ACTIVISTS waging war against mining companies operating in the Leard State Forest stand accused of committing an act of “criminality and colossal stupidity” that threatened mine workers’ lives.
Whitehaven Coal alleges that last week one or more protesters illegally entered the Maules Creek site and sabotaged a blast area loaded with more than 200 tonnes of high-powered explosives.
It is claimed 187 explosive lines were severed in the attack, which comes after balaclava-clad activists allegedly menaced the mine’s security staff and rammed a patrol vehicle in incidents earlier in the year.
NSW Minerals Council chief executive officer Stephen Galilee said the incidents represented an “escalation of violence” in the protesters’ campaign, which has seen more than 220 people arrested since January.
“Those responsible have directly threatened lives, including their own, by tampering with powerful industrial explosive charges used in mine operations,” he said.
“People have a right to protest, but it must be within the law.
“No one has the right to put others at risk.
“And when people choose to ignore the law, they should be held accountable for their actions.”
Phil Evans from Front Line Action on Coal – the group that for more than two years has operated a protest camp at Maules Creek from which countless actions have been launched – vehemently denied the organisation’s involvement.
He said every person who came to the camp was briefed at length on the group’s overarching principle of non-violent protest and that property damage was specifically prohibited.
“We have absolutely no knowledge of any of the events pertaining to the preparation of operational blasting at Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coalmine, as alleged by Whitehaven Coal,” he said.
“It’s almost an affront and an offence to a campaign that has been running for over two years that’s committed to peaceful, community-led civil disobedience in the face of great opposition from Whitehaven Coal and their neighbouring allies.”
Maules Creek mine manager Peter Wilkinson said the people behind the sabotage had placed themselves and the mine’s workforce in great peril.
“Everyone knows explosives are dangerous,” he said.
“Tampering with them, and sabotaging them, is an act of criminality and colossal stupidity.
“They recklessly put their ideology above the safety of our people and their families, and should be condemned.”
Whitehaven Coal has secured both state and federal government approval to proceed with plans to construct a $767 million open-cut mine – extracting up to 13 million tonnes of coal a year – at the site near Boggabri.
But the project has become a flashpoint for anti-coal activists from all around Australia – and even overseas – advocating for an end to coalmining.