Mining companies have been permitted to drill at the doorstep of the Grampians National Park, and the area could become ''a new copper belt'' in Australia, according to one mining executive.
Since December, the Department of State Development, Business and Innovation has pushed through three exploration licences that allow companies to drill on either side of the Grampians, after geological surveys showed the area was ''highly prospective'' for copper.
An application was lodged on May 7 by the Queensland miner Diatreme Resources for a government licence to begin exploratory drilling near the Grampians' southern border. Last month it was approved after what the company said was the ''quickest turnaround'' it had ever experienced.
''The speed at which they've granted this tenement, which took about four months, is the fastest we've ever had,'' chief executive Tony Fawdon said. ''They can often take several years.''
Mr Fawdon said the recent departmental surveys had identified substantial copper deposits, which are believed to stretch from the Grampians to the state's north-west.
''We're very excited by this, the department is very excited, and we think this could become a new copper belt in Australia,'' he said.
The department also gave the go-ahead to Navarre Minerals and Northern Platinum to explore neighbouring areas south and west of the Grampians.
Exploration licences permit the company to search the area. But it would not be able to extract anything greater than small samples without a mining licence, requiring an environmental impact statement and a community engagement plan to be approved by the Planning Minister. Exploration and mining are strictly prohibited in national parks…
…A department spokesman said the newly granted exploration licences in the region were a sign of ''ongoing interest'' from industry.
''The Victorian government has committed to fostering a strong and sustainable mining industry that respects the rights of landholders, protects the environment and works co-operatively with other important industries like agriculture,'' the spokesman said.
Drilling or mining could not be conducted on private farmland without the landholder's consent or a compensation agreement.
Environment Victoria's campaign director, Mark Wakeham, said the new permits were among an ''flurry'' of exploration licences being issued by the government.
''But there's a real cause for alarm in issuing exploration licences adjacent to a national park, because companies seem to be getting the green light regardless of the merits of conservation, he said.
He said Australian copper miners favoured open-cut mining, which posed risks to nearby water resources.