viable."

As a result of the decision, the Australian reported that Dr Kelly Thambimuthu, who was recruited by the Queensland Government to head its 'clean coal' research has quit in protest against what he sees as a downgrading of the area. "It's absolute nonsense for Queensland to export so much coal and make money from it and yet do nothing about reducing emissions," he said.

So where does this leave Ambre Energy's planned Felton coal-to-liquid project? It's looking very dirty indeed. With projected CO2 emissions from the petrochemical plant alone of 10,000 tonnes/day at start-up, and 525 million tonnes over the life of the project, carbon capture and storage(CCS) is simply inconceivable. Without CCS the project is a non-starter. The Government must kill it off without delay.

GASLAND: Lessons for Australia

17/12/10. The Queensland Government has already sent its best and brightest to America to get tips on how to manage problems with administering the Coal Seam Gas industry.  It's not hard to work out why our government would want tips on managing CSG problems (it's a fracking minefield) but it is hard to see why anyone would look to America for solutions.  If you can believe GASLAND the movie, there is only one message coming out of CSG America and that is: DO NOT USE THE AMERICAN EXAMPLE. 

Sadly it is beyond the wit of ordinary people to learn from another's experience.  Thus we already have a burgeoning CSG industry and are now playing a tiresome game of catch-up, muck-up, cover-up, patch-up and spin.  For the price of a movie ticket (about $15) Australians can view the documentary GASLAND and glean the same handy tips the Queensland Government would have got by sending over one of its top guns. 

Lesson Number One:  don't let alpha dogs anywhere near the legislation that governs mining activity.  Before he became vice president of the United States of America, Dick Cheney was the chairman and CEO of Halliburton, the world's second largest oilfield service provider.  Apparently Dick and some big biz buddies were able to get the CSG industry in the US exempt from the strictures of the clean water act, the drinking water act, etc.  This was smart because extraction of CSG in America is giving rise to massive water pollution.  The mining industry in this country is also getting lots of concessions, free kicks and buddy-buddy deals.  The EIS assessment system can always find a way of approving a mining proposal no matter how insane.  So the Number One Lesson is: no special deals - let's get mining on the same playing field as everyone else.

Lesson Number Two: don't settle for the make good principle.  Woops, too late, this one has already been imported.  In the case of CSG, the precautionary principle has been let go because the science can't work out what's likely to happen with water quality and scores of other impacts.  But the 'make good' principle is going to cost the government a lot more in Australia than in the US.  The yokels in this country are far better organised and better educated than in the States and will insist that 'make good' leaves them no worse off on every score - the cost to government is going to be horrendous.  Lesson Number Two can be paraphrased thus: be careful what you wish for.

Lesson Number Three: establish some no-go zones.  A curious thing about America is that it allows mining on Federal Public Lands.  It might not be quite the same thing, but at least mining is denied entry to national parks in this country.  For the sake of delivering on the allure of coexistence, however, there should be additional no-go zones.  The no-go zone we are going for in Queensland is protection of strategic cropping land.  Once protection of strategic cropping land becomes law (in early 2011) there will be an absolute barrier to the entry of mining.  Then it will be possible for the mining industry to claim they have foregone a potential opportunity, for the sake of peace.  Lesson Number Three can be paraphrased thus:  give and yea will receive.

Lesson Number Four: resist the fortress syndrome.  One reason America has tapped into its CSG reserves with such vigour is its national obsession with self-sufficiency - they want to reduce, even eliminate, their reliance on imported energy.  Australia doesn't seem to share this obsession; in fact most of our CSG is for export.  Implicitly, our motivation for ripping the stuff out and suffering all the externalities locally, is to make overseas countries better off.  Since CSG doesn't mean as much to us, we should not be prepared to tolerate the same social and environmental costs as they clearly do in America.  Lesson Number Four takes the form of a question: why are we doing this?

GASLAND the movie is no-doubt biased and for all we know it might gild-the-lilly in one or two places.  But shame on anyone who tries to write the movie off as not relevant to what is happening.  Despite the constant bleatings we hear from officialdom, the mining industry is not yet regulated to a standard considered acceptable by affected landholders or the public generally. 



Felton harvest December 2010

Photos: Sare Katchaloo

Democracy getting trampled in the rush

11/12/10. Numerous farmer lobby groups have formed since early 2008 to protest the accelerated growth in mining throughout SE Queensland.  The focus of the protest movement has been the blatant encouragement of the mining industry at the expense of agriculture and rural communities.  The Government's failure to use its discretion over the granting of land access to miners to bring about fair and balanced outcomes is been perceived as unconscionable bias. 

In a democracy the first imperative of economic policy is: make no-one worse off.  If meeting this criterion can only be achieved by massive and ongoing compensation of those hurt, in the process of promoting special interests, then it is apparent that the policy platform is fundamentally flawed.  The farmer lobby is not about compensation - it's about basic changes to the processes and systems surrounding land access.  Reforms are urgently needed to make the processes and systems surrounding land access relevant to the circumstances and preferences applying in the New Century. 

A subject of great concern is the impact assessment system that inevitably leads to mining proposals being granted an authority to operate.  This system is toted by the government and the mining industry as thorough, fair and objective.  But the process presumes that every project will be made socially acceptable via a mitigation strategy.  The possibility that the project will not be acceptable because it violates community sensibilities and standards is not countenanced nor are a great many other clear-cut barriers to general acceptability. 

If the impact assessment system was made demonstratively fair and objective, it would most likely be accepted by everyone as the best way of determining whether a particular mining project should go ahead.  But a major overhaul of the EIS concept will be required before affected farmers are convinced.  Critically, the reforms would have to include a raft of absolute barriers to the entry of mining. 

A potential barrier to mining that is currently under development is the Strategic Cropping Land initiative.  Once converted into law, this initiative will stop miners from gaining access to farmland that meets the definition of 'strategic cropping land'.  While the finer details of the definition are still being thrashed out, the result will be a poignant test of the Government's commitment to balance between agriculture and mining.  If the Strategic Cropping Land legislation meets farmer expectations, it will stand as a working example of coexistence.  Application of the legislation will signify coexistence by requiring miners to forego the opportunity gains that might have resulted from accessing land classified as strategic for cropping purposes.  At last miners will have made a material contribution to the elusive goal of coexistence.

While we wait to see the fine print of the Strategic Cropping Land legislation, there is another issue irking farmers.  This issue is the inconsistency of the regulatory treatment being metered out to farmers and miners when it comes to protection of environmental values.  It is unacceptably discriminatory to exempt miners from the restrictions that are placed on farmers regarding the protection of native vegetation and water quality.  It is also hypocritical to have governments talking up their 'green' credentials while giving the coal and gas industries every conceivable incentive to expand.  The farmer lobby wants to see real consistency between policy, government rhetoric and what actually happens. 

More odious than all the above has been the government's neglect of its role as the impartial umpire, responsible for dispersing equity and balance between current and future generations.  By seeing fit to encourage the mining industry at the expense of resident farming communities and environmental sustainability, the government is failing the basic test of intergenerational fairness. 

It is absurd, for example, to give special breaks to the mining industry because it creates jobs.  Relative to some other sectors the mining industry is not a large creator of jobs, and the jobs themselves are dangerous, unhealthy, temporary, competitive with other local industries and inflationary.  In any event, state governments should not see job creation as their special responsibility - as might be the case in a command economy.  In a market economy such as ours, private enterprise is the main creator of jobs. 

The government does not need to give special breaks to the mining industry to encourage it to invest.  But the government has a very large role to play shaping the social and environmental context in which the mining industry operates.  This role is becoming more critical every year due to rapid changes in the scale and rate of mining.  The entry of large scale mining into SE Queensland is a critical dynamic that government planning and regulation has not yet caught up with. 


Lettuce production, Felton district November 2010

Photos: Sare Katchaloo

Will the Queensland Government cave in to mining bullies?

6/12/10. Recent media reports have cast doubt on the Queensland Government's commitment to protect cropping land from mining. It was reported in last week's Queensland Country Life that the area to be protected under upcoming Strategic Cropping Land legislation could be cut from 4.1% of the state to just 1.5%.  The higher figure was proposed in the policy framework released by the Government last August and was accepted at the time as accurate and realistic.  But according to the QCL report, the Government is now considering a proposal to restrict Strategic Cropping Land to areas that have a slope of 3% or less, resulting in a vast reduction in the eligible area. 

It is obvious that the Government is under pressure from the mining industry to reduce the area of cropping land to be protected. This is being attempted by resorting to arbitrary means that are neither accurate nor realistic.

If the Queensland Country Life report is true, the Strategic Cropping Land legislation will be a complete joke. A cut-off of 3% slope would rule out protection for some of Queensland's most productive land on the Eastern Darling Downs all the way from Toowoomba south to the NSW border. Some of this land is used for intensive production by vegetable growers who prefer sloping land to avoid water-logging. The combination of top quality soil and favourable climate make this region vital to our food security. It would be madness to allow it to be destroyed by mining.

The Government is clearly being bullied by the mining industry, which is motivated solely by selfish greed.

Friends of Felton has campaigned for two and a half years against a proposal by Ambre Energy to establish a large open-cut coal mine and petrochemical plant in the highly productive Felton Valley, 30km SW Toowoomba.

Miners have been misled

3/12/10. Coal and gas mining in Queensland is expanding at an unprecedented rate.  Apart from the rapid rate of expansion the current boom is distinguished by its scale and location.  The spread of mining into South East Queensland is particularly significant because this part of the state is already occupied by relatively small, highly productive farms and long established rural communities. 

The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that the miners have an automatic right to access land suspected of harbouring economic minerals.  The aggressive behaviour of miners, plain for all to see, has no doubt contributing to this impression.  It's a fair bet that lots of miners operate on the assumption that they can occupy whatever land takes their fancy. 

In truth, miners have no automatic right to access land in this state.  If they end up with a right to mine, it has been granted to them by the government, with terms and conditions attached.  A core condition of entry is that mining activities will not significantly disrupt the operations and wellbeing of the existing landholder.  Miners living under the impression they can access any land of their choice have been misledTo the extent this misapprehension exists (and the anecdotals say it is rampant) the fault lies with the Queensland Government.  The Government has not been applying its own assessment tools or its overarching responsibilities to the natural environment and all peoples of Queensland to deliver balanced and sustainable outcomes.  If it did, the mining industry would be encountering absolute barriers to its rate and extent of expansion and it would be under no illusions regarding the rights of existing landholders.

The methods currently being deployed to accelerate the entry and establishment of mining on productive farmland in South East Queensland will shortly expose the Government to massive financial risks. 

Miners have to earn the right to access land.  Traditionally, this meant demonstrating in advance that all the social, economic and environmental impacts likely to result from the proposed mining activity are known, controllable and socially acceptable.  To allow particular mining activities to proceed in the absence of knowledge about their impacts, the Government has recently invented a supplementary approach.  Thus it's now okay to fix problems after the event by 'making good'In effect, the precautionary principle has been replaced by the go-for-it principle.  The latter openly acknowledges the likelihood of injury to landholders.  When injury occurs, the Government will have to make good by paying compensation.  So any landholder who can show that he or she has been made worse off by a particular mining activity will be eligible for government funded reparation payments equal to the before and after difference. 

Evidence of land value reductions, ground water loss and pollution, increased soil erosion, vegetation destruction, loss of scale efficiencies, livestock disturbance, loss of amenity and physical and mental health costs are already mounting.  This means that a large proportion of the royalties currently being paid to the Government by miners will have to be returned to individual landholders in the form of compensation payments.  Demands for 'make good' payments can be expected to start rolling in soon.  Hopefully the Queensland Government has already countenanced such a possibility and is moving to establish a fund that will recycle the royalty income from the bush to George Street and then back again.  Just think of the jobs this is going to create. 

The better land is from an agricultural perspective, the higher the opportunity costs of using it for any mining activity and therefore the higher would be the compensation payments.  In effect, the better land is for agriculture the worse it is for mining.  This simple principle needs to be kept in mind when finalising the eligibility rules applying to Strategic Cropping Land.  If the Government wants to minimise its compensation payouts associated with mining activities in farming areas, it should adopt a realistic interpretation to what constitutes Strategic Cropping Land. 

Apparently the Queensland Government has not heard what happened to Humpty Dumpty.  Poor old Humpty fell off the wall and broke but all the king's soldiers and all the king's men couldn't put him together again.  And neither will the millions that are going to be paid out in compensation make up for the bloody minded favouritism shown to mining over agriculture.  In all the excitement it's been forgotten that governments exist for no other reason than to protect individuals against the worst excesses of the free market.  Miners need no special treatment by governments to rush out and find the stuff, rip it out and ship it off.  More than adequate incentives are embedded in the supply and demand relationship applying to minerals.  What is not adequate is control over where mining shall not occur.  To make exploitation of our mineral wealth work for everyone, governments must recognise and protect prior interests.  Careful planning could deliver a win-win result.


Landholders need power of veto

28/11/10. Sitting at the heart of our system of exchange is the right of refusal.  No matter how badly you want to buy, rent or lease my house, I have the right to refuse - at least until you make me an acceptable offer.  If you tried to take or use my house against my will it would be a criminal offence.

So how come miners can have their wicked way with farmland owned and operated by landholders?  How come they can invade a region and individual farms and force and landowner to 'cooperate'?  We all know the answer.  Miners are allowed to violate the foundation principles of our democracy by NOT having to account for the wishes of the landholder - the stakeholder most affected.  The normal right of refusal is ignored and in the process people's lives are wrecked and the environment is wrecked.  But apparently that's okay because of the law of the land feels it has to give special protection to the mining industry. 

In fact it's not okay.  Neither our democracy nor our system of economic management can make a single defence of the laws applying to the entry and establishment of mining.  Why is the mining industry exempt from having to deal normally with the people most directly and grievously affected by its activities and negative consequences?  The government would say that they do the job on the landholders' behalf.  The government says: "we commission an EIS and then make a decision that accounts for the entire social, economic and environmental system".  

But history has demonstrated that state governments in this country are incapable of administering the mining industry in a socially responsible manner.  While governments claim that society's best interests are protected by the 'EIS system', nothing could be further from the truth.  The terms of reference used by EISs applied to mining proposals are highly prescribed and never broach issues likely to challenge the absolute acceptability of the proposal.  The EIS consultants are compromised by being employed by the mine proponent but in any event are never asked to make a yes/no determination about anything that could scuttle the project.  Provided the final report has some words against every terms of reference 'regardless of how vague or nebulous the words are' then the report is deemed to be supportive.  At the heart of all that's wrong is the government's conflict of interest.  Since many government trading enterprises are users of coal and gas and the government itself has an insatiable appetite for jobs (regardless of how dangerous) and royalties, it feels vindicated in giving the green light to every mining proposal that comes along.

If the EIS system is to be retained, the terms of reference have to be more cognisant of affected communities and the recommendations should be more deterministic.  Also, the evaluation process should be transparent and even handed.  Friends of Felton have previously argued that a truly independent agency should undertake the EIS work.  Otherwise, affected landholders should be invited to the table when the EIS is presented for a final decision.  This reform could be introduced quickly and cheaply and would give landholders a true sense of involvement and ownership.  The message is clear: if the EIS is such a wonderful assessment method, let the final determination be made by transparent and truly democratic processes.  Such processes would incorporate representation from among those landholders most affected by any decision to go ahead. 

Comical land access laws

20/11/10. The Queensland Government ran a series of meetings across southern Queensland last week to explain the new Land Access laws, which are to come into force soon. According to the introduction to the new Land Access Code,

'The Queensland Government is committed to balancing the interests of the agricultural and resource sectors to address issues related to land access for resource exploration and development. Good relationships between these groups, assisted by adequate consultation and negotiation, will improve transparency, equity and cooperation across the sectors involved and creates a more level playing field for all.'

At the meeting in Dalby on Tuesday, it soon became apparent just how 'balanced' the interests of the agricultural and resource sectors now are.

A short summary: If a landholder refuses entry to a mining company, there is a mandatory negotiation period. If no agreement is reached, the company can refer the case to the Land Court. Once the matter has been referred to the Land Court, the mining company has the right of entry.

To make matters worse: The landholder is permitted to have a lawyer present during negotiations only with the permission of the mining company (in spite of the 'Important Note' on page 3 of the Guide to Queensland's new land access laws which states 'Parties are strongly urged to always obtain legal advice to assist with negotiations or developing agreements, and particularly before signing any document.'

No wonder farmers across Queensland are locking the gate....

Media reports:Qld Country Life here and here

Download the new Land Access Code and the Guide to Queensland's new land access laws here -


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The EIS Ruse

Photo:Sare Katchaloo


The EIS process used in Queensland to assess and ultimately approve mining proposals is nothing but an elaborate ruse.

First it allows the miners to fake suffering from all the process and regulation they have to go through before they are allowed to commence operations.  By the time they get through all the loops and hoops they even feel vindicated.

Secondly it allows the government to point to all the process, safeguards and sureties it makes proponents go through before they can be licensed.  Its apparent thoroughness is evidenced by the cost of reviewing the truckloads of paper generated. 

Thirdly it puts masses of cash in the pockets of friendly consultants - only too happy to sell their souls for a fist full of silver.  This third leg closes the loop and keeps the ruse firmly in place. 

Has this elaborate process done anything to stop the mine that is 'on the wrong side of the line' because it would destroy prime farmland, take unconscionable risks and inflict externalities on neighbours and future generations?  Of course it hasn't.

So what might explain such a spectacular failure of governance? 

  • Have the victims of encroachment failed to learn how the approval system works and articulate the issues and consequences of unfettered mining?
  • Have landholders failed to build alliances with environmental groups more experienced in confronting bureaucratic intransigence?
  • Has the community at large failed to recognise and support the victims and the various lobby groups that have sprung up?
  • Has the mining lobby filled the government's ear with lots of specious threats about loss of opportunities and even litigation?
  • Has the government failed to monitor the geographic dynamics of mining, keep pace with changing community attitudes, inform itself about the debate, making itself aware of how the electorate feels?
  • Has the government made too many promises to customers and buddies about all the goodies they are going to get out of Queensland?
  • Has the government convinced itself it can't do without the money and is prepared to run the risk of ignoring the electorate?

Two years ago, all of the above might have been 'contributing factors'.  But in late 2010, the latter 3-4 possibilities are starting to look closer to the mark.  The ruse is now under threat.  Tweaking the tied old EIS tools (six hundred conditions, making good, mitigation, co-existence, etc, etc) is no longer cutting the mustard.  From now on it's about responding to the wishes of the people.  The people of this state don't want mines all over the prime farming lands of SE Queensland

Channel Nine News report here

We have Shut the Gate

Photos: Sare Katchaloo

Some Key Points

10/11/10. A short list of what is wrong with the Ambre Energy proposal for Felton.

Friends of Felton was formed in February 2008 to oppose the entry and establishment of any Ambre Energy project based on open cut coal mining and on-site processing of coal into liquid fuel.  FOF started out as a small organisation but in late 2010 it has over 100 paid up members and continues to gain strength and support as time passes.  FOF is the 'relevant voice' of the Felton community and its position is thus: The current Ambre Energy project (called ambreCTL) is deemed to be totally and absolutely unacceptable to the Felton community and the project's right to establish as proposed is rejected.  The main reasons for this stance are spelt out below.

Too many people would be hurt: 4000 people live within 10 km of the proposed site.  All these people would be intolerably affected by the externalities that would stem from the mining activities.  Among the externalities would be: a) dust, noise and vibrations caused by daily blasting; b) massive damage to the landscape, natural environment, roads and personal safety caused by industrialisation; and c) threats to local water supplies caused by mining below the level of Hodgson Creek. 

It would destroy the character and cultural history of the region:  The inner Darling Downs, centred on Toowoomba, has a rich settlement history and a reputation for bucolic tranquillity.  Some family names have persisted in the Felton Valley for more than 100 years.  It is clearly the responsibility of the current generation to keep this reputation in place for the enjoyment of future generations.  If the Ambre project is licensed to operate, no basis will exist for stopping the progress of additional mining proposals on the inner Downs - thus turning the whole region into another Hunter Valley. 

The damage to the natural environment would be horrendous:  Most of the Mining Lease Area (MLA) that would accommodate the mine and petro-chemical plant is Strategic Cropping Land (SCL) as defined by the Queensland Government's policy framework released in September 2010.  Thus the project would destroy SCL and in the process threaten the viability of local farming and local businesses dependent on servicing agriculture with inputs such as seed and fertiliser etc.  Because the MLA takes in both cultivation and grass land, mining of the site would also destroy native species of plants and animals.  

Australia's reputation as a contributor to adverse climate change would be confirmed:  Coal mining by itself causes massive releases of CO2.  By the time coal is converted into liquid fuel and used, the 'well to wheels' release of CO2 is double what it would be from using refined crude oil.  Also coal to liquid generates more CO2 than for other synthetic fuels such as gas to liquid.  If Australia wants to regain any respectability as a global citizen, it has to use direct action to drastically reduce coal mining.  Axing the Ambre project would be a good place to start since it is still only a proposal, the project itself is unpopular with everyone accept those who think it might return them a quick buck and it is an outstanding example of 'world's worst' environmental practices. 

There would be no public benefit:  Mining developments are always talked-up on the strength of job creation and royalties.  But unemployment is not a particular problem in SE Queensland.  Everyone who wants a job in the mining industry can get one - especially now that the door has been opened for CSG exporting out of Gladstone.  Indeed the disparity between wages paid to mine workers and other workers is already causing wage-push inflation.  Further, the State would collect virtually no royalties from mining projects on the inner Darling Downs.  For most rural properties on the Darling Downs, rights to mining royalties reside with the landholder.  Only in the case of land convert to freehold after 1910, would the royalties go to the State.  Historically, mining royalties collected by the Queensland Government have been spent at the discretion of the government without any particular attempt to reward the geographic region from whence the royalties derived.

From a social perspective, the economics of the Ambre project would be dubious:  To estimate the net social benefit from a large project it is necessary to compare expected costs and benefits over the life of the project.  This life includes the time needed to restore the mine site to its original condition.  If a mine operated for 50 years and it took 50 years to restore the site to its original condition, the effective life is 100 years; so this is the period over which the cost benefit analysis should be performed.  If the mine site could not be returned to its original condition, opportunity losses linked to the original land use would apply in perpetuity.  Costs that should be priced and incorporated in the assessment include: a) the opportunity costs and losses associated with displaced activities (intensive, sustainable agriculture in the case of the Felton Valley); b) all the externalities inflicted on people's health and the local and global environment; c) the cost of reclamation works not borne directly by the project; d) loss of amenity associated with the original landscape and aesthetics; and e) the cost to the state of monitoring the mine to ensure compliance with pre-determined environmental standards.  The Environmental Impact Study, to which every mining project must be subject before it can be a license to operate, should include a comprehensive cost benefit analysis that determines its expected net social benefit or loss.

Felton Farmers Lock the Gate

8/11/10. Friends of Felton today commenced a campaign of civil disobedience against Ambre Energy, which is currently conducting an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for a proposal to establish a large open-cut coal mine and petrochemical gasification plant in the highly productive Felton Valley, 30km SW of Toowoomba.

Friends of Felton has campaigned for almost three years against the Ambre Energy proposal. Spokesman Rob McCreath said 'The Ambre Energy project would turn one of Queensland's most productive food-producing regions into an industrial wasteland with terrible consequences for the natural environment and the community. The proposal is simply insane'.

'The Government's recent approval of two major coal seam gas projects in the Surat Basin, in spite of serious environmental concerns expressed by the Co-ordinator General, proves that the EIS process is totally inadequate for the assessment of mining projects', he added.

Media reports -

Sydney Morning Herald

Toowoomba Chronicle

ABC Radio (transcipt & audio)

Related story - Farmers lock out coal seam gas companies - Courier-Mail


Our first AGM

7/11/10. We held our first AGM last Wednesday at the Felton Hall. A good crowd of around 60 people attended, and there were a large number of apologies from many who were harvesting or planting. Our guest speaker, Drew Hutton from Friends of the Earth, gave a thought-provoking address.

Read the FOF President's report here -


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Drew Hutton (above). Photos: Sare Katchaloo

Climate Change crisis looms for Qld

29/10/10. The Queensland Government yesterday released the latest climate change report from the Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence. Minister for Climate Change & Sustainability Kate Jones said

"The 2010 report draws on a review of more than 220 peer-reviewed scientific papers published in the past three years, and highlights the fact that we now have multiple lines of scientific evidence showing that Queensland's climate is changing," Ms Jones said.

"It presents the differences between weather and climate, the causes of climate change and latest developments in international, national and Queensland research.

"It also discusses the latest observations and projections showing that Queensland is getting hotter, sea-levels are expected to continue to rise, and the impact of extreme weather events will increase.

"Average global temperatures have already increased by about 0.75 ºC since 1900. The land-ocean temperature record indicates that 14 of the past 15 years have been the warmest since 1880.

"The predicted changes in average rainfall and temperatures and increased frequency of severe weather events, including droughts, floods and severe tropical cyclones, could reduce Queensland's primary and agricultural production, as well as having a significant impact on the wellbeing of affected communities."

"The climate system is complex but a better understanding of how the climate is changing and what the impacts mean will help each and every one of us to make more informed decisions about what we can do to d eal with it in the future," she said.

"The report highlights, for example, that our iconic Great Barrier Reef will be impacted by increasing acidification of the ocean and warming of the ocean due to more carbon in the atmosphere.

"This means greater threats to the unique corals of the reef, because as the water gets more acid, coral growth is reduced and as it warms it encourages the kind of algae which block essential light to coral."

In light of this report, perhaps the Minister could explain why the Government is encouraging rapid expansion of the coal industry, and contemplating hugely-polluting schemes such as Ambre Energy's coal-to-fuel-and-CO2 project at Felton?

Sydney Morning Herald report here

Hey Ambre! Look up and be saved!

29/10/10. Ambre Energy persists at Felton despite insurmountable problems.  The company is persisting at Felton because that where it's been granted potential access to land.  Logic says Ambre should fold its tent and go elsewhere but they can't visualise any other place.  Apparently they see less risk in persevering with a dud prospect than starting all over again at a new site.  Let's quickly recount some of the negatives Ambre faces at Felton and finish up with a suggestion.

The economics of coal to liquid are presaged on a naïve reading of 'peak oil' and continuation of our dependency on petrol.  While the logic of 'peak oil' cannot be denied, its arrival date will depend on fuel consumption patterns going forward.  Among the many lessons taken from the GFC was our capacity to reduce petrol consumption when we really have to.  We don't know when 'peak oil' will arrive but until it does oil prices will fluctuate widely and this will have a direct impact on the economics of any coal to liquid project.  In the meantime, many substitutes for petrol will emerge and these will keep downward pressure on fuel prices.

Second-guessing the market place is difficult enough but most of Ambre's economic risks are inherent to the Felton site.  Trying to put an open cut coal mine in the midst of a highly productive and closely settled rural community on the outskirts of Toowoomba faces an obvious 'acceptability risk'.  Friends of Felton was established to transform this risk into a knockout punch - something that might have been anticipated by anyone except a mob of punters with no understanding of rural Queensland. 

Other site-specific risks that the Ambre project faces are access to sufficient water and management of complex environmental impacts.  These are indeed 'show-stoppers' but then we come to the product itself.  The coal that lies beneath the self mulching vertisols of the Felton Valley is poor quality, being 'high ash'.  This would give rise to at least three negatives: a low yield from the volume extracted; high recovery and refining costs; and massive waste disposal issues at the site. 

Another big risk - unfolding right now - is the tax on carbon.  A figure of $30 - $35 per tonne seems likely.  Because coal to liquid is carbon intensive and Ambre's products would have to compete in the fuel market against substitutes, this tax will deliver to Ambre yet another knockout punch.  Much of the tax would have to come straight off Ambre's bottom line - plunging the project further into the abyss.

If Ambre could have started-out regarding Felton as 'just a possible site', they would have walked away years ago and saved a bundle.  But since they must regard Felton as a place one sees and never leaves (a sentiment shared by the locals) we suggest they start to look up (for a source of energy) rather than down, down, down.  Why not collaborate with Friends of Felton to establish a world class solar power precinct?  Then it would be possible for Ambre Energy, the miner, to claim a first: genuine coexistence with Queensland agriculture. 

Thoroughbred Breeders support call for NSW moratorium

28/10/10. Thoroughbred Breeders in the Hunter Valley have supported the NSW Farmers' Association call for a moratorium on new mining and coal seam gas applications and development in the Hunter Valley. In a media release, the group says -

'The land use conflicts in the Hunter Valley are at a tipping point. The Hunter's multi-billion dollar Thoroughbred Breeding Industry and other sustainable agricultural industries continue to be threatened by the increasing encroachment of mining operations in the region. The potential for permanent sterilization of productive agricultural land, the sovereign risks to significant investments by established sustainable industries, thousands of jobs and the health of our environment and regional communities hang in the balance.'

Download the media release in full here -


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NSW Farmers Assoc calls for moratorium

28/10/10. In a significant move, the New South Wales Farmers Association has called for a moratorium on mining and coal seam gas development. Vice President Fiona Simson said 'We're calling for it because of the concerns that our members have about this rapidly expanding industry and the fact that we don't think that science is keeping up with it and we don't think that legislation is keeping up with it.'

Read the ABC radio AM report here

Zero Carbon is do-able

27/10/10. A crowd of around 800 people packed the venue at the Brisbane Convention Centre last night for the launch by Beyond Zero Emissions of the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan. Download the plan free here.

Premier Anna Bligh said 'The challenge of decarbonising is even bigger than before', and congratulated BZE on the plan, which she said 'shows how to keep hope alive'. 

Matthew Wright, BZE above, Premier Anna Bligh below. Photos: Sare Katchaloo

Panel l-r: Klaus Langer(CEO Latronics), Larissa Waters (Senator-elect), Prof John Bell (QUT), Prof Mike Sandiford (Melbourne Energy Research Inst), Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (UQ), John Daley (CEO Grattan Inst)

Cakes to Conquer Coal

28/10/10. Last Saturday we ran a fundraising cake stall in Pittsworth. There was a great response from the public, and approx $700 was raised.

Absolute Carbon Corrupts Absolutely: Dunlop

25/10/10. 'The resource industries wield enormous power in Australia and their opposition to action on human-induced climate change is well documented. 

'At virtually every turn in the tortuous path of climate reform over the last two decades, resource interests have prevailed without regard to the increasing risk of catastrophic climate impacts. Gradually, as the evidence has mounted, outright denial has given way publicly to grudging lip service to the need for action, whilst privately delaying tactics continue.

'The scientific consensus that, on the balance of probabilities, human activity is causing most of the warming occurring globally, is overwhelming. 

Prudent risk management suggests that an emergency response is now required.'

So writes Ian Dunlop, former chair of the Australian Coal Association, and Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development.

According to Mr Dunlop, pricing carbon is not the imposition of a 'great big new tax', rather it is the removal of a 'great big old subsidy', a subsidy which is the major barrier to establishing low-carbon industries.

Read the full ABC 'The Drum' article here

Carbon Pollution - don't bank on it

25/10/10. A protest action by Greenpeace in Brisbane last week has put the spotlight on the financing of carbon-intensive developments.

Greenpeace has targeted ANZ bank, which this year was named by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index as the most sustainable bank globally. Last week, ANZ was named one of 30 big Australian companies leading the way in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and last month ANZ was named the world's leading sustainable bank. Criteria include climate change mitigation and environmental performance.

But according to the ABC report, Greenpeace says ANZ deserves a different title: the biggest backer of Australia's carbon polluting coal industry, financing nearly $1.7 billion worth of mines, ports and power stations in the last five years.

"They're winning awards for sustainability, they've got a policy to go carbon neutral, those policies and that rhetoric are completely at odds with their practice," Greenpeace's John Hepburn said.

There's a Courier-Mail report here.

Meanwhile, the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors has released a study of the investment risk of high-carbon industy.According to the report by Kerrie Sinclair in the Courier-Mail, ACSI president Michael O'Sullivan - who advises domestic and international fund members with $250 billion in assets under management - said the study showed that Australia needed to put a price on carbon emissions in order to spur investment in new low-carbon industries and limit the economic impact of a reduced value for fossil fuel reserves.

The study also said there is a strong case for the abandonment of carbon capture and storage technology as a "competitive solution" to providing low-carbon electricity."Australian governments and the coal companies have placed a lot of faith in developing scalable carbon capture and storage. The problem is it's going to take 20 years and even then may only reduce emissions by about a third and in the meantime the game is lost," Mr O'Sullivan said.

The study on carbon risks to investments is by Phil Preston, former head of global credit research at Colonial First State Global Asset Management, and Paul Gilding, a climate change corporate adviser to companies including Ford and BHP Billiton.It was based on research by German Government-funded Potsdam Institute, one of Europe's leading climate advisers, which showed that governments' current commitments to hold global warming to a 2C average rise meant just 890 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases could be emitted between 2000 and 2050 but at current rates would be emitted by 2024.

The Institute concluded that more than 75 per cent of currently proven, economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves would not be burnt and would have no economic value if governments moved effectively to hold the average warming to 2C, which requires global annual emissions to peak and start falling this decade."Within that time, governments will have to intervene otherwise it will be too late. What this paper says is that will mean a very rapid conversion to renewable energy - much more rapid than the usual idea of a long phase-in," Mr O'Sullivan said.

"The single big-picture thing we need in Australia is a price on carbon because without it people can't invest profitably in most of the renewable energy that's available."There is plenty of renewable energy available in Australia - we have abundant geothermal, solar and tidal potential - but they don't become economically viable while pollution is free," he said.

Cambooya Car Rally

24/10/10. Last weekend FOF took part in the inaugural Cambooya Family Fun Day. We organised a car rally around the Cambooya/Greenmount/Nobby/Felton district, which was a lot of fun. Many thanks to our sponsors - Graintrans, Felton Produce, Bull & Barley Inn, Wheatsheaf Hotel, Greenmount Hotel

photos: Sare Katchaloo


17/10/10. Last week the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science & Technology ran a conference which asked the question 'Can Agriculture and Mining Coexist?' Because no particular effort was made to define what is meant by 'coexistence' the audience was left none the wiser. The chief mining industry spokesman wanted us to believe that production statistics and depiction on the Queensland coat of arms of both agriculture and mining is proof enough of coexistence. But as anyone who has studied this website would already know, meaningful coexistence cannot be claimed unilaterally; mutual agreement by all affected parties is necessary. Thus successful coexistence depends on the rules of engagement and subsequent outcomes when agriculture and mining find themselves competing for the same land. Until recently, the rules of engagement forced agriculture to do all the giving and allowed the mining industry to do all the taking. Once the Queensland Government's policy of protecting Strategic Cropping Land passes into law, there will be scope for mutual give and take and it will be possible for both sides to claim they have contributed to coexistence. It is obvious from the ads currently appearing in major newspapers that the mining industry wants to enhance its public image. A better option for winning the hearts and minds of rural Queensland would be gracious support for the principles, processes and outcomes implicit in the Government's Strategic Cropping Land policy.

According to the conference website,

'The purpose of the conference is to objectively assess the tradeoffs and synergies between the competing uses of land for agricultural and mineral resource production.'

The conference had 3 sponsors - Queensland Government, Queensland Resources Council, and Ambre Energy. That's a bit like having a conference on 'Is lung cancer bad for your health?' sponsored by a tobacco company.

Carbon Capture & Storage - Ambre Energy style

10/10/10. Watch the video of the Ambre Energy chemical engineer explaining the company's plan for CCS at Felton (recommended!) - click here

What did we learn from Ambre Energy?

Blasting at Acland mine

9/10/10. So what have we learned from Ambre Energy's series of meetings this week?

In summary:The impacts of the proposed Felton project on the environment, agriculture, and the community would be even greater than we feared.

We have learned a lot over the past 3 years about the EIS process for the assessment of mining development applications. We have learned that it is not a process to determine whether a mine should be approved or not - it is a process to enable a mine to be approved, with a few conditions. We are fully aware that the round of meetings conducted by Ambre Energy was part of that process, and enable the company to tick a few boxes, and say they've 'consulted with the community'. As usual, specific questions such as how big an area would be affected by dust, noise, blasting, fumes, traffic, etc, were fobbed off with 'we need to do modelling, and that will be included in the EIS'. The company even refused to show us an outline of the proposed layout for open-cut mine, wash plant, tailings dams, petrochemical plant, etc.

There were a few moments of straight-talking amongst all the oily words and spin. The recently-appointed mining engineer explained that blasting would 'probably' take place daily. When asked about emissions from blasting, he replied that a cloud of brown nitrous oxide gas would be released and carried off by the prevailing winds. He also informed us it was 'likely' that the mine pit would be dug below the level of Hodgson Creek. This contradicts previous advice from Ambre, and raises even more concerns about the impact of this project.

The Initial Advice Statement (IAS) issued by Ambre Energy reveals the proposed petrochemical plant would emit 4.2 million tonnes/year of CO2 into the atmosphere (more than 10,000t every day). The presentation given by Ambre at the meetings referred to CO2 being 'captured'. When questioned on this, the Chemical Engineer explained the 'commonly used terminology' treated 'capture' and 'storage' as separate operations, and while they planned to release all the CO2 into the atmosphere, they would be capturing it first. This is simply outrageous.

Other issues that emerged under questioning included the risk of pollution from solid waste. The IAS reveals the washed coal would have an ash content of around 35%. Assuming the petrochemical plant would not be 100% efficient, approx 40% of the feed coal would probably come out of the plant as solid waste. Ambre confirmed that this waste would be dumped back into the mine pit. When asked about the risks of contaminating Hodgson Creek and groundwater aquifers with toxins (given that the proposed mine site is a natural basalt recharge area), the company replied it was 'too early to say' that the waste would be toxic, and that they were doing tests on the 'leachate'. They also said they might have to line the walls of the mine pit to stop this leachate from escaping. This sounds like an environmental time bomb to leave behind for future generations.

There were lots of questions about the proposed tailings dams, with particular reference to the recent pollution incident in Hungary. A retired Qld Government soil conservation expert raised serious doubts about the suitability of the site with regard to the ability of tailings dams to withstand heavy rainfall events.

The company revealed the fuel produced by the project would be transported by trucks - 50-60 B-doubles every day - most going through Toowoomba and down the range to Brisbane. There would also be 50-60 returning empty.

Last but not least, Ambre Energy revealed it had paid the Qld Government $10,000 to sponsor the upcoming Major Projects Conference 2010.


Ambre Energy 'Commmunity Information Sessions'

8/10/10. Ambre Energy conducted a series of 'Community Information Sessions' in the area this week. Here are some pictures -

Doesn't this sound great!

The Felton community waits to be informed

Let the spruiking begin!

'SKM has prepared 20 Environmental Impact Statements....'

'...all of them have been approved'

'It's a very fair process...'

'...all submissions are taken into account.'

And then approval is granted.

The chemical engineer reveals petrochemical plant CO2 emissions of 10,000 tonnes/day...

...to an incredulous audience.

All the CO2 is captured...

...and then stored in the atmosphere!

Some questions for Ambre Energy

3/10/10. Ambre Energy is holding 'community information sessions' at Felton, Pittsworth, Clifton and Toowoomba this week.  Friends of Felton is approaching these meetings in good faith.  FOF wants Ambre Energy to explain how its planned coal-to-liquids development can be justified in terms of likely impacts on the community, the environment and food production in the region.  Specific questions FOF sees as relevant to these impacts include the following:

  • Why establish a massive open cut coal mine and petrochemical plant in a picturesque, densely settled and productive area on the outskirts of Toowoomba when Queensland has 300 years of coal reserves at the current rate of extraction?
  • Why sacrifice strategic cropping land to a coal mine, and jeopardise a significant part of Queensland's food supply in the immediate area, while food security is emerging as an issue of national and global significance?
  • Why pollute the atmosphere with massive releases of C0₂ when the world wants to mitigate climate change and demonstratively reduce its dependency on fossil fuel?
  • Why use enormous quantities of water to produce fuel when there are much better alternatives?
  • Why risk pollution of the Murray-Darling river system by digging a huge mine pit next to Hodgson Creek?
  • Why risk drainage and contamination of groundwater aquifers by mining in an important recharge area in the basaltic uplands?
  • Why sacrifice priceless Indigenous and European cultural heritage to short-term corporate greed?
  • Why mine coal on the inner Darling Downs, freeholded before 1910, where the Queensland Government stands to gain little or nothing from royalties due to the existence of private coal rights?
  • Why not help Felton become a centre for renewable energy, which would generate truly clean power while protecting the environment and community, safeguarding local food production and providing new jobs which would not displace existing ones?


Friends of Felton has campaigned for two and a half years against a proposal by Ambre Energy to establish a large open-cut coal mine and petrochemical gasification plant in the highly productive Felton Valley, 30km SW Toowoomba.

Friends of Felton has proposed the establishment of renewable energy infrastructure at Felton as an alternative to coal mining development. Our research shows that solar and wind power generation at Felton could produce enough power for 160,000 homes, without destroying farmland and the environment, while creating a significant number of new jobs.

Qld must learn from the Hunter Valley experience

3/10/10. The health impacts of mining were the focus of attention once again in the Hunter Valley, NSW, last week, with the first meeting of the advisory committee for the Upper Hunter's new air quality monitoring network.

The committee comprises representatives from coal companies, the power industry, horse breeders, councils, government departments and the community. According to an editorial in the Newcastle Herald, the formation of the committee is 'a welcome preliminary step towards establishing the facts about industrial air pollution and health in the heart of the state's chief coalmining region.'

The editorial continues, 'According to the National Pollutant Inventory - a government website that compiles information supplied by polluters - Singleton and Muswellbrook shires produce almost half the state's output of fine dust particles. These particles, known by their size as PM10s and PM2.5s, are recognised internationally as hazardous to human health.

Until a year ago, the NSW government had chosen to ignore the immense cumulative fine dust outputs of the region's mines and power stations, insisting on considering every mine and generator in isolation and steadfastly refusing to examine the question of public health. The government permitted coalmines to operate their own monitoring, even though data was regularly incomplete or faulty, under a patchwork system that had changed little since the 1970s.

Last year the government was forcibly reminded of its duty of care to Upper Hunter residents when the Environmental Defender's Office raised the prospect of a legal class action.

Suddenly, the government summoned the will to ask industry for money for a new monitoring system, the details of which are now being determined.

For its part the coal industry - through its mouthpiece, the Minerals Council - is talking of a new approach to mining in the Hunter Valley that will take account of cumulative impacts. Industry and the government are working on a new strategy in the wake of the furious debate between coal advocates and horse breeders over the proposed Bickham mine near Scone. The new monitors are seen as part of this promised new approach.

Given the ever-increasing amount of published information about the harmful effects of fine dust particles on respiratory and cardio-vascular health, it is important that the monitoring system is carefully designed to give the best and most useful data possible.'

A report in the same edition of the newspaper gives more information on the National Pollution Inventory data.

FOF reaction: It's high time the Queensland Government and local councils woke up to the health impacts of mining in closely settled areas. We must learn from the Hunter Valley experience.


GFC - Global Food Crisis

3/10/10. A food security summit in Brisbane last week issued a dire warning on the world's food supply.

Forum chairman Professor Geoffrey Lawrence said the price of food has doubled since 2000, and he predicted prices will continue to increase, especially staples such as rice, corn and wheat.

He said many global factors are responsible.

"There's very little additional arable land to bring into production," he said.

"Productivity rates in farming have plateaued, irrigated water is not going to be all that much available.

"The final major one is that climate change is going to raise sea levels and those increased sea levels are going to inundate productive areas."

Professor Lawrence said climate change will eradicate food production areas in India, China, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

"In the Murray-Darling Basin [in Australia] there's likely to be with worst case scenario a 40 per cent decline in available irrigation water which is going to limit the amount of crops," he said.

Science writer Professor Julian Cribb said feeding the world for the next 50 years, which will require doubling food availability using half the water, is possibly the greatest challenge ever faced by humanity.

"The challenge facing the world's farmers and food producers is to double output using less land, far less water, different energy, fewer nutrients and with the prospect of less technology to do so, in the teeth of a changing climate," said Prof Cribb.

A failure to provide for the basic needs of nutrition and water will lead not just to mass starvation but also to wars, he said.

UN World Food Program director in Gambia, Malcolm Duthie, said the 2008 food crisis which increased the hungry poor by 200 million and caused riots in 15 countries should serve as a wake-up call.

Hunger is a "silent tsunami ... which kills more people daily than malaria, TB, AIDS combined", Mr Duthie said.

"It is the number one health risk on the planet."

Read the full ABC News report here.

Read the full AAP report here

Strategic Cropping Land at Felton

27/9/10. The deadline for public comment on the Queensland Government's Strategic Cropping Land policy framework is this Thursday 30th September. More info here

Read the Friends of Felton submission here -


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Carbon Tax push good for Planet, bad for Ambre

27/9/10. 'WINDS of change have blown a carbon price back on to the national agenda, and even miners are providing some puff. While it is odd, at first glance, to see big-emitting miners BHP and Xstrata giving impetus to putting a cost on planet-warming carbon emissions, they have clocked that the new political reality here, plus growing action offshore, leaves little choice but to engage.' So writes Kerrie Sinclair in the Courier-Mail this week - read the full article here.

The push for a price on carbon is bad news for Ambre Energy's plan to build a coal-to-liquids operation at Felton. This plant would emit enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, as detailed in the Initial Advice Statement released by the company in July -

'The project is expected to produce approximately 4.2 Mt/yr of CO2, of which more than 79 percent (3.4 Mt/yr) will be captured in a high purity form during processing. The large quantity of high purity CO2 is ideally suited for use in Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), widely used in the USA, and proposed in the Santos Moomba carbon dioxide storage project (2007). Alternatively, it may be used as a concentrated source for large scale geo-sequestration trials or other industrial uses. Ambre Energy will continue working with government to find solutions related to CO2 storage; but until such options are available, the captured CO2 will be safely vented on-site.'

Safely vented on-site? What a joke.

Meanwhile, Ambre are trying to persuade the Queensland Government to award the project State Significant Project status, and have been announced as a sponsor of the Government's own Major Projects 2010 conference next month (more info on this further down the page).

Australia has some of the world's best renewable energy resources, and huge amounts of gas to use as a transition fuel. How can we contemplate making petrol from coal as proposed by Ambre Energy?

State Significant Project? International Embarrassment would be a more appropriate title.

Great support for FOF at Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers

19/9/10. The Friends of Felton entry in this years Toowoomba Carnival Of Flowers parade got a tremendous welcome from the crowds lining the city's streets.

Special thanks to David Evans Group for loaning the tractor, and to Felton Produce for loaning the trailer.

Photos - Sare Katchaloo

Toowoomba Breakfast Briefing

16/9/10. Friends of Felton held a breakfast briefing in Toowoomba on Tuesday, on the pavement outside the Burke & Wills Hotel. Passers-by were offered bacon & eggs from the barbecue, to draw attention to the threat posed by Ambre Energy's proposed Felton project to such a productive agricultural area.

Inside the hotel, Ambre Energy representatives did their best to convince a mostly sceptical audience from the business community that their project would be a huge benefit to the region, that it would have a very small environmental and social impact, and that it could co-exist happily with food production in the area. Some wondered if the absence of eggs from the menu was a worrying omen...


Photos - Sare Katchaloo

Ambre Energy project threatens 35% of Qld's eggs

13/9/10. Ambre Energy's proposed coal-to-fuel project at Felton threatens the Felton egg farm and packing plant that produces 22.8 million dozen eggs per year - 35% of Queensland's production.

The boundary of Ambre Energy's planned gasification petrochemical plant site is only a few hundred metres from the egg farm, which is the major source of employment for Pittsworth(see map below).

Local planning laws would make it virtually impossible to relocate the enterprise in the local area, and moving it to a less populated area would not be feasible because of the high staff requirement.

Friends of Felton spokesman Rob McCreath said 'The Ambre Energy project would turn one of Queensland's most productive food-producing regions into an industrial wasteland. There would be terrible consequences for the environment and the community.

'This proposal is simply insane', he added.

Friends of Felton has campaigned for two and a half years against a proposal by Ambre Energy to establish a large open-cut coal mine and petrochemical gasification plant in the highly productive Felton Valley, 30km SW Toowoomba.

Intensive agriculture in Felton area

Felton - Our Food Bowl

13/9/10. The productivity of the Felton area is highlighted in the results of a survey just completed by FOF. The area within 10km of Ambre Energy's proposed project site was surveyed to obtain information on population, employment, water supplies, and food production.

Highlights -

  • 4000 people
  • 540 employed on farms
  • 550 water bores
  • 33,000t/yr summer grains
  • 10,000t/yr winter grains
  • 22.8 million dozen eggs/yr (35% of Qld's production)
  • 5,700t/yr pork (6% of Qld's production)
  • 4 million lettuces/yr
  • 150t/yr organic vegetables
  • 1700 horses

photo: Sare Katchaloo

Download FOF survey here


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Strategic Cropping Land Policy cautiously welcomed

30/8/10. Friends of Felton cautiously welcomes the release of the Queensland Government's strategic cropping land policy. While much of the detail of the proposed legislation has still to be established, the Government's intention to protect farmland should be recognised as a significant step in the right direction.

FOF President Rob McCreath said

'Our population is growing, and our climate is getting hotter and drier. Cropping land makes up only 2.2% of Queensland - we must protect it all to provide food for future generations.'

'Some vitally important issues, which we have raised constantly, appear missing from the policy. Underground aquifers are the lifeblood of rural Queensland, and should be protected along with recharge areas. There must also be buffer zones to protect farmland, the environment, and communities around high impact developments such as open-cut coal mines', he added.

Friends of Felton has campaigned for two and a half years against a proposal by Ambre Energy to establish a large open-cut coal mine and petrochemical gasification plant in the highly productive Felton Valley, 30km SW Toowoomba.

Full details on the policy document here

Media reports (click on the link) - ABC TV Stateline (video & transcript)

Courier Mail here and here 

Toowoomba Chronicle

Race Day Success

23/8/10. Our fundraising Race Day on Saturday was a great success. 230 people gathered in the Grand Marquee at Clifford Park, Toowoomba, and were entertained by the terrific Cool Nights Big Band. A large amount of money was raised for our campaign to protect farmland, the environment, and communities from mining development.

photos: Sare Katchaloo

Solar Power in the Sunshine State

Cloncurry above, Spain below

18/8/10. The Queensland Government's commitment to renewable energy was brought into question this week with revelations in the Courier-Mail that the Government-backed Cloncurry solar thermal power plant had barely got off the ground. The plant was supposed to be the centrepiece of the the Government's solar energy plan to take remote towns off the electricity grid. According to the report, the project had run into problems with glare from the plant's mirrors.

The following day, a second Courier-Mail report revealed -

Despite Energy Minister Stephen Robertson's claims yesterday that his department had commissioned the University of Melbourne to investigate glare issues, the university's Energy Research Institute said that was incorrect.

It is instead understood that one reason for the project delays related to the use of graphite blocks to store heat, instead of proven technology which used molten salt.

Mr Robertson said yesterday that the Government was awaiting an update from the company behind the power station, Lloyd Energy.

He said initial advice from the contractor indicated the technology did not appear to be economically viable.

"However it would be irresponsible to pull up stumps before we have all the necessary information," he said.

"If it doesn't stack up we will invest the remaining funding in an alternative solar project for Cloncurry."

The question must be asked, why invest $7 million in experimental technology when countries like Spain have proven designs in operation? After all, Friends of Felton research shows that the Darling Downs has higher levels of solar irradiation than the south of Spain (scroll down this page to find our renewable energy report).

Beyond Zero Emissions this week launched their Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan - a plan to replace fossil fuel electricity with 100% renewable energy within 10 years, using wind power and large scale solar thermal. You can download the report from the BZE website here. The plan is backed by Melbourne University's Energy Research Institute and engineers Sinclair Knight Merz, and has earned the support of a number of high profile individuals including Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's former Chief Scientist Robin Batterham, and the International Energy Agency's Cedric Philibert.

Read reports here from SMH(Ben Cubby), SMH Business(Paddy Manning), and ABC Environment (Sara Philips)

It's worth remembering that the Queensland Government has a Renewable Energy Plan, which was released in June 2009. In the foreword, Premier Anna Bligh writes:

'My Government recognises that climate change is one of the great challenges of our age. With this plan we continue our efforts to rise to that challenge.'

Download the plan here -


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To put things in perspective, click on the link below for an update on Queensland's coal industry -


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Artist: Sharon O'Phee

Ambre Energy releases plan for Felton destruction

10/8/10. Ambre Energy has released an 'Initial Advice Statement' for its proposed coal-to-fuel&pollution project at Felton. The IAS has been submitted to the Queensland Government as an application for State Significant Project (SSP) status - no surprises there, as the word is that projects with SSP status may well avoid restrictions under upcoming Strategic Cropping Land legislation. To help things along, Ambre Energy has been announced as a sponsor of the Queensland Government's own Major Projects Conference 2010, to be held in Brisbane in October. That's right - the State Government is being paid sponsorship money by a company desperately seeking approval for a highly controversial project. That's rotten.

As for Ambre Energy's plans for Felton, here are a few excerpts -

Ambre Energy Limited subsidiary, Ambre CTL Limited, proposes to develop Australia's first commercial scale coal-to-liquids project at Felton, 30km south west of Toowoomba, Queensland. The project, ambreCTL, will have an overall footprint of 2,000ha and will incorporate an eight million tonnes per annum open cut mine to supply four million tonnes per annum of feed coal to an above ground coal gasification facility for on-site liquid fuel production.In addition to the coal-to-liquids facility and open cut mine, the site will contain a coal preparation plant, dams, conveyor systems, and a power generation plant.

The conceptual mine pit limits are defined by Hodgson Creek to the south and east, Pittsworth-Felton Road to the north and the ability to extract the coal economically to the west.

The main elements of the mining and coal preparation operation are shown in Figure 2.2 and include:
 clearing of vegetation ahead of mining and selective stripping of the topsoil to be stockpiled for later use in the rehabilitation program
 drilling and blasting of the overburden
 overburden removal by conventional truck/loading unit methods
 separation of the coal and waste plys with dozers
 mining of the target seams and removal of the waste plys
 processing of the ROM coal through crushers prior to processing through a CHPP plant
 washing of the coal in the CHPP prior to processing in the CTL plant
 disposal of the coal fine and coarse rejects from the CHPP into a tailings dam and/or waste dumps and
 reshaping of waste dumps, replacement of topsoil and revegetation of all mined out and backfilled areas.

Water will be required for the coal mining, CHPP and CTL process operations. Potential sources of water for the project include the following:
 recycled water from the South East Queensland water grid
 wastewater from water treatment plants in the Toowoomba region
 water harvesting on-site and
 other government-controlled sources.

As part of the EIS, a hydrologic and hydraulic model of the surface water catchment will be developed to determine the most appropriate location for mine infrastructure and the location of any flood mitigation measures considered necessary for the project. In this context, the project elements will be designed to isolate the mining and processing areas from Hodgson Creek.
The project will therefore include the construction of a flood protection levee on the western side of Hodgson Creek to prevent flooding of the pits and to ensure that properties upstream of the project are not impacted adversely during flood events.
Water run-off from mining activities has the potential to carry sediment which may impact on the local environment.

The ground water sources in the project area are the alluvial plains of Hodgson Creek, the Walloon sandstones, the Hutton (Marburg) sandstones and the basalts.

Ground water studies will be conducted prior to the start of mining operations to quantify aquifers and to ascertain the impacts of mining on these aquifers.

Water extracted by the mining process will be used for such purposes as process water and dust suppression.

The regional ecosystem map presented in Figure 3.1 shows remnant vegetation currently mapped in the area of the proposed mining leases.

The remnant vegetation area shaded pink is classified as 'endangered' under the Queensland Vegetation Management Act (1999).

The regional ecosystem map shows a small area of dominant endangered RE11.3.21, Queensland Bluegrass (Dicanthium sericeum) Grassland (shaded pink) and there has been a recording of a threatened plant species, Finger Panic Grass (Digitaria porrecta). Additional rare or threatened flora taxa may be present in the project area...

As well as being listed as an Endangered Regional Ecosystem in Queensland, RE 11.3.21 is a component of the Critically Endangered Ecological Community 'Natural grasslands on basalt and fine-textured alluvial plains of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland', protected under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) as a matter of national environmental significance.

Mining will result in the removal of remnant native vegetation, predominantly Coolabah (Eucalyptus coolabah) and Mountain Coolabah (Eucalyptus orgadophila) woodland as well as a smaller area of Queensland Bluegrass dominated grassland.

During operation, impacts on air quality will be generated by the following activities:
 dust from the mining operations and coal handling processes
 flue gas emissions from the CTL processing facility and
 plant odours.
The principal dust sources will include heavy mining equipment movements, topsoil stripping, coal handling and coal haulage to the rail load out. During mining operations, dust generation will be managed by the use of water for haul road watering, sprays on crushers and transfer points, and progressive rehabilitation.
Flue gas emissions from the processing facility will contain standard combustion products including CO2, H2O, N2 and trace amounts of other pollutants including NOx, SOx, CO and VOCs. Appropriate plant design and operational controls will ensure that these emissions are maintained within acceptable limits and legislative requirements.

The project is expected to produce approximately 4.2 Mt/yr of CO2, of which more than 79 percent (3.4 Mt/yr) will be captured in a high purity form during processing.

Ambre Energy will continue working with government to find solutions related to CO2 storage; but until such options are available, the captured CO2 will be safely vented on-site.

Due to the topography, the ambreCTL site is highly visible from adjacent public roads and presents a vista of cultivated paddocks extending up to vegetated hill tops. Due to the small rural population, there is a limited amount of domestic lighting. This results in a clear night sky. This landscape will be progressively removed as activities associated with mining and the work areas will need to be illuminated continuously.

Ambre Energy will undertake a stakeholder engagement and consultation program to identify and inform stakeholders of the proposed project, EIS timeframes and decision-making processes, and to provide adequate opportunities for stakeholders to raise issues, voice concerns, ask questions and contribute to the studies.
Mitigation measures will be developed to minimise adverse impacts and maximise benefits to local and regional communities.

In addition to the potential hazards already identified as associated with an open cut mining operation, there are potential hazards associated with the production, storage and transportation of ULP and LPG.

You can download the entire horror story here -



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Tara residents blockade gas company

10/8/10. A group of Tara residents has formed a blockade to stop gas company QGC from carrying out seismic testing on residential land on the outskirts of town.

Courier-Mail report here

Huge Protest at State Parliament

5/8/10. Hundreds of farmers and environmentalists gathered outside State Parliament in Brisbane yesterday to demand action to protect our farmland, our environment, and our communities from mining.

The protest was the lead story on the evening news bulletins of all 4 major TV channels.

Watch the video reports here -

Channel 10 (recommended!) Channel 9 Channel 7 ABC

PlaceStory (recommended)

Photos: mister potatohead

Felton Hall packed for Election Forum

4/8/10. Felton Hall was packed last night for an election forum for the electorate of Groom. Sitting MP Ian MacFarlane (LNP) was joined for the debate by Chris Meibusch (ALP) and Frida Forsberg (GRN).

ToowoombaNews.com.au report here

ABC Rural Report here - includes audio link


Photos: mister potatohead

Coal Gasification contamination at Chinchilla

31/7/10. Farmers near Chinchilla, have blamed the nearby Carbon Energy underground coal gasification(UCG) plant for the deaths of turtles and higher-than-normal mercury levels in Kogan Creek. According to the Australian, tests conducted by the local Landcare group in January revealed mercury levels five times the allowable limit.

The ABC quoted Western Downs Mayor Ray Brown. who raised concerns about the time taken for the State Government to act.

"We were informed back in March of this year that there was an incident of concern at Kogan - we immediately forwarded that on through the departments through to DERM," he said.

"Now we followed up on probably six occasions what was happening and we still have had no response to that initial concerns back in March.

"These products shouldn't be there - I don't care where they've come from - they shouldn't be there so we must find out where it is.

DERM Director-General John Bradley said more test would be carried out

"There is no evidence of exceedence of stock watering guidelines so we don't see exceedences in relation to benzene or toluene as was detected at Kingaroy.

"We don't see exceedences in relation to heavy metals - we see some hydrocarbons there - but it's not yet clear whether or not those hydrocarbons are explained by naturally occurring sources."

Local farmer Rob Lohse said he became worried when turtles started dying several months ago.

"This is only in its early stages - the stuff next door to us, they've just started and we've got chemical in our water," he said.

"Kogan water supply comes off this creek and we're on Kogan Creek - it's a big creek and it ends up in the Condamine.

"Chinchilla water supply comes out of the Condamine - it just goes on, so it is serious."

More media reports -

ABC - more tests at Kogan Creek

ABC - Carbon Energy downplays fears

Toowoomba Chronicle - Anger over water test cover-up

Related coverage - ABC - Kingaroy residents continue fight


MP wants Kingaroy UCG plant shut down

Nanango Independent MP Dorothy Pratt has called for the Cougar Energy underground coal gasification plant near Kingaroy to be shut down.

An article in today's Sunday Mail reports:

In a letter to Premier Anna Bligh on July 16, a day after the issue was debated at Estimates in State Parliament, Mrs Pratt asked why it took four weeks for the Government or Cougar Energy to reveal the contamination.

"Why was the community put in possible jeopardy for that period of time?" Mrs Pratt asked in an email to the Premier.

Cougar Energy had been open and informative and built up some trust in the community by creating a consultative group, Mrs Pratt argued.

"If Cougar Energy's monitoring recorded an issue on 16/6/2010 and if the Government knew on the 30/06/2010, was there a cover-up by both Cougar Energy and government? Was there an intention not to inform those at most risk of this breach as it would appear to be?"

After initially considering the project and offering 98 per cent support for it, Mrs Pratt wants the plant shut down.

"Obviously the process has failed, the company has failed and the government has failed to monitor sufficiently to protect the community. They can pack their meccano set and leave," she said.

Read the full article here

More media coverage -

Courier-Mail:Cougar sacks staff - report here

Courier-Mail:New tests show lower levels of chemicals - report here

Sunday Mail:Concerns over risk of beef contamination - report here

UCG crisis deepens

21/7/10. The impact of the underground coal gasification(UCG) pollution incident at Kingaroy deepened today with the news that farmers in the surrounding area have been banned from selling their cattle until their properties have been cleared of chemical contamination. Read the Courier-Mail report here.

Meanwhile, the ABC reported that the head of Biosecurity Queensland, Dr Ron Glanville, has 'no clear advice yet for livestock producers with cattle or horses who have consumed water within the two-kilometre radius of the Cougar Energy pilot plant. He says this is a type of chemical contamination that they have never dealt with before, and his department is still collating all available information to allow them to give solid advice.'

"All we're asking livestock producers to do at this stage is to hold off selling livestock if they can, until we can get a better handle on the situation and give them better advice," Dr Glanville says.

"We haven't got any test results yet on the animals that have been drinking the contaminated water, because we haven't had to deal with this sort of chemical issue before, and there's no developed test for animals at this stage, but we're working on that at this stage as well."

Cancer risk makes coal gasification a non-starter

20/7/10. Contamination of groundwater at Kingaroy by the cancer-causing chemicals benzene and toluene from the Cougar Energy Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) plant has highlighted the health risks of Ambre Energy's proposed coal-to-fuel project at Felton.

Ambre Energy plans to gasify 8 million tonnes/year of coal above ground at Felton in a petrochemical plant after open-cut mining.

If underground coal gasification pollutes groundwater with cancer-causing chemicals, it's likely that above-ground gasification would pollute the air with the same chemicals. Four thousand people live within a 10km radius of the proposed Felton project site, including the residents of Pittsworth. The health risks of the proposed Ambre Energy project have just become clearer and more frightening. The Queensland Government must stop the Ambre project immediately.

Friends of Felton has proposed the establishment of renewable energy infrastructure at Felton as an alternative to coal mining development.

Renewable energy - a better option for Felton

Coal gasification poisons Kingaroy aquifers

19/7/10. The Cougar Energy Underground Coal Gasification(UCG) plant near Kingaroy has been shut down by the Queensland Government after traces of carcinogenic benzene and toluene were found in groundwater. Read the Courier-Mail story here, and ABC news report here. ABC Lateline reported that Cougar Energy had detected benzene and toluene in April, but had taken until the end of June to inform DERM (Dept Environment & Resource Management). A DERM officer has been stood down for taking another 2 weeks to act.

This incident highlights the inadequacy of the environmental regulation of the mining industry in Qld. Why should companies be allowed to monitor their own operations? Surely DERM should do the monitoring, and the companies should foot the bill.

There are a number of implications for Ambre Energy's proposed plant at Felton. Ambre Energy want to gasify coal above ground (after open-cut mining). If UCG produces benzene and toluene underground, then obviously the Ambre Energy petrochemical plant would emit the same chemicals from its chimney. What effect would that have on the health of nearby residents, eg those living in Pittsworth - only a few km from the plant? If UCG damages aquifers, then open-cut mining destroys them totally.

Felton on the National Agenda

Greens Larissa Waters & Bob Brown with FOF's Rob McCreath at Hodgson Creek


Last week's visit to Felton by Greens leader Bob Brown has put Felton firmly on the national agenda.

'The jaws of death are opening wider for Australia, ensuring maximum economic damage when they finally snap shut, crocodile-style. Instead of making a smooth, early transition to a clean economy we are doubling up our coal bet, and the latest manifestation - coal-to-liquids - is a perfect example.'

So wrote Sydney Morning Herald journalist Paddy Manning on Saturday. Read the full article here

Manning puts the spotlight on Ambre Energy's proposed Felton project -

'So we are now countenancing a $3.5 billion proposal, from Ambre Energy of Brisbane, to develop an open-cut coal mine and the country's first coal-to-liquids petrochemical plant on about 2000 hectares of land at Felton, near Toowoomba, amid the fertile dryland cropping country of the Darling Downs.

'The greenhouse implications? Enormous. Ambre says its plant would emit 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, and that does not count the emissions from burning the petrol, which would add another 2.2 million tonnes a year. In ballpark terms, that is 1 per cent of the country's total current emissions for this one project.

'About 3.5 million tonnes of pure CO2 is captured as part of the gasification process and, while the initial plan is to ''vent'' it (you know where), Ambre aims to find storage sites in the nearby, prospective Surat Basin or - nirvana, triple whammy - use the trapped gas for enhanced oil recovery, targeting depleted oil fields in the Surat Basin.'

Senator Barnaby Joyce has been an outspoken supporter of our campaign. This morning in an interview with Belinda Sanders on ABC Southern Qld he accused the Qld Govt of hypocrisy on climate change.

'They're selling all the coal they can dig up, and they're banging on about climate change. What horse are they on?' he said.

When asked for his opinion on mining at Felton, he spoke about LNP policy to protect prime farmland, and stated that 'the land at Felton is as good as you'd see'.

Read the speech Barnaby Joyce made on Felton to the Senate last November below -


Bob Brown fights for Felton

6/7/10. Greens leader Bob Brown visited Felton yesterday, and vowed he would do everything he could to stop the proposed coal mining development going ahead.












Senator Brown was met by Friends of Felton members in Pittsworth, and given a guided tour of the area Ambre Energy would like to turn into an open-cut mine and petrochemical plant.


Of particular interest were:- the egg-packing plant which packs 1 million eggs/day, 1km from the proposed project boundary; indigenous heritage sites around Mt Rolleston - the proposed petrochemical plant site; remnant vegetation including valuable koala habitat throughout the area; newly emerged wheat crops on the fertile rich black soil; Hodgson Creek - right next to the proposed mine site -  an important tributary of the Condamine River in the headwaters of the Murray-Darling river system.












Toowoomba Chronicle report here (John Farmer)

ABC News report here (Sam Burgess)

Bigpond News report here

The Age report here

Listen to Bob Brown's interview with Steve Austin on 612 ABC Brisbane here



Vive le Tour! Vive Felton!

25/6/2010. Friends of Felton supporters were out in force today to greet the competitors in the Tour of Toowoomba cycle race as they passed through Felton on today's first stage from Clifton to Pittsworth.

Watch the YouTube video here

Ambre Energy sponsorship compromises development assessment process and makes hypocrites of the Government

21/6/2010. Friends of Felton is appalled at the news that Ambre Energy is to sponsor the Queensland Government's Major Projects Conference, scheduled for October 2010.

The Queensland Government website   http://www.dip.qld.gov.au/news-media-and-events/registration-2.html sets the scene for the conference thus:

'In keeping with the Queensland Government's vision for Queensland through Toward Q2: Tomorrow's Queensland, the Major Projects Conference 2010 will reflect the five ambitions of strong, green, smart, healthy and fair throughout this one-day, annual event.'

Government acceptance of the Ambre Energy sponsorship is an act of utter hypocrisy. Pretending that a coal-to-fuel project can be somehow labelled as 'green, smart and healthy' is ridiculous, and suggests this government is interested solely in short term financial gain with no regard to the future.

The Ambre Energy project would destroy a prime farming district, causing major damage to creeks and rivers in the headwaters of the Murray Darling Basin, while draining and polluting underground aquifers.  In addition, it would devastate a large area of highly significant remnant vegetation, negatively impact a vibrant and cohesive rural community, destroy significant indigenous cultural heritage sites, consume enormous quantities of water and emit massive amounts of carbon dioxide.

How can such a project possibly be described as green, smart or healthy?  How can acceptance of Ambre Energy sponsorship possibly be considered fair?  Given that the Queensland Government is responsible for assessing and licensing mining proposals, it should not be accepting gratuities from controversial and unpopular proponents.  It's clear that the development assessment process has been hopelessly compromised.

Friends of Felton has proposed the establishment of renewable energy infrastructure at Felton as an alternative to coal mining development.  Unlike the Ambre Energy proposal, this initiative certainly would be green, smart, healthy and fair.



Great support for FOF

9/6/2010. FOF had a stall at each of 2 events in Toowoomba last weekend. World Environment Day celebrations at Lake Annand Park had the theme 'Many Species, One Planet, One Future'.We made a lot of new friends.

Queensland Day celebrations at Picnic Point took place in very windy conditions - encouragement for visitors to find out more about our renewable energy plan.

Last night we had a fundraising function at the Toowoomba Repertory Theatre. Tickets sold out fast and the night was a great success.

The Premier comes to town

photo: Kevin Farmer

30/5/2010.Premier Anna Bligh drove to Toowoomba on Friday, to spend an hour and a half talking about nothing much on commercial radio CFM, before driving back to Brisbane. As one of the CFM presenters put it 'this is about fun today, we're not talking about politics'!

A lively band of FOF supporters joined in the fun on the footpath outside to welcome the Premier. 'Felton' the koala presented Ms Bligh with a copy of our renewable energy study. She later told the Toowoomba Chronicle 'I gave them a commitment that I would read it, and I can tell you now that I will read it on the way back in the car'.

FOF saved the day - it wasn't a complete waste of the Premier's time after all.

Read the Toowoomba Chronicle report here

Clean Energy a viable option for Felton

24/5/2010. The Felton Valley has great potential as a renewable energy site, a report out today reveals.

Sustainable Energy Systems consultant Trevor Berrill was commissioned by Friends of Felton to carry out a study of the renewable energy potential of the area, as an alternative to coal development.

Felton, 30km southwest of Toowoomba, Qld, is under threat from a proposal by Ambre Energy to build a large open-cut coal mine and petrochemical plant to convert the coal into liquid fuel.

The report says the Felton Valley has a number of attributes that make it suitable for development as a smart, distributed grid area, including:

  • Access to good renewable energy resources of both wind and solar energy,
  • Potential hydro storage/power sites,
  • Potential usable land area that doesn't conflict with current food production on fertile soils,
  • Access to large and small electrical system transmission and distribution lines,
  • A supportive community looking for an alternative to coal mining,
  • Proximity to a major growth corridor in SE Queensland.

The report reveals that Felton has higher levels of solar radiation than southern Spain, a major global solar power region.

Recent data released by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that Australia is already feeling the effects of climate change. Every decade since the 1950s has been hotter than the one before. At the same time, our population is forecast by the Government to increase from 22million now to 36million by 2050, giving rise to concerns about possible food shortages in the future.

Renewable Energy at Felton is clearly a much better option than coal mining. It would protect the quality and quantity of food production capacity, the environment, and the community. It would produce clean power and provide lots of new jobs. This example could be replicated across the country, and provide a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

Download the report here -


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No Royalties for Toowoomba Region

20/5/2010. A large number of regional Queensland mayors and councillors gathered in Brisbane yesterday for a workshop organised by LGAQ on 'Royalties for Regions'. The workshop discussed the issue of returning a proportion of royalties to the communities they come from.

Toowoomba Regional Council mayor Peter Taylor told the Toowoomba Chronicle -

"There are so many impacts from mining. There needs to be some sort of mechanism to bring back some of the financial benefits the State and Federal governments reap."


Western Downs Regional Council mayor Ray Brown said mining companies injected massive wealth into State Government coffers.

"We just want a percentage of that for our communities," Cr Brown said.

This seems like a sensible plan. The only problem is that as far as the Toowoomba Region is concerned, the Queensland Government gets very little in royalties from the existing mines at Millmerran and Acland, due to the existence of private coal rights. Mining companies have bought land with private coal rights attached, and are now paying royalties to themselves. If mining was approved at Felton, the Qld Govt would get no royalties for the same reason. See previous post on this page for more information.

Watch the 7.30 Report story on Acland from 3rd May.

500 Rally against CSG at Cecil Plains

20/5/2010. 500 farmers rallied near Cecil Plains on Wednesday to protest against the rapidly-advancing Coal Seam Gas industry. 4 major companies are racing to extract gas from under the Darling Downs, and pipe it to Gladstone for export as LNG. None of these companies has had an Environmental Impact Statement approved by the Queensland Government.

Rally organiser Dave Armstrong called for a moratorium on the industry until major environmental questions could be answered, including -

What impact does gas extraction have on the Great Artesian Basin?

Can gas companies guarantee that shallow aquifers, relied upon by farmers and communities, will not be adversely impacted by the industry?

What does the industry plan to do with the huge quantities of toxic salty water that is brought to the surface as part of the gas extraction process?

Mr Armstrong said 'We're fighting the complete industrialisation of land that has the best farming soil in the nation....we simply want a pause so that the science of what is happening is properly explored'

Meantime, the Queensland Government introduced new laws to Parliament this week. In a statement, Minster for Mines & Energy Stephen Robertson said the new laws 'aim to provide a more consistent and transparent process to improve landholders' rights when their land is accessed for coal seam gas exploration'.

"The resource and agricultural sectors are the backbone of the rural and regional Queensland economy and their co-existence is critical to the long term economic prosperity of the State,"
Mr Robertson said.

"The CSG industry has major potential to create job and investment in Queensland which is why we must get the balance right between supporting this growing industry and protecting valuable farmland, ground water supplies, and the environment generally," he added.

FOF response: How can farming co-exist with CSG if groundwater aquifers are drained & contaminated, and millions of tonnes of salt is dumped on the surface? How can the Qld Govt claim to be 'getting the balance right' when not a single mine or CSG project has been rejected because of its impact on farmland?

Courier-Mail reports here and here

Toowoomba Chronicle report here

Queensland Country Life report here

Watch the 60 Minutes report 'Undermined'

Larvatus Prodeo blog discussion here - Coal Seam Gas prospects: economic bonanza or future industrial wasteland?

14/5/2010. NSW Govt's first ever coal mine rejection

The NSW Government today announced it would not allow the proposed Bickham Coal Mine, in the state's Upper Hunter, to go ahead due to the risk of contamination of a nearby river, and the threat to the region's thoroughbred horse industry.

Premier Kristina Keneally said she believed it was the first time the NSW Government had ever rejected a coal mine application.

Read the Sydney Morning Herald report here

Visit the Bickham Coal Mine Action Group site here

Lee Rhiannon, Greens MP and mining spokesperson welcomed the Premier's announcement.
"This is a great win for one community, but it only has wider significance if it is the start of a genuine shift by the NSW government from its addiction to damaging coal mining to investing in clean, sustainable energy production," Ms Rhiannon said.

"Knocking back this mine because of the $2.4 billion thoroughbred industry is a drop in the ocean, with many other mining proposals throughout NSW threatening precious water supplies and local industries.

"A true beginning will occur when the government gives appropriate weight to the impact of all coal mine proposals on local communities and the environment.

"This government has initiated the biggest expansion of coal mining in the state's history, at a time when climate change tightens its grasp on the planet.

"Premier Keneally should not stop at Bickham but now turn her eye to the other coal communities around the state hoping that today's decision signals the end of their fight to preserve their health and quality of life," Ms Rhiannon said.

12/5/2010. It's time to stand up to King Coal

With the Australian mining industry protesting loudly about the proposed 'Super Profits' tax, the publication of an essay in this month's edition of The Monthly by Guy Pearse couldn't be more timely. He puts the spotlight on 'King Coal', and examines the social, environmental, and economic impacts of the coal industry in light of the incestuous relationship between Governments and mining companies.

If you don't have time to read the whole essay, here are a few snippets -

Coalmining has a long history in Australia, but coal wasn't an important export until the last few decades.

The coal push became a rush, and Australia quickly became headquarters for a global trade that bakes as it booms..

Few appreciate the incomprehensible magnitude and pace of the current rush, or ponder its climate-changing consequences.

Coal used to be labour intensive: in 1908 it employed more than three-and-a-half times as many people (as a share of Australia's population) as it does today.

With every tonne of coal generating 2.7 tonnes of CO2, our exports generate more than 750 million tonnes of CO2 annually - much more than the emissions occurring in Australia. The plan to double exports before 2020 puts us on track to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's largest carbon exporter in the next 15 years.

The scale of the expansion makes it easy to forget that the industry is the result of more than a century of deliberate and generous government subsidy.

Successive generations of politicians and bureaucrats have decided that doubling the stakes to stay at the table is the way to avoid paying coal liabilities. Just keep playing, and let the next generation cash in what's left of the chips.

Governments are behaving as if the more hopeless their coal addiction, the less likely it is they will be asked to quit.

Queensland is currently spending more on coal-related infrastructure ($15.6 billion) than it has made from coal royalties over the past decade ($11.4 billion).

In NSW the planning laws have been rewritten so that protections that would normally apply can be swept aside by ministerial fiat once a project is declared to be of state significance - which most coalmines are.

Only in its wish to delve under the prime agricultural land atop the headwaters and aquifers of the Murray-Darling has the industry confronted formidable opposition. Farmers on the Liverpool Plains and the Darling Downs have the resources and know-how to give mining companies a black eye.

The food-versus-coal campaigns could spark a rethink of Australia's support for the coal rush - and become much more than localised 'NIMBY' battles.

So the coal rush rolls on, with no one really challenging the legitimacy of coalmining in the face of climate change.

And with few exceptions, no one wants the fight. Most can't imagine our economy would still double in size by the mid-2030s if we phased out coal production entirely. We know precious little about what's being gambled on coal: the rivers, farms, towns, schools, war memorials, families and countless dreams. Perhaps it's time we started asking 'What's the rush?'

Read the whole essay here

Read Guy Pearse's Sierra Club Magazine article 'Addicts and Enablers' here

30/4/10 Food Security hot topic

The security of Australia's food supply was the hot topic when Federal Shadow Minister for Agriculture & Food Security, John Cobb, visited Felton today to meet with the FOF committee. Accompanied by State Member for Condamine, Ray Hopper, Mr Cobb had earlier toured areas affected by Coal Seam Gas development around Roma, and visited the Haystack Rd area - threatened by both mining and CSG.

Earlier in the day, Senator Nick Xenophon launched an attack on Chinese food imports to Australia. Speaking at a conference in Adelaide, he said

"If we become reliant on one country (China) that can be unhealthy. If we don't keep our primary production up then there is a vulnerability in having to rely on another country for supply, whether there is a supply chain problem or a political dispute,"

"It is extraordinary that we can spend over $20 billion a year to protect our geographical borders and our strategic interests, and therefore our sovereignty, but we didn't think to protect our food production, leaving us dependent on countries we may not always have good relations with in the future." he added.

Given that Queensland has "enough coal to last 300 years" (Premier Anna Bligh 26/4/09), and that cropping land makes up only 2.2% of Queensland's land area (Qld Govt Feb 2010), common sense demands that it be protected from destruction by mining or gas extraction.


Political failure on climate change

On the day that the Australian Government withdrew its Emissions Trading Scheme from parliament, amidst a storm of political point-scoring from all directions, it's worth reflecting on the recent 'State of the Climate' report released jointly last month by two of our most trusted scientific bodies - the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

The report makes the following conclusions -

Australia will be hotter in coming decades

Much of Australia will be drier in coming decades

It is very likely that human activities have caused most of the global warming observed since 1950

Climate change is real

Democracy NSW-style

In a blatant abuse of the democratic process, the NSW Government has introduced to State Parliament an amendment to mining legislation designed to circumvent the historic 5th March ruling of the Supreme Court of NSW which found in favour of two Quirindi farming families against BHP Billiton.

Tim Duddy, spokesman for the Caroona Coal Action Group said "It's gravely concerning that everytime the mining industry is shown to have done the wrong thing, they put pressure on the government to change things even if there's going to be huge environmental harm. It's unbelievable."

Ambre propaganda carries disclaimer

Readers of the Toowoomba Chronicle last week were treated to a free 4 page glossy brochure extolling the virtues of the latest version of Ambre Energy's dirty plan for coal development at Felton. The new project name 'ambre CTL' is supposed to refer to 'Coal-to-Liquids', but has been renamed by locals as 'Can't Trust this Lot'. This scepticism was proved to be well founded. An alert Toowoomba Chronicle reader drew the public's attention to the disclaimer in small print on the back page of the brochure -

'The information in this publication is distributed by Ambre Energy Limited as an information source only. The information is provided solely on the basis that readers will be responsible for making their own assessment of the matters discussed herein and are advised to verify all relevant representations, statements and information.'

Here are a few statements from the brochure which badly need verification -

'This new project is expected to have many welcome economic benefits for Queensland, including job creation, royalties and taxation income...'

(The State of Queensland would receive no royalties from this project - see previous post)

'A flood levee will be constructed to help ensure runoff does not enter Hodgson Creek'

(That's probably what the Ensham mine's owners said too)

'The facility will be designed as a zero liquid discharge facility....'

'Air emissions from the facility will be similar to the emissions from a gas-fired power plant'

'Ambre Energy does not intend to extract groundwater for the operation of ambreCTL'

(Drainage of groundwater aquifers is a certainty if this goes ahead. Who cares if it's intentional or not?)

'The production process will be designed using world's best practice for coal gasification, including CO2 capture, to reduce emissions'

(CO2 capture without storage is no more than a gimic)

'Ambre Energy will work closely with landholders to identify needs and concerns and to minimise uncertainty...'

(When will this policy be implemented we wonder?)

We've saved the best until last -

'Ambre Energy will work closely with local landholders, communities and interest groups to deliver positive environmental, social and economic outcomes for the local area'

(What a lot of rubbish!)


A Dirty Business

ABC Four Corners last night focussed on the health impacts of mining in the Hunter Valley, NSW. You can watch the program or read a transcript here.

Read some of the 687 comments sent to the online forum after the program screening.

Last week, the release of the National Pollution Inventory provided further proof of the impact of mining on communities. According to a Sydney Morning Herald report, 'In NSW, the Hunter Valley and the Lithgow regions rated as the state's most polluted areas because of the number of coal-based activities there. Singleton is one of the worst towns, surrounded by at least seven mines which together produced more than 18 million kilograms of dust, 7.4 million kilograms of nitrogen oxides and 4.9 million kilograms of carbon monoxide in the 2008-09 year.'

Friends of Felton is determined not to allow the Hunter Valley experience to be replicated on the Darling Downs. We must protect our farmland, our environment, and our communities.

Qld Government confirms no royalties from a Felton mine

Legal advice obtained by Friends of Felton indicates that royalties payable on any coal mined at Felton would not be payable to the Queensland Government.

Section 8 (2) (b) of the Qld Mineral & Resources Act 1989 states

"Coal on or below the surface of the land is the property of the Crown except where that land was alienated in fee simple by the Crown before 1 March 1910"

Farms at Felton were granted freehold title long before 1910.

In response to a Question on Notice asked on 23rd February 2010 by Dorothy Pratt MP, Minister for Mines & Energy Stephen Robertson revealed that in the last 10 years, coal royalties of $554 million had accrued to "parties other than the Crown".

The Minister's answer confirms our legal advice. We know that mining at Felton would have terrible impacts on the environment, agriculture, and the community at large. If the State would gain no royalties, why on earth would the Government allow it to go ahead?

Read the Channel Nine news website report here

Listen to Rob McCreath's interview with Steve Austin on ABC 612 radio here.

Courier-Mail report here.




Lights out in Sydney for 840 years to offset emissions from Felton project

Earth Hour last night attracted widespread support around the world, to draw attention to the need to cut carbon emissions to combat global warming.

The ABC reported that cities around the world turned lights off for one hour to symbolise the need for urgent action. It reported that in Sydney, a 6.3% reduction in energy usage was recorded during the event - equivalent to 15.9 tonnes of carbon emissions.

This puts an interesting perspective on Ambre Energy's proposed Felton CTL project. The planned petrochemical plant alone would produce 3 million t/year of CO2, according to the company.

Total CO2 production from the 40 year life of the petrochemical plant would be 120 million tonnes

In order to offset the CO2 emissions from the Ambre petrochemical plant, Sydney would have to turn its lights out for 840 years!

Huge questions over Ambre plan

This week's announcement from Ambre Energy has left so many unanswered questions. Here are a few for starters -

How can anyone take the plan seriously when there is so much doubt over the huge water supply required?

How could Ambre raise the funds to build a pipeline from Ipswich, and pump water over the Great Dividing Range, when Qld Govt policy is to return recycled water into Brisbane's dams if and when levels drop below 40%?

How can Ambre possibly get support for a project with such enormous greenhouse gase emissions?

Would this project not be an international embarassment, given that Australia already has the highest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases in the world?

And on a more local level -

Why won't Ambre hold a public meeting at Felton to explain its plans to the community?

Why won't Ambre tell the community who's on its so-called 'Community Liason Group'?

Media reports - Toowoomba Chronicle, and again, and again. ABC radio

Proposed open-cut mine site 24th March 2010

Ambre changes plans AGAIN

Ambre Energy have announced yet another major change to their plans for Felton.

They have abandoned the so-called Felton Clean Coal Project, which was to produce DME (di-methyl ether).

They now propose a project called ambreCTL (coal-to-liquids), to produce petrol.

Key details of the new proposal:

Project area - 2800ha.

Mine production - 8 million t/yr, coal washed to produce 4Mt/yr feed coal for petrochemical plant.

Plant production - 940 Ml/yr ULP, 150Ml/yr LPG, 19,000 t/yr sulphur.

Water consumption - 'at least' 4000Ml/yr.

Water source - 'probably' new pipeline to bring recylced water from Ipswich, 'possibly' coal seam gas water from Dalby.

CO2 emissions - 3 million t/yr, released into the atmosphere without capture & storage.

Site of proposed petrochemical plant to be moved 3km west from previous plan, putting it right next to Mt Rolleston, a local landmark well known for its aboriginal sites. It would also be adjacent to a free range chicken farm with 50,000 laying hens, and close to an egg packing plant which handles 1 miilion eggs/day.

Cost of project - $3.5billion.

EIS - the current EIS process will be stopped. A new mining lease application will be lodged, draft Terms of Reference for the new EIS will be released, and so on. In other words, we're back to Square 1.

We are outraged at this latest proposal. This is the 4th plan Ambre have put forward since they first came to Felton in January 2008. First they planned to make crude oil, then they said they'd produce DME, which they boasted was 'a clean new fuel for the century'. The company's advertising included pictures of green leaves protruding from a fuel nozzle (see below). Now all that has been thrown out the window. The subscript 'clean coal technologies' has been removed from the company logo.

This project would have unacceptable impacts on agriculture, the environment, and the community. It would transform a prime farming area with great environmental, social, and cultural importance into a pollution blackspot.

Ambre Energy has no credibility left. They think they can raise $3.5billion to get this project off the ground. They're dreaming.

Lots to love....Lots to lose

The Toowoomba Region's tourism authority this week launched a new marketing campaign, with the slogan 'Lots to love'.



In a report in the Toowoomba Chronicle, Marketing Manager Geoff Thompson explained the focus of the campaign this way -

"It's simple. There's lots to love about our fresh country air, love our crisp winter mornings, love visiting friends and family, love the peace of the rural landscape and love the colourful change of seasons,"

There is indeed lots to love about Toowoomba and the Darling Downs, but by implication there is also lots to lose if we're not careful. Virtually the entire area is covered in coal exploration permits, mineral development licences, and mining lease applications. If anyone is in any doubt about the impact of mining in our region, we suggest you visit Acland - where the New Acland mine has been an environmental & social disaster.There's no fresh country air nor peaceful rural landscape there anymore...

We must learn from the Acland experience, and take a stand now to protect our farmland, our environment, and our communities from mining.

Ambre Energy no show at Pittsworth

Clifton Show

Friends of Felton had a stand at Clifton Show two weeks ago, and Pittsworth Show last weekend. We were greatly encouraged by the messages of support we received from members of the public. We sold shirts and stickers, gave out information brochures, and collected signatures for our petition.

Ambre Energy signed a 3 year sponsorship deal last year with Pittsworth Show, an issue that caused a fair bit of angst in the local community. Last year there was an Ambre Energy stand at the show, but this year there was an empty space in the pavilion.

Why didn't Ambre show up? We were looking forward to asking them if they had found a source of water for their planned coal-to-liquid fuel plant, if they'd found somewhere to put the 8 million tonnes/year of CO2 that would come from their petrochemical plant, and how their plans for land rehabilitation were coming along given that the Queensland Government has announced plans to protect cropping land.


Qld Govt responds to Koala crisis

The Queensland Government has launched an urgent campaign to save the koala. The Koala Response Strategy includes plans to prohibit development on koala habitat in the south east corner of Qld, around Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and the Sunshine Coast.

There is a significant population of koalas in the Felton/Pittsworth area which would be decimated if open-cut mining was permitted in the area. These koalas must be protected too.

Govt boost for large scale renewable energy

The Rudd Government has re-modelled its renewable energy target scheme to make large scale renewable energy more attractive. The change has been welcomed by the RE industry, which has had a number of projects on hold awaiting this announcement. Read the Australian report here.

FOF is investigating the potential for renewable energy at Felton. We know we can co-exist with solar panels and wind turbines, but we cannot with open-cut mines and petrochemical plants.


Olympics put spotlight on Canada's Tar Sands

The Vancouver Winter Olympics has showcased Canada's natural beauty. It's hard to believe the country is home to one of the world's most environmentally destructive industries - the Tar Sands industry.

The Sierra Club, America's largest environmental group with 1.3 million members, has launched a campaign against plans to build a new pipeline to export tar sands oil to the USA. Read more here

What has this got to do with Felton you may ask? Well, quite a lot in fact. Ambre Energy's proposed coal-to-liquid fuel project at Felton would have a lot in common with the tar sands industry - widescale environmental degradation, huge water consumption, and enormous emissions of CO2.

Qld Govt plans to protect farmland

Friends of Felton welcome the announcement that the Qld Govt plans to develop legislation to protect farmland from development. We have called for comprehensive land use planning for some time, and recognise this as an important first step.

On Wednesday, Minister for Infrastructure & Planning Stirling Hinchliffe made the following Ministerial Statement -

Government proposes to protect key food producing land

The Queensland Government has moved to give greater protection to the state's most important food growing land from incompatible development such as mining, urban and other development.

Minister for Infrastructure and Planning Stirling Hinchliffe today announced the release of a discussion paper designed to conserve and manage key food producing land for the long-term.

This discussion paper sets out a planning framework for the protection of important food growing land and invites comments from interested stakeholders to help develop the framework further.

"The proposed new framework will provide increased clarity for agricultural, mining and urban sectors regarding the government's expectations for strategic cropping land," Mr Hinchliffe said.

"This will reduce uncertainty for investors and support sustainable industry growth.

"The proposed framework ensures mining, urban or other development that permanently alienates the land, or reduces its productivity, cannot occur unless it is overwhelmingly in the public interest.

"If a development cannot pass this public-interest test, it will not be approved and the proponents will have to investigate alternative locations.

"Alternately, mining development proponents will need to demonstrate that they can comply with the policy by fully restoring the land back to its previous crop production capacity."

Minister for Primary Industries, Fisheries, Rural and Regional Queensland Tim Mulherin said a key component of the framework would be the identification of strategic cropping land.

Mr Mulherin said the discussion paper and resulting feedback would help identify land areas with the best soil, climate, water supply (rainfall and/or irrigation) and infrastructure that supports cropping well into the future.

"Clear identification of these areas will signal to potential developers that there will be a higher set of expectations from the Queensland Government for avoiding impacts on the agricultural land resources in these areas," Mr Mulherin said.

"While Queensland has a large area of agricultural land, due to poor soils and climatic conditions, most of it is suitable only for grazing.

"Only 3.8 million hectares, or 2.2 per cent, of the state is currently used for growing crops for domestic consumption and export.

"Not only is cropping land scarce, the soils that make it productive are a finite resource that have taken millions of years to develop.

"If we allow these soils to be destroyed by urban development and open-cut mines, for example, we will effectively be reducing our capacity to grow crops into the future to support Queensland's long-term agriculture and food production."

Mr Mulherin said the protection of Queensland's cropping lands was vital to the state's economy and positions Queensland for a future when there may be increasing global concerns about food security.

"Cropping land and the industries it supports are a key component of the Queensland agriculture and agri-food system, which in 2006-07 generated $22.7 billion dollars (about12 per cent of the Gross State Product), and supported one in eight Queensland jobs," he said.

"The United Nations estimates global food production will need to increase by 50 per cent by 2030 and double by 2050 to meet demand.

"And yet the UN estimates up to 25 per cent of global food production could be lost by 2050 due to climate change, loss of agricultural land and water scarcity.

"It is therefore critical that our strategic cropping lands are safeguarded from incompatible development."

Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy and Trade Stephen Robertson said it was important mining and agriculture were able to co-exist.

"The resources sector generates significant economic benefits in rural and regional Queensland," Mr Robertson said.

"In order for these sectors to achieve co-existence we must have policy and planning tools in place that manage potential land use conflict and provide mutually beneficial outcomes to both sectors.

"An important part of the proposal includes examining opportunities to change the resources legislative framework, particularly the Mineral Resources Act 1989 and Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 1994 to enable consideration of strategic cropping land in the tenure assessment and grant process."

Importantly, this new framework is not just about addressing land-use competition between mining and agriculture on the Darling Downs.

The new framework represents a comprehensive, state-wide approach that will ensure Queensland's best cropping land resources are given the same consideration against all types of development that may permanently alienate the land resource.

The framework will guide future planning and development assessment by state agencies and local governments.

The new policy and planning framework will be further developed in coming months in consultation with stakeholders. Through this process the State Government will seek community input on the definition of strategic cropping land and the processes for assessing applications on this land.

The discussion paper is available at www.dip.qld.gov.au/croppingland and will be open to public submissions until March 12.

Toowoomba Chronicle report here

Mines charged with contaminating waterways

Four northwest Queensland mines will be charged for breaches of the Environmental Protection Act following contamination of waterways during last years wet season.

Read the Courier-Mail report here

Further evidence that mines and waterways don't mix.

Secret dinner puts spotlight on mine approval process

Revelations in last week's Courier-Mail that senior cabinet ministers and government bureaucrats attended a secret dinner with mining magnate Gina Reinhart aboard a luxury cruise liner have raised questions over the approval process for mines in Queensland. It was later revealed that bureaucrats attending the dinner were required to declare the hospitality as a gift while ministers were not.

Guests at the dinner included Deputy Premier Paul Lucas, Minister for Mines Stephen Robertson, Qld Parliament Speaker John Mickel, Dept Premier & Cabinet Ken Smith, and Qld Resources Council chief Michael Roche.

The dinner took place shortly after Premier Anna Bligh met Ms Rinehart on December 17th to discuss and accept her application for the Government to declare an "infrastructure facility of significance" on a planned train line from her company Hancock Prospecting's two proposed central-west Queensland mines to the coast at Abbot Point


Future Australians could face starvation: Dick Smith

High profile businessman Dick Smith has warned that Australia may have trouble feeding itself in the future if population growth continues as projected. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently welcomed the prospect of a population of 36 million by 2050. Global population is forecast to increase from 6 billion now to 9 billion in the same period.

If we allow our best farmland to be destroyed by mining, where will the food come from to feed all these people?

Felton project must be assessed in its entirety

In an interview on ABC Radio Qld Country Hour last Wednesday, Ambre Energy's Neil MacGregor let the cat out of the bag with regard to the scale of the project planned for Felton. When asked if Ambre planned to mine 12 million tonnes/year of coal at Felton, Mr MacGregor said it would be "much less than that", but declined to put a figure on it. He late referred to the Felton project as a "30 to 40 year" project. Ambre Energy's Annual Report 2009 claims the Felton coal deposit is 500million tonnes. Simple maths shows that 500 million tonnes divided by 40 years equals 12.5 million tonnes/year.

In the same interview, Mr MacGregor puts the cost of the project at $3billion. That's a lot more than the figure of $485million quoted by the Toowoomba Chronicle(2-9-09) and the Clifton Courier (9-9-09), reporting on a visit to Felton by Qld Resources Council CEO Michael Roche. Indeed, Ambre Energy's submisison to the Federal Government's CPRS Greenpaper states - 'The estimated cost of the Demonstration Stage of the Felton Clean Coal Project is in the order of $400 - $600 million depending on varying projections on the cost of inputs.'

It is quite clear that Ambre Energy's Mining Lease Application over 355ha at Felton is merely the first stage of the huge 2800ha project for which they applied unsuccessfully to the Qld Govt for Significant Project Status in July 2008 - available here in two parts - part 1, part 2.

Friends of Felton insist that the Ambre Energy project must be assessed in it's entirety.

Ambre Energy Felton project going nowhere

Ambre Energy executives visited Felton just before Christmas and revealed the following information about their proposed so-called Felton Clean Coal Project

  •  They have not yet secured a supply of water for the project (16,000 megalitres per year at full scale).
  •  They have no plans for Carbon Capture & Storage, even though their own figures show the project would produce 3 tonnes of CO2 per 1 tonne of fuel.
  •  They may not proceed with plans to produce di-methyl ether (DME), as there is little demand for it in Australia.
  •  The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project may not be released this year.

Friends of Felton spokesman Rob McCreath said, "This is a clearly an unviable project, which would have disastrous consequences for agriculture, the environment, and the community at large."

"Two years have passed since Ambre Energy first announced their plans for the Felton Valley. Local residents are virtual hostages, their lives and plans are in limbo." Mr McCreath said. "The efficiency of the district's cropping and horticultural industries is being reduced by the threat of the mine" he added.

Friends of Felton calls on the Queensland Government to intervene immediately to reject the Ambre Energy proposal, which is clearly not in the public interest.

The Age report

ABC Qld Country Hour report

22/09 2009

Carols for Coal

Friends of Felton joined with environmental group Six Degrees to form a choir to sing carols outside the Queensland Government Executive Building in Brisbane yesterday. Two elves delivered 300 signed Christmas cards with the message 'All I want for Christmas this year is a commitment to protect good quality farmland and nature refuges from coal mining'.

The elves dumped two sacks of coal on the floor, and handed out gift-wrapped pieces of coal to passers-by.

Watch the video

Media report