Anger from the local Victorian community of Mirboo North was expressed last week over the granting to Mantle Mining of three new coal exploration licenses that surround the town – a town in which 96.7% of residents have declared themselves “Coal and Gas Free”. It is likely that if they proceed, these projects would be developed for their “clean-coal” technology – Continuous Hydrothermal De-watering (“CHTD”) – that has been developed out of Mantle Mining’s partnership with Exergen.
This is a very interesting approval on two major fronts, it goes completely against the Victorian Labor Government’s commitments to Climate Change policy, and against Mantle Mining’s history of respectfully backing down from coal and gas projects in the face of community opposition.
Why would the State Government approve these licenses if it really is as serious about Climate Change as it claims?
Why would Mantle Mining pursue a new project in a community that has organised and declared themselves against exactly this?
So here’s the history of Mantle Mining, and how organised communities have been able to put a halt to the unnecessary projects they have proposed:
In 2011, Mantle mining announced that due to “potential conflict arising out of competing land use”, it would withdraw from its application for an exploration licence in Deans Marsh. In reality, Mantle Mining’s CEO Ian Kraemer attended a community meeting of more than 250 residents, and in a surprise announcement told the residents, “I will talk to my board and if a raise of hands shows me you’re against it, I’ll walk away.” Surprisingly, especially to the community, a vote was taken and Mr Kraemer agreed to cancel the project.
Mr Kraemer stated that “we look at environmental, economic and social issues and obviously the social issue here has become obvious that there would be very little support for an exploration license… We have a responsibility to the community, to the environment and to our shareholders, and it’s obvious to me to make the decision that there is not a road forward here.”
After great community pressure on the test drilling phase of Mantle Mining’s proposed Bacchus Marsh project, including direct action undertaken by Quit Coal that involved locking on to a drill rig, it appears that Mantle Mining have placed the project on the backburner.
Although they state that they plan to “complete a bankable feasibility study on the project by the end of 2015” and that “production could potentially start at Bacchus Marsh in 2018”, the project does not seem to have advanced as they had wished. A lease that expires in August (but with an option to extend) is held by Mantle Resources for EnergyBrix Australia’s Morwell briquette factory for their proposed Pre-Commercial Demonstration Project. This site is needed to further develop their project at Bacchus Marsh as well as in the Latrobe Valley by providing a proof of concept for their CHTD patent, however no solid plans have been revealed at the site so far. It appears that the pressure put on Mantle Mining from the campaign in Bacchus Marsh has greatly weakened the company. Share prices last peaked at 17 cents back in 2012 at the time of the Bacchus Marsh protests, before plummeting to the current price of just over one cent.
Ngarrabullgan (Mt Mulligan)
Ngarrabullgan, or Mount Mulligan, west of Cairns, is one of Australia’s oldest Indigenous Heritage Sites, linked to the Djungan people for more than 35,000 years, making it the oldest occupied site in Queensland. Mantle Mining planned for a Coal Seam Gas (CSG) project under this sacred mountain. An agreement was finally signed at the end of a 15-year native title battle, a decision that drove divisions through the Ngarrabulgan Native Title Aboriginal Corporation. This mistreatment of indigenous people’s in Northern Queensland may highlight the underlying nature of Mantle Mining better than their projects undertaken in Victoria.
Mantle came in with promises of economic opportunities to the relatively disadvantaged community, many of whom experienced the tragedies of forced relocations. They preyed on a community that was struggling and told them very little of the impacts to water and the environment, as well as potential impacts to sacred sites that Djungan leader Judulu Neal said would be “like spiritual genocide for the Djungan people.”
However, once the community learned the true costs of the proposed project after hearing accounts from Darling Downs further south, their view of the project quickly changed. Perception went from widespread approval to an estimate by Judulu Neal that 95% of the Djungan people were now against the project.
Luckily, although the initial stages of the projects were quite deceptive, once again Mantle Mining recognised the battle they would face, with the Djungan people gaining support from the Greens and Katter parties, as well as from Lock the Gate. This lead to them withdrawing their prospecting application and exploration permit for CSG in April this year.
Mirboo North – The Future of Coal?
Mantle Mining has faced massive community backlash for a large number of its proposed projects and has essentially backed down when they couldn’t stand the heat.
Is this a last ditch effort for Mantle Mining to boost their share value? Since their exploration plans in Bacchus Marsh, the company’s value has dropped massively.
Coal is dead, so are we seeing a company trying to perform a Frankenstein manoeuvre, resurrecting this industry for its “clean-coal” export plans? Or is that all just a mythical fairy tale that Mantle Mining are telling us in an effort to raise their share prices?
Either way, whatever they propose to do, it will not come easy. Community opposition has repeatedly forced this company to back down, and now they’ve opened up plans on the doorstep of another tight-knit and organised community in Mirboo North.
Mantle Mining has a battle on their hands.