Point Cook's protected wetlands, farms in Werribee South and densely populated suburbs across Wyndham and Hobsons Bay are sitting in the cross-hairs of a large-scale coal exploration permit, a public meeting has been told.
Environmental campaigners met with more than 20 people at Wyndham Vale's eco-living centre last week, in a bid to rally community opposition to a coal exploration licence spanning 76,000 hectares.
It crosses suburbs including Eynesbury, Williams Landing, Wyndham Vale, Truganina, Altona Meadows, Altona and Williamstown.
The licence, known as EL4507, is held by Western Victoria Energy, a subsidiary of Melbourne-based miner Regal Resources.
Regal Resources has operated a pilot plant in the You Yangs, in the west of the licence area, since April to trial a new technology for converting low-rank coal into a crude oil substitute by pumping steam into the coal beds and liquefying coal underground.
The licence was granted 12 years ago and is due to expire on September 4.
Environment Victoria's safe climate campaigner Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, who spoke at the meeting, said the licence posed a threat to residents, despite its age. "If they didn't want to use the licence and use its coal, they wouldn't have kept it," she said.
"We're seeing companies across Victoria say, 'Don't worry about us, nothing's happened with this licence for years,' yet this company continues to promote these assets to investors."
Ms McKenzie-McHarg said the licence's renewal date would be an opportune time for a community campaign to lodge objections to the Department of Primary Industries against the licence being rolled over. The exploration licence permits the company to search the area. But it wouldn't be able to extract anything greater than small samples without applying for a mining licence, according to the DPI.
Department spokesman Jonathan Granger said a review of the company's activities would be conducted if it applied to renew the exploration licence, before being referred to Resources Minister Michael O'Brien.
Western Region Environment Centre director Harry van Moorst recently visited Regal's You Yangs coal-to-oil pilot plant, which, he said, proved the company was serious about utilising coal beds in the west.
Wyndham councillor Marcel Mahfoud, who attended the meeting, said community concern was justified due to the "unknown nature" of the company's intentions. "It's still an exploration licence, and doesn't allow the company to mine, but the community needs more information as to exactly what they're doing."