Investment risks from SCL policy: AMEC

THE Queensland government has released the final maps for areas it deems unsuitable for future coal mining development under its proposed strategic cropping land policy, including parts of the Bowen and Surat Basins. One industry representative has described the push as “reckless”.
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Areas designated for strategic cropping land protection, map courtesy of DERM.

Staff Reporter

While its goal is to introduce the legislation into parliament later this year, yesterday the Bligh government announced the transitional arrangements for this policy would now apply.

The Department of Environment and Resource Management has released maps for strategic cropping protection areas and strategic cropping management areas in the state.

The big difference is that the SCP areas are in regions which host active resources development.

Two SCP maps are available, with the Central Protection Area covering land in the Bowen Basin.

This map features SCL tracts around Emerald in the northwest boundary and stretches to around 10 kilometres northeast of the town of Comet in its northeast border.

The map also extends to more than 15km south of Rolleston.

The other SCP map is for the Southern Protection Area, with the town of Dalby centred inside a vast SCL tract that is shaped like a knife pointing southeast and is up to 60km wide.

“These are the areas of the state that are under intense and imminent development pressure,” DERM said.

“Land within the Strategic Cropping Protection Areas that meets the SCL criteria will be afforded the highest protection by the new legislation.”

However, the transitional arrangements for this policy will apply to existing projects which have already met certain milestones before May 31, such as submitting an environmental impact statement or already finalising EIS Terms of Reference.

“The government intends that projects eligible for transitional arrangements will be able to proceed on strategic cropping land provided they avoid, minimise and mitigate their impact on strategic cropping land,” DERM said.

“Where alienation of strategic cropping land cannot be avoided the proponent must demonstrate the steps taken to avoid SCL and, where not able to avoid SCL, the steps taken to minimise the impact on SCL.”

The state government has also released the Regulatory Assessment Statement of its SCL policy, which is available on DERM’s website.

The RAS includes a schedule of fees for SCL-related applications to the government.

The most expensive is the $A46,253 application fee for assessment of a development proposal that may qualify as an “exceptional circumstance” in an SCP area.

About 42 million hectares, or 24%, of Queensland’s total land area falls under the SCL policy including a total of 4.78 million hectares in the two SCP areas.

The policy also earmarks protection for SCL land from minerals, gas and petroleum development, while there are eight previously announced criteria for determining what could be SCL including:

  • 1. Slope of less than 3-5% depending on the region
  • 2. Rockiness – areas with less than 20% of rocks more than 60 millimetres in diameter
  • 3. Less than 50% of land surface being gilgai microrelief of more than 500mm in depth
  • 4. Soil depth of more than 600mm
  • 5. Drainage which is considered favourable
  • 6. Soil pH of greater than 5 for most soil types
  • 7. Salinity – chloride content of less than 800 milligrams within 600mm of the surface
  • 8. Soil water storage capability

Comments on the policy

Queensland Environment and Resource Management Minister Kate Jones said the state government was making its intentions clear.

“Proponents must consider their impacts on strategic cropping land – it should prompt many to redesign their projects so they can co-exist with farming land,” she said yesterday.

“Allowances will also be made for the limited number of projects that can demonstrate exceptional circumstances, such as where a resource cannot be found anywhere else in the state.”

She added the government was protecting its important food bowls across the state and new mining projects which permanently rendered SCL unusable in the protection areas would not be able to go ahead.

“We are leading the nation in policy that safeguards our best cropping land – other states are now following suit,” Jones said.

“We gave a commitment to rural Queensland, particularly communities of the Surat Basin, that we would introduce a policy that would deal with the increasing land use competition in their area.”

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies Queensland state manager Ross Musgrove described the government’s decision as reckless and said the move could cause companies to reconsider their investment plans.

“The areas defined by the government are so vast that it will potentially cause major impediments to the future of the mining industry in Queensland,” Musgrove said.

"Queensland would be an economic wreck without mining yet the state government seem determined to ignore the financial impact of ruling out mining across a massive area.

"This wholesale mining lockout will scare potential investors and raise doubts about the sovereign risk attached to doing business in Queensland.”

Musgrove said mining was the backbone of the Queensland economy and the industry should not be taken for granted.

"This state cannot afford to take decisions that will have a detrimental effect on investment, jobs and revenue in the future,” he said.

An Xstrata spokesman told ILN he understands that most of the SCL land is outside of the company’s Wandoan project, but a team is currently assessing possible implications to Xstrata projects.

The $A3 billion Wandoan open cut coal project in the Surat Basin has already received federal and state environmental approvals.

Farmers have campaigned against mining in the Darling Downs and Xstrata is yet to give the Wandoan project, which is targeting 30 million tonnes per annum run of mine, corporate board approval.

Xstrata has previously forecast first Wandoan thermal coal exports to start as early as 2014.