The sheik, the horse stud and the Hunter Valley coalmine

Published 14 February 2013 10:57

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The sheik, the horse stud and the Hunter Valley coalmine

Vanessa Faroe in NSW’s coal mining affected Hunter Valley. Photo: Peter Stoop

Jamie Freed

Malabar Coal hasn’t floated on the ASX yet, but it has already made some powerful enemies in Dubai’s Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and other horse breeders in the NSW upper Hunter Valley region.

An institutional bookbuild for Malabar’s $20 million float is set to close on Thursday before a listing next month.

But the managing director of Sheik Mohammed’s Darley operations in Australia, Henry Plumptre, warned his group was prepared to go to “any lengths” to stop the development of the $1.2 billion Spur Hill underground coal project.

That is despite Malabar having specifically ruled out the prospect of an open-cut project to help avoid this situation.

The horse breeders are arguing that even though Spur Hill is an underground mine with less of a land footprint, it is close to the Hunter River and poses risks to the water system and aquifers.

“The horse breeding association has a concern about coalmines,” Malabar chairman Wayne Seabrook said.

“I understand their concerns. The important thing we did was we went out on the front foot saying we were not going to develop an open cut.”

Darley is equally opposed to Anglo American’s nearby Drayton South open-cut coal proposal – a replacement for an existing mine – which is much more advanced.

Almost 60 objections to that project have already been lodged by community and other groups.

Tensions between horse breeders and coalminers are reaching a boiling point in the Hunter Valley.

The NSW government tried to address the conflict through a strategic regional land-use policy released in September, but Hunter Valley Thoroughbred Breeders Association president Cameron Collins said a new process for approvals would appear to have little ability to actually block projects. “We are not trying to stop [existing] coalmining,” Mr Collins said. “But one of the things we are concerned about is the cumulative impact.”

In 2010, the Hunter Valley provided 80 to 90 per cent of the total value of stud horses exported from Australia.

The industry contributes more than $2.4 billion to the NSW economy annually.

Mr Seabrook said he didn’t expect water impacts to be an issue, and the state government approvals process should adequately address concerns.

This story first appeared on The Australian Financial Review.

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