Australia’s federal government approved Monday one of the world’s largest coal mines, and the country’s biggest, but subject to 36 “strict” conditions focused on conserving groundwater.
The US$15bn (A$16.5bn) Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project, in the untapped Queensland’s Galilee Basin, is being developed by Adani Group, an Indian conglomerate with interests spanning mining, energy and logistics.
Designed to eventually produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal a year, the proposal consists of six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines, to supply coal-hungry Indian power plants with enough of the fossil fuel to generate electricity for up to 100 million people.
The Carmichael project had received Queensland’s approval in May, subject to conditions and federal approval. This way the state disregarded concerns brought forward by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC), set up in 2012 to advise state and federal governments.
The committee said it had “little confidence” in much of the modelling used by Adani and highlighted gaps in its data.
“It’s not surprising that Minister Hunt is going along with Premier Newman and Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s desire to facilitate foreign firms in their efforts to try to prop up Australia’s declining coal industry,” said in a press release Tim Buckley, Director of Energy Finance Studies, Australasia, for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).
“Ironically, if this project proceeds, it will actually accelerate the longer term destruction of Australia’s coal export industry by dramatically expanding the capital invested whilst at the same time driving coal prices down globally.
The port Adani plans to use, Abbot Point, it is supposed to be expanded, but conservationists oppose the idea as they say the project would dredge up 3 million cubic metres of sand and then dump it near the Great Barrier Reef.
Opposition to the port expansion and the proposed Galilee basin coal mines has grown in recent months. First UNESCO warned it might place the Great Barrier Reef on its endangered list as a result of the port expansion. In April US ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s launched a Save the Reef campaign that prompted authorities to call a boycott from Australian consumers, as they claim it is “propaganda” that has damaged the reputation of the reef, jeopardizing jobs and tourism dollars.
And in May, Deutsche Bank refused to fund Adani’s plans to expand the port after the UN raised concerns about its effects on the world’s heritage site.
The Queensland state government estimates the new project has the potential to create 6,400 new jobs: around 2,500 construction positions and 3,900 operational posts.