THERE are fears the state government's push for brown coal mining could result in mines being approved and built at rapid rates.
Mantle Mining, which has been exploring for brown coal around Parwan and Bacchus Marsh over the past year, announced to the Australian Stock Exchange last week that its drilling program had been completed, with coal thickness in the last of its 12 holes exceeding expectations by 27per cent.
The announcement sent the company's shares soaring by 7.5per cent last Tuesday morning. "These results indicate an excellent potential to deliver a robust maiden Joint Ore Reserves Committee-inferred resource at Bacchus Marsh," the company said.
Mantle is drafting a joint venture agreement with larger mining company Exergen to develop the deposit utilising Exergen's patented continuous hydro-thermal dewatering technology. This would use coal-drying technology to upgrade brown coal into a black coal-equivalent for export to India and China. Exergen's partners include India's Tata Power and Japan's Itochu.
Five 'levels of confidence' are required by the Joint Ore Reserves Committee before a mine can be established, each one defining quality, quantity and characteristics of the coal.
Environment activists and Greens leaders said the government's coal campaign could expedite existing controls and regulations, potentially shaving years off the process.
Friends of the Earth and Quit Coal member Shaun Murray said he had heard the government would streamline major projects and "cut through green tape - which is exactly what the Minerals Council wants."
"Any speeding up is a worry because the controls are already weak," he said.
Mr Murray joined protesters at Premier Ted Baillieu's Camberwell electoral office
last Thursday filling it with dozens of
"This government is now talking about effectively tripling the state's emissions, which dwarfs any other action they could have taken," he said.
Moorabool Environment Group secretary Deb Porter said she would be extremely worried if Exergen signed on to the project.
"They have the financial credibility and the community does not want an open-cut coal mine in Bacchus Marsh," she said.
Greens state leader Greg Barber said the government was doing everything it could to speed up the process of mining.
He said the federal government needed to introduce into its environment laws a greenhouse trigger, whereby it could veto a state-approved project.
Moorabool mayor Pat Griffin said he thought the positive results released by Mantle were the workings of a great PR machine. "The community knows there is lots of coal, but they haven't released the quality. GThey can beat it up for their shareholders but we'll wait until the analysis."
A spokeswoman for state Energy and Resources Minister Michael O'Brien said Victoria had a proud history built on strong mining and agricultural sectors.
"The government will continue to work with Victoria's agricultural and resource industries to continue the successful relationship that has evolved over many years to the benefit of the wider community.
"We have strong protection and opportunities for community input built in to the licensing application process."