Lignite mining 'stupidity' says Aussie activist

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 14:08 21/01/2013

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Digging up fertile Southland farmland to mine lignite coal is "100 per cent stupidity", an Australian farmer-activist has told an anti-coal mining festival in Gore.

Environmentalists and locals opposed to Government-owned Solid Energy's plans to mine lignite spent the weekend camped at Gore for the second-annual Keep the Coal in the Hole Summer Festival.

Solid Energy says there are 3 billion tonnes of lignite available in the coalfields of Waimumu, Croydon and Mataura, which could be converted into briquettes, fertilizer, syngas and diesel.

Lignite is the lowest quality coal, halfway between peat and coal.

The Southland arm of Coal Action Network Aotearoa organised the anti-mining festival and invited Queensland farmer Rob McCreath to speak to the 150 environmentalists.

McCreath successfully led a community group in a five-year battle against a coalmine and coal-to-liquid plant planned for prime agricultural land near his town.

He thought the Southland farmland beautiful and said it was "hard to imagine a more productive farming area".

"In Australia we are peppered with New Zealand's 100 per cent Pure adverts," McCreath said.

"It's disgraceful that you have a government-owned company and they're allowing it to dig up this beautiful farmland. That's 100 per cent stupidity."

Coal Action Network spokesman Tim Jones said Kiwis needed to learn from the Aussie example and safeguard food-producing farmland.

"We face the very same threat here with the Southland lignite proposals still in Solid Energy's sights," he said.

The Coal Action Network symbolically dropped off a basket of locally-grown vegetables and mothballs to the lignite briquetting pilot plant near Mataura, spokeswoman Rosemary Penwarden said.

"We've spent $29 million of taxpayers' money on this lignite project already - and any more money spent would be a waste," she said.

No large customer wanted to buy the briquettes for boilers, she said.

She pointed to the Berl economic report for Southland, released six months ago, which says the region should strive for a low-carbon future for the best result.

Solid Energy spokesman Bryn Somerville said the Coal Action Network had one point of view, but the coalminer had another.

It believed lignite could be used to lower New Zealand's dependence on imported diesel and fertilizer, providing affordable and reliable energy, he said.

Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder has said diesel and fertilizer were significant drivers of the Kiwi economy, and lignite conversion could reduce the $5 billion the country spends each year on buying them from overseas.

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Keep the Coal in the Hole festival-goers spent the weekend listening to seminars on climate change and getting updates on Solid Energy's plans and Coal Action Network's moves in the last year, including a boost in membership nationwide.

The festival finished this morning.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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