Monster mine madness

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Feature Story - 11 February, 2013
Australia has no shortage of big mines. But a new monster coal mine moving through the planning process in Queensland is set to dwarf all others.

Carmichael - located in Queensland’s unexploited Galilee Basin and proposed by Indian conglomerate Adani - would take the crown of Australia’s biggest and baddest coal mine and be one of the largest single mines in the world. The plan also involves hundreds of kilometres of new railway tracks and new coal port terminals that threaten the Great Barrier Reef.

Quick Facts

  • Production: double the size of Australia’s biggest existing coal mine - 60 million tonnes of coal per year at full capacity.
  • Duration: Planned to operate for 90 years - several decades longer than an average coal mine.
  • Size: The mine itself will cover a whopping 44,700ha and over 10,000ha of bushland will be wiped out, much of it home to threatened species.
  • Water: 10 billion litres of water will be sucked up from the surrounding environment.
  • Climate pollution: Up to 128 million tonnes of CO2 per year would be released from burning the coal - more than the combined fossil fuel emissions of Sweden, Norway & Denmark.
  • Ports: Adani already owns one huge coal terminal at Abbot Point in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and is proposing two more.

The extent and intensity of the impacts associated with this project would be profound. And yet, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is riddled with holes and errors. This raises serious questions about whether the current approvals system is adequately equipped to protect people and the environment from developments that are just too damaging.

Suspect Environmental Impact Statement

When surveying the site for the EIS, consultants for Adani sighted the endangered Black-throated finch (southern) 89 times. The company plans to clear around 10,000 hectares of important habitat for the species.

It’s hard to be certain just how much important Black-throated finch (southern) habitat will be lost, as the mapping and estimates of clearing areas in the EIS have been revealed in Greenpeace’s submission against the mine to be wrong.

These basic errors erode public confidence in the administration of environmental laws that have been put in place to protect threatened species, water, World Heritage Sites and other matters of national environmental significance. Why didn’t the federal environment department pick up the mistake, and ensure that factually correct documents were provided to the public? What would have happened if Greenpeace had not picked up the mistake -- would the mine have been approved based on false information?

Adani: a company we can trust?

Adani has a history of breaking the rules and causing environmental destruction. Greenpeace prepared a special briefing paper on Adani’s record for our submission to the project’s EIS which documents a litany of scandals in which the company has been involved. Adani’s flagship project, Mundra, is the largest private port in India. It is also a textbook case of how to flaunt environmental regulations.

Adani “deliberately concealed and falsified material facts” when applying for part of the development; construction began illegally and officials found multiple violations of the development approval including mass clearing of mangroves which have been the subject of several court cases. Aside from the Mundra port, Adani was investigated by an anti-corruption ombudsman who found evidence of bribery and theft in the export of iron ore and has been the proponent of other environmentally destructive projects.

Climate change impact

At peak production, the coal removed from the Carmichael mine, when exported and burnt overseas, will produce 128 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually - that’s equal to the combined fossil fuel emissions of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. But there is no mention of this in the Environmental Impact Statement. Carmichael would be the biggest of the new mines proposed for the Galilee Basin. Exploiting the coal in this region would put us on track for the fastest and biggest possible growth in Australia’s coal exports, and coal demand globally, which flies in the face of Australia’s commitment to keeping global warming to below two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures. The extreme weather impacts being visited upon Australians are the symptoms of less than one degree average global warming.

Wetland destruction

The mine will also cause drawdown of groundwater at a Great Artesian Basin discharge spring wetland called Doongmabulla Springs. The springs host endemic and threatened plant species, but these have not been assessed as part of the mine’s EIS. For one threatened plant at least, Doongmabulla Springs provides habitat critical to its survival.

The assessment also fails to analyse the impact of dramatic levels of groundwater drawdown on groundwater-dependent species and communities in the surrounding area, including gorgeous River Red Gums along the banks of the Carmichael, which are Koala habitat. The EIS states that the company expects the mine to cause 30 metre drawdown of groundwater at its greatest impact, resulting in a seven percent reduction in flow of the Carmichael River, and death of downstream vegetation.

Next steps

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke should reject this mine proposal as having unacceptable impact on a nationally threatened species, and far too dramatic an impact on regional water resources. New studies should be undertaken so that the climate, water and biodiversity impacts of this proposal are adequately described and assessed. But in reality, we already know that this mine is not in Australia’s interest. Not if it permanently alters a major river, takes away critical habitat for threatened species and represents the most callous and irresponsible approach to global warming and climate change. In our hearts, we know this mine should not proceed.