Smith pours cold water on f ire claims

By Laura Mills

Conservation Minister Nick Smith says claims from Forest and Bird that Bathurst Resources has inadvertently caused fires on the Denniston Plateau are ill-informed, as the fires have been burning for decades.
“The smoke is coming from an old mine shaft where low level underground fires have burned for decades. These fires also occur naturally in this rich coalfield. These smouldering seams pose no significant threat and are left to burn naturally,” Dr Smith said.
“Smoke appears periodically relative to atmospheric conditions and has done so for many years.”
The fire was kilometres from Bathurst’s proposed Escarpment Mine, he said.
It also showed it was not the pristine area that some claimed.
Department of Conservation, conservation services manager Bob Dickson also said the fires had been burning for decades and were the result of both historic mining activity and naturally combustive material beneath the plateau.
The fires posed no significant threat and were generally left burn out naturally.
However, Forest and Bird said Bathurst had recently drilled core samples close to the fires, and drained a lake in the vicinity.
The coal seam that Bathurst recently won permission to open-cast mine on the plateau was adjacent to the seam that was currently being mined at the Bathurst-owned Cascade Mine, in a valley below the Denniston Plateau.
“This is too much of a coincidence. There’s little doubt this is linked to Bathurst’s mining activities,” Forest and Bird top of the south field officer Debs Martin said.
“A major underground fire could seriously affect the unique trees and wildlife beyond the area that Bathurst has permission to mine.”