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Tag Archives: Carmichael mine

Uncertain future for Adani at Abbot Point as fight for the reef continues

It’s been an eventful month for Australia’s greatest natural wonder.

It was widely reported this week that Abbot Point proponents Adani Group, GVK Hancock and North Queensland Bulk Ports would seek to reverse their plan to dump 5 million tonnes of dredge spoil into the marine park near Bowen, instead opting for land disposal. This has since been confirmed by deputy Queensland Premier Jeff Seeney, who will meet with environment minister Greg Hunt to approve the land-based alternative.

While the news was somewhat unexpected, there has been growing public discontent with the dredging approval following months of campaigning by environmental groups, tourism operators and local communities. The Australian Government has come under increasing scrutiny and pressure from the international community over their plans for the reef, and questions about the social and environmental track record of Indian coal company Adani have been brought to the fore.

Photo: Greenpeace Australia

The news has breathed life into reef campaigners who view it not as a solution, but as a step in the right direction towards a total ban on capital dredging projects within the marine park area. A Senate inquiry has supported this, calling for sediment dumping to be banned in the marine park until further studies can be conducted about its impact on the reef ecosystem.

Growing doubts over Carmichael mine

Indian coal company Adani is no stranger to controversy, insisting they will proceed at Abbot Point and the Carmichael mega-mine which will feed it. But there is growing doubt about the viability of the development.

Adani purchased Carmichael coal mine from Australian Linc Energy in 2010 during the peak of the coal boom, a deal which gave Linc royalty rights on future profits. In August, Adani agreed to buy out Linc’s future royalty stream for $155 million which they say,

“reflects Adani’s confidence in the progress of Carmichael mine, which received final federal environmental approvals from the Australian government last month.”  

However, analysts have said the amount Adani is paying out, compared with the value of the future royalties, implies they have put a 25-30% probability on the development actually proceeding.

A reef in danger

In early August, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority released their much anticipated Reef Outlook Report 2014. The five year report painted a stark picture of the reef’s health not just today, but also over the coming years which will see its resilience decline further.

“Even with the recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009 and is expected to further deteriorate.”

Even Greg Hunt was forced to admit the grim outlook, particularly in the southern part of the reef where he said there were “some real negatives”.

The report outlined climate change as the main threat over the coming decades, which is why building a resilient reef system is vital in combating the associated rising sea temperature, ocean acidification and increased storm activity,

Crucially, coastal development was named as a key factor affecting the reef locally. These impacts are set to increase as shipping through the marine park increases by 250% over the next 20 years.

The report stressed the large knowledge gaps which still exist about the impacts of dredging and dumping on the reef ecosystem.

“Increasing port activities directly affects local areas and uncertainty remains around ecosystem effects of dredging and the disposal and re-suspension of dredge material.”

Photo: WWF

Considering the rate at which port developments and expansions are being approved, this is particularly alarming.

The politics of environmental approvals

Four Corners followed up the release of the report with ‘Battle for the Reef‘. The investigation revealed the internal clashes within the GBRMPA in the months leading up to the approval of the Abbot Point dredging and dumping permit. It shone a light on the huge political pressure within the GBRMPA to green light the approval, despite widespread concerns among its own scientists that sea disposal was socially and environmentally unacceptable.

The revelations in the report have led to calls for a complete overhaul of the GBRMPA, leading to the creation of a new and truly independent authority who will protect the Great Barrier Reef from politically motivated approvals.

The question of political dollars buying environmental approvals gained further traction in recent weeks amid allegations that a large donation to the LNP from a Queensland property developer preceded the approval of a dredging permit for the expansion of his Airlie Beach marina.

It was revealed that long time LNP supporter and donor Paul Darrouzet gave a $150,000 donation to the party a mere week before gaining approval to dredge. Naturally, Mr Darrouzet denied any link between the two with QLD environment minister Andrew Powell quickly following suit.

Following these reports LNP MP George Christensen, whose electorate covers the Whitsundays, made a dramatic admission that he was wrong to support the sea disposal of dredge waste from Abbot Point. According to Christensen, he

“didn’t foresee the angst the dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef marine park would cause tourism operators and the residents of the Whitsundays.”

A line in the sand

While Christensen is most likely trying to save his political skin after widespread criticism and discontent within his electorate, the move represents the growing pressure on the government over Abbot Point, and more largely over their actions against the environment during their first year in power.

In light of this, Greg Hunt has sought to paint himself as the good guy, saving the reef from negligence “on someone else’s watch”.

Interviewed during the Four Corners investigation, Hunt promised that Abbot Point would be the last time sea disposal of dredge waste would be permitted in the marine park, that it was a ‘line in the sand’.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters sought clarification of these vague promises in the Senate but the government backed away from Hunt’s comments. According to Waters, the words were worthless and ‘full of holes’, failing to specify if projects already applied for will be approved.

In addition, Hunt’s promise is limited to capital dredging, meaning maintenance dredging such as at Hay Point will still be allowed. Approval for the 378,000 cubic metre maintenance dredging project at Hay Point was granted this year, despite real concerns over the damage caused to corals during the initial 2006 dredging.

Australia falling behind

While Australia regresses into a coal mining, climate-change denying stupor, the rest of the world is moving forward in its transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.

Even the main recipient of our coal is moving in the right direction. In an unprecedented move, the Indian Supreme Court this month ruled all coal licenses from 1993 to 2010 illegal, deemed to have been granted unfairly and without transparency. Coal mining had become a source of massive corruption and controversy in India in recent years, with over 200 leases granted to private steel, cement and power companies without proper regulation.

While the move is sure to put pressure on India’s power supply, Australian coal is not in line to fill the void. New PM Narendra Modi aims to roll out solar power across the nation over the next 5 years with renewable energy one of the new government’s top priorities.

Meanwhile our government has decided to scale back the successful RET, crippling our renewable energy sector for supposedly driving up electricity prices – which has since been shown through independent modelling and reviews to be false.

The fact that the review was headed by self-professed climate sceptic and Caltex Australia chairman Dick Warburton (in the words of Scott Ludlam, SRSLY?) would lead anyone to question the independence of this review. But fear not, Warburton has assured the Australian public that his personal beliefs had no bearing on his findings.

Hunt continues to paint environmental groups, concerned locals, tourism operators and concerned Australians who add their name to a GetUp! petition as “as the extreme left of the Australian political scheme”. By doing so, he is alienating the majority of Australians who are rising up to demand stronger action on climate and greater protection for our reef.

The Madness of Greg Hunt and the Carmichael Mine

Just in case anyone was left doubting the Abbott government’s disdain for environmental protection, our Environment Minister Greg Hunt has laid that to rest, approving the development of one of the largest coal mines in the world.

The Carmichael mine will be developed by Indian power company Adani. Owned by an Indian billionaire, Adani are sourcing Australian coal to fuel the surging demand for electricity in India.  They hope to begin exporting coal from the mega-mine in 2017.

The coal mine is simply gigantic – the largest Australia has ever seen, and one of the biggest in the world. Consisting of six open cut pits and five underground mines, it will cover an area seven times the size of Sydney Harbour.  The initial stages require the clearing of 20,000 hectares of bushland, home to 60 threatened species of flora and fauna.

Around 60 million tonnes of coal will be sent to the Queensland coast every year by an accompanying $2.1 billion rail corridor, where it will be exported to India from Abbot Point via the Great Barrier Reef.

CO2 emissions from the combusted Carmichael mine coal are estimated at a whopping 128 million tonnes per annum, cancelling out any of the gains made under the government’s pathetic Direct Action policy.  To put that figure in perspective, that’s equal to four times the amount that New Zealand emits in a year.

There were so many reasons not to approve this unprecedented development, both economic and environmental. Greg Hunt, however, was unmoved.

Of foremost concern – Adani’s alarming environmental track record. In India, they have been fined for illegally building on villagers’ land and destroying protected mangrove areas. They have been involved in the large-scale illegal export of iron ore, bribing officials, building an aerodrome without environmental approval, manipulating the approval process, ignoring environmental conditions and non-compliance with environmental monitoring.

Remember the Abbot Point controversy?  Well, Adani were one of the companies behind that too. Adani owns the coal export terminal at Abbot Point.  For the massive volumes of coal to be shipped overseas from their Carmichael mine, they need to expand the terminal to meet the surge in exports, which will see upwards of 450 extra coal ships travelling through the Great Barrier Reef every year.

Safe to say, this is bad news for the reef environment.

The proposed expansion of the coal export terminal requires three million cubic tonnes of seabed to be dredged, and dumped in adjacent waters within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  Despite concerns within the GBR Marine Park Authority itself and UNESCO, as well as public outcry over the threat to the reef, Greg Hunt approved the dredging.

So toxic and unpopular is the Abbot Point dredging project, even international banks don’t want to be associated with it, with HSBC, Deutsche Bank and The Royal Bank of Scotland withdrawing funding.  But despite this, the Australian government thinks it fine to go ahead.

Despite Adani’s woeful record, Greg Hunt is comfortable allowing them to operate in one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the world.  I am not.

The impact on groundwater has been a major cause for concern.  When operational, the mine will extract 12 billion litres annually from local rivers and aquifers, in an agricultural region already prone to drought and dependent largely on water from bores. Hunt assures us that,

“The absolute strictest of conditions have been imposed to ensure the protection of the environment, with a specific focus on the protection of groundwater.”

In what we’ve learned to be the usual Greg Hunt response, he has slapped on a bunch of ‘Conditions’ and ‘Offsets’ to mitigate any environmental damage, 36 in this case, although a Senate enquiry has shown what rubbish these are.

“These 36 conditions complement the conditions imposed by the Queensland Government, and will ensure the proponent meets the highest environmental standards and that all impacts, including cumulative impacts, are avoided, mitigated or offset.” – Greg Hunt

So what are the net benefits for Australians? Economic reports continue to show us that coal is just not profitable anymore.  There are real questions surrounding the viability of Galilee Basin coal projects in the face of a long term, downward trend in global coal prices.  A huge investment in infrastructure by Adani is needed to service the Carmichael mine, which has driven down their potential for profit substantially.

“Good quality steaming coal exported from Australia is fetching about $US67 ($71.30) a tonne in the spot market, which means that after taking borrowing costs into account there would be little profit margin.” – SMH

Any profits made will be channelled overseas to India first, then to other Asian nations who will take on development contracts like Korea, whose company POSCO who will build the rail link. In the absence of a Carbon or Mining Tax, benefits to Australians are small – apart from the promise of employment and regional development.

But at what cost?  A country is more than just an economy.  All Australians will be left with is a massive hole in the ground, linked to a dying reef by a ghost train.  In the mean time, Greg Hunt will twiddle his thumbs, waiting for the years-away clean coal technology to be rolled out.

But there’s still a glimmer of hope.  While the coal mine has been approved, Adani still need to secure billions of dollars of funding before they can begin construction (or destruction in this case).  Greenpeace, together with GetUp, AYCC and Market Forces are campaigning to stop the Big Four Banks from funding Adani.

If Australians continue to show their collective power through grassroots campaigning and action, hopefully our banks will have the sense to ditch this sinking ship.

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