FEDERAL Environment Minister Tony Burke has granted conditional approval to the Whitehaven Coal proposal in north west NSW.Mr Burke yesterday granted strict conditional approval to Whitehaven's Maules Creek open-cut mine proposal and the nearby Boggabri mine expansion, run by Japanese company Idemitsu.
Approval also was granted to an AGL Energy coal seam methane gas project at Gloucester, in northern NSW, subject to 36 strict conditions.
Federal independent MP Rob Oakeshott branded the CSG decision a "significant step" in a "busted planning process", while community groups at Maules Creek have vowed to fight the decision in court.
Mr Burke today was at pains to explain the projects had not been given the full go-ahead, stressing more work needed to be done by the companies before they received official approval.
"I don't think there's ever been a set of three approvals that I've given with so little knowledge as to whether or not the projects will end up going ahead," he told ABC Radio.
"The next stage of all of this though is to work out whether or not the companies can meet the further requirements that are there."
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said he would be requesting a briefing from Mr Burke about the decisions, saying caution was needed when it came to CSG projects near communities and water supply.
"My starting point is to be extremely conservative on anything that risk the aquifers and water supply," Mr Hunt told Sky News.
Mr Burke has warned if further tests show there could be an unacceptable impact on groundwater, the Gloucester CSG project would be put on ice.
Last week he extended his department's timeframe for considering the Maules Creek project until April 30 but was forced to act after a leaked letter showed he intended to approve the mine in December.
Mr Burke accused the NSW government of leaking the sensitive information and causing market uncertainty and has ruled them out of any future dealings over the mine proposals.
Maules Creek made headlines when activist Jonathan Moylan admitted sending a press release to media outlets in early January falsely claiming the ANZ Bank had pulled its $1.2 billion loan to the miner.
Community and environment activists fear the project threatens koala habitats, thousands of hectares of old-growth forests and will force farmers off their land through soil damage.