UPPER HUNTER residents remain in the dark about the future of coal exploration near their town.
Earlier this year, then Deputy Premier John Barilaro put out an invitation for competitive selection applications for the exploration of almost 8000 hectares encompassing the village of Wollar. Last month, the government published a notice of withdrawal of the invitation due to a lack of interest.
"The NSW Government considered it was not in the best interests of the state to allocate this area for exploration through a public tender as initially planned," a Department of Regional NSW spokesperson told the Newcastle Herald.
"Any application to explore part of the Wollar Allocation Area, would be a matter for individual companies."
Beverley Smiles, a resident of Wollar for over 40 years, said the decision "just adds to the uncertainty" in her village. The concern for Ms Smiles is that the allocation area is still open to expansion of the adjacent Wilpinjong Coal Mine, owned by Peabody Energy.
"The community has been decimated over the period of property acquisitions with each enlargement of the mine operations since approval in 2006," Ms Smiles said.
"Wollar community put up a massive campaign to fight off the expansion of Wilpinjong Mine, approved in 2017. This expansion has consent to extract coal until 2033. Any further exploration in an area completely surrounding Wollar village is untenable for remaining community members in the district."
The Department of Regional NSW spokesperson said "coal remains a major employer".
"Export volumes remain in high demand as evidenced by record prices," they said.
According to the Peabody Energy website, 14 million tons of coal was sold from Wilpinjong in 2019. Ms Smiles said the company already owns most of Wollar.
"Peabody owns the General Store which will close this month, also owns both churches and all but two houses in the village and most of the large surrounding properties. The local bushfire brigade has been amalgamated with another brigade over 30 kilometres away due to the reduction in local volunteers and the Public School has closed due to loss of families and lack of pupils," she said.
As well as an increase in "community consultation" Ms Smiles would like to see the government "announce that no further coal will be released for exploration in the Wollar area".
Lock the Gate Alliance's Georgina Woods said transparency is a key focus at the moment.
"We would really like to see the secretary or deputy premiere go out to Wollar and consult with the community and to increase the transparency of the entire process," she said.
"We don't think the industry needs any new exploration area and what we don't want a village like Wollar to be totally annihilated."
The Newcastle Herald has approached Peabody Energy for comment.
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