Aussie billionaire Clive Palmer’s massive coal mine approved

Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt has given billionaire Clive Palmer an early Christmas gift by approving his China First coal mine, located in Queensland's Galilee Basin.

Palmer’s Waratah Coal company can now proceed with the mine, subject to 49 conditions, as posted in the ministry’s website. These restrictions include setting limits on the total area of the Brigalow ecological community that can be disturbed and securing at least 10,000 hectares of protected land as an offset.

The company will also have to pay $100,000 a year for 10 years for a "strategic fund" for threatened species, according to the government ‘s statement.

However, a study by Oxford University released this week has cast fresh doubts on viability of the mine, given the current low coal prices.

The mammoth project still needs The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority approval, which has given itself until Christmas Eve to approve a related port expansion or seek an extension.

Environmentalists argue that the approval implies that 3 million tonnes of dredge spoil will be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef. For that reason, they claim authorities should have at least wait until the mine secures final financing.

It is estimated that Waratah coal will generate 3,500 jobs during construction and over 2,300 permanent positions, but based on the State Government's assessment of the mine, Queensland's manufacturing sector could lose up to $1.2 billion, as workers and investment redirect interest from other sectors into mining.

The approval covers the development of new open cut and underground mines, associated infrastructure near Alpha, and a 470-km rail linking the mine and Abbot Point port.

Palmer made his fortune, officially pegged at a little less than a billion dollars, from mining rights to the iron ore fields of Western Australia's Pilbara region.

Brisbane-based Waratah Coal, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Palmer's Mineralogy Pty Ltd, holds nearly 17,000 sq. km of tenements in the prolific Galilee basin with four large coal mining projects.

In 2009, the company signed a deal with China's Metallurgical Group Corp (MCC) for project funding.