Xstrata’s huge thermal coal project being challenged in Australian court over impacts to Great Barrier Reef

Lawyers for Swiss mining giant Xstrata are in court today defending a massive coal project slated for Queensland.

The AU$6 billion Wandoan coal mine has come under fire by environmentalists for its potential negative effects on the Great Barrier Reef.

Bloomberg reports that Friends of the Earth, an international environmental lobby group, is attempting to block the mine’s approval at a trial in Brisbane that’s scheduled to take two weeks, arguing the coal exported from the project and burned overseas will add to global warming.

According to the story, the court case may become pivotal to future mine approvals because the legal arguments revolve around future, not only immediate, environmental damages caused by the proposed mine, which is about 350 kilometres north of Brisbane:

A win by the group will make it more difficult for companies, including Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd., which have about 30 mines in development in the state, to get approvals. Companies would have to include the effects of coal-burning worldwide in environmental impact assessments. The Wandoan appraisal has already taken almost four years.

A spokesman for Friends of the Earth quoted in the article says the exported coal will create 1.3 billion tons of carbon emissions over 30 years — 0.15% of global emissions — and could result in up to AU$1 billion of revenues being lost to Queensland communities due to negative climate impacts.

The legal challenge from Friends of the Earth is being supported by a group of farmers who oppose the project on the grounds that it would consume more than a dozen farms and reduce the area’s agricultural capacity by 40% according to a report in The Australian.

Xstrata says it is spending AU$250 million on initiatives to cut down pollution from the mine. The project has already won state and federal approvals. If the court challenge fails and the project goes ahead, Wandoan, with 600 million tons of thermal coal, would be second in Australia to BHP’s McArthur project, which has more than a billion tonnes of reserves, reports Bloomberg. Xstrata says on its website that the 30-year mine would produce around 30 million run-of-mine tonnes annually.



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