Queensland wants coal waste to be dumped onshore, not near reef

Queensland wants coal waste to be dumped onshore, not near reef

Australia’s Queensland state government has backed plans for dumping dredging waste from the expansion of coal export terminals at Abbot Point onshore, instead of near the Great Barrier Reef.

Land disposal has always been the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park's preferred option in line with national guidelines, the Australian federal government said.

The port expansion proponents, North Queensland Bulk Ports, GVK Hancock and Adani Group, have been planning an alternative plan to avoid dumping sediment on the reef for months, said the state deputy premier Jeff Seeney in a statement.

“We are inviting the local community and environmentalists to work with us to restore freshwater flows to degraded areas of the wetland, expand its area and consider access points for the general public to boost tourism activity in the area,” he added.

Queensland has submitted an application to the federal government for 3mn m³ of dredging material to be disposed on land. This despite Australia’s environment minister has already approved a plan to dig up about to 5 million tonnes of seabed in order to expand Abbot Point for an increase in coal exports.

A proposal to dump the sediment within the reef’s marine park has also been approved, although an exact site has yet to be identified.

Fierce opposition

Coal port projects and expansions have been a source of controversy in the last two years, with academics raising the issue of “irreparable damage” to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

In 2012 UNESCO, the UN educational, scientific and cultural arm, sent an inspection team to the area, finding “a continuing decline in the quality of some parts” of the reef.  However, the Queensland Resources Council was quick to snub the report.

Queensland wants coal waste to be dumped onshore, not near reef

Digital rendition of the expanded Abbot Point coal port. (Image courtesy of Waratah Coal Pty Ltd.) 

Last year more than 150 marine scientists from 33 institutions signed a letter warning Australian authorities of the mounting threats new coal ports and other industrial projects pose to the reef’s habitat.

In February, the Great Barrier Reef authority responded by approving a permit for the state-owned coal terminal operator to dump as much as 3 million cubic meters of dredged sediment inside the park.

When and if finished, the Abbot Point coal port —located 25 kilometres north of Bowen, at the northern end of the Galilee and Bowen coal basins— will begin construction work on the onshore area will begin in January 2015, which will enable dredging to start on schedule in March 2015.

The port will service among others the Alpha Coal project owned by Australia's richest woman Gina Rinehart. Her mine will be built to ship 60 million tonnes of thermal coal through the terminal.