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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.

16 comments

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  1. mikestasse

    The stench worsens daily……..

  2. corvus boreus

    Krazy Tony’s having a firesale!
    “We are open for business with one-stop shopping! Red and green tape have been slashed!’
    Our future is sales-pitched with the dodgy, tacky bray of a shifty, seedily smirking salesman.
    (shudders)

  3. June M Bullivant OAM

    The problem is that the politicians have lodged themselves so far into the decision making processes by doing favours for donations, that nothing is done transparently, this is all levels of government, and the dollar is the ruler over common sense, truth and justice. Is it any wonder that the communities are rebelling.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Germany’s leading bank Deutsche Bank has announced that it will not invest in coal port terminals proposed by GVK and Adani at Abbot Point on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

    An analyst from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) says that gaining financial close for any of these Galilee coal projects is becoming increasingly more elusive.

    Tim Buckley, IEEFA’s Director of Energy Resource Studies Australasia said, “Deutsche Bank is a global leader in the investment banking world, so the international finance community will take significant note of this powerful signal.”

    “This follows moves by the World Bank, The US Import-Export Bank and the European Investment Bank to curtail financing of coal projects, and combines with recent statements by Blackrock, the world’s largest global equities manager, about the reputational risks with respect to operating near the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

    “Global financial institutions are increasingly wary about taking any part whatsoever in financing Abbot Point coal projects – these misgivings are well founded.

    IEEFA’s analysis shows these investment proposals are commercially unviable and will remain stranded for the foreseeable future given the near 50% decline in the coal price since 2011. The thermal coal industry has moved into structural decline through continued oversupply and rapidly slowing demand growth thanks to renewables.

    “It has always been clear that the impact of a four hundred percent expansion of coal export capacity to over 200Mtpa at Abbot Point was going to be a serious viability risk given its proximity to the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef,” Tim Buckley said.

    “The fact that Deutsche Bank have said they won’t take part because of the risk to the Reef shows that the location of the Abbot Point coal port in a World Heritage Listed area is yet another major financial risk to the viability of these projects.”

    Ahead of the bank’s Annual General Meeting in Germany on Thursday, over 188,000 Germans signed petitions calling on the bank to pull its investment from the developments on the grounds that it could ruin the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

    Already in a state of significant oversupply, the global seaborne thermal coal would be flooded with an additional 35% of new capacity. With spot thermal coal prices of US$73/t already down 45% since the start of 2011, a further 35% increase in global supply could easily see prices gap down another 10-20% from already depressed levels, even assuming the second order effect of a huge round of higher cost thermal coal mine closures globally.

    Given the construction of the Galilee mine and rail projects will take some three years to complete, IEEFA’s analysis suggests any commissioning by 2018-2020 is likely to coincide with China moving beyond peak coal consumption. Increasing thermal coal supply by up to 35% at a time when the world’s largest consumer of thermal coal is rapidly cutting back on imports would be doubly costly to an industry that is already sitting at best at a cash breakeven point. Australian thermal coal mines entered 2014 with an average cash cost of production of US$75-80/t.

  5. stephentardrew

    Great post Kaye. While the rest of the world moves on we are caught in the grip of a bunch of self-aggrandized irrational ideologues. We will become the environmental pariahs of the planet while dear leader and his cohorts will go down in history as enablers of climate destruction and as planetary vandals. It is interesting how market forces are playing against coal expansion while there is exponential growth in scientific discoveries in a range of alternative energy technologies. Canceling RET is a act of unmitigated barbarism and suicidal self-harming. Are these people actually pseudo masochists? This is extremely serious and it is going to come home to roost sooner than later.

    The LNP have been put on the back foot by the strong reaction by the electorate to dumping tailings on the Barrier Reef. Nothing like the loss of a seat or two to sharpen ones wits. Its sort funny in a way. They are like a bunch of rabid dogs on the wrong end of history chasing their tails while the rest of the world moves on. The rope is tightening as they are forced to back-flip on many of their core beliefs.

    A government cannot be so obviously wrong on so many fronts and survive. The facts will win out in the long run. Lets hope the long run is pretty short.

  6. stephentardrew

    Off the subject I wonder if anyone saw the Foreign Correspondent program on Ebola. There are so many brave individuals putting their lives at risk to help those who are dying a horrendous death. The poorly protected health workers who are handling and burying bodies demonstrates the type of courage we all need to make this world a better place. One woman who was misdiagnosed miscarried caused the death of eighteen health workers. Their boots are placed on posts in the ground as a reminder of their service. The open tents and primitive facilities while we greedily reduce our foreign aid. There are people from many nations, including Australians, putting their lives at risk to prevent the spread of Ebola and to provide help to those who suffer. The pictures of groups of apparently healthy people infected with Ebola sitting around waiting for 21 days for the inevitable painful death while only 40% will survive. The mud, rain and primitive conditions are appalling.

    Many of these brave individuals are Muslims so please you anti-Muslim fanatics get off of your high horses and show some respect for a bunch of wholly decent human beings putting life and limb at risk under the most frightening circumstances.

    Colour, race, religion are no barrier to decency. How many of us would willingly put our lives at risk under such appalling circumstance. I will throw in my hat with these people any day of the week rather than the greed infested selfishness of economic rationalist neo-conservative dog eat dog mentality. Yes there is an alternative and given the chance many would not willfully harm their fellow humans if there were an alternative.

    The comparison between our treatment of refugees and the action of these brave people is stark and humiliating.

  7. Anna Hitchcock

    Thanks for this great summary. Shared to Gladstone Conservation Council.

  8. nettythe1st

    India moving away from coal and Tony’s now decided to sell them uranium. Opportunist?

  9. donwreford

    Always seemed a no brainer to dump millions of tons of dredged sediment in and on the coral reef, the solution is to direct this material on land, although the cost may be more, dumping at sea, the long term effects will be beneficial for use of this on land.

  10. mikestasse

    It is interesting how market forces are playing against coal expansion while there is exponential growth in scientific discoveries in a range of alternative energy technologies.

    I don’t know where you get that idea from stephentardrew. The only change I’m noticing is that PV is getting cheaper, but in the scheme of things, the technology is pretty much the same as it was in 1995 when I did my Diploma in Renewable Energy Technology.

    http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2014/08/23/another-silver-bullet-jams-in-the-breach/

    AND, the world is not moving on…… it’s going bankrupt.

  11. Möbius Ecko

    Yeah, it’s hardly changed at all, just standing still and not advancing.

    http://www.solarchoice.net.au/blog/category/installation-advice/new-technologies/
    http://techportal.eere.energy.gov/category/solar_photovoltaic/browse
    http://www.powerclouds.com/index.php/research-advances-new-efficiency-record-for-photovoltaics/
    http://gigaom.com/2013/07/18/is-the-50-efficient-solar-cell-on-the-horizon/
    http://news.pv-insider.com/thin-film-pv/advances-pv-research-improving-cell-efficiency-solar-industry-puzzle
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032111006058
    http://sourceable.net/advances-photovoltaic-technology/

    And I could post dozens more links to advancements in the technology along several different pathways.

    http://thesolarfuture.squarespace.com/storage/files-articles/solar-efficiency-chart-article/efficiency_chart.jpg
    http://blog.cleantech.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/NREL-Best-Research-Cell-Efficiencies4.bmp

    Notice the trends in the graphs, they’re not flat from 1995, though some rises are very gradual, they’re up.

    Plug in some reality, the gaps from theory, laboratory and production, https://nanohub.org/site/resources/2013/09/19345/slides/016.01.jpg but the trend is still a substantial improvement since 1995.

  12. stephentardrew

    Mobious: thanks for the input there are many more items from Science Daily and Psyorg.com that could be included but thats a bloody good representation.

  13. mikestasse

    http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2014/08/23/another-silver-bullet-jams-in-the-breach/

    Oh and guess what… I have very inefficient thin film PVs from the 90s, and they are BETTER than the new set of far more efficient monocrystalline panels I bought in 2010. They work better in the heat and under clouds. Their worst aspect is that they cost an arm and a leg.

    Efficiency gains are not what is necessary. What we need is CHEAPER, and we certainly have that today.

  14. doctorrob54

    Isn’t it wonderful how easy it is to be labeled “as the extreme left of the Australian political scheme”.I am flattered to be dumped amid all those other people who care.

  15. Damein Bell

    What stinks is these political donations to curry favour with the permit approvals processes are only spare change to industry compared to the billions for investment let alone what they get back in tax breaks. Those idiot liberal NSW politicians lost their professional and personal reputations for the sake of a few grand for what? Greed? Anyways, good riddance to them with a kick in pants. Our poor suffering Barrier Reef continues to pay the price for OUR ignorance more so than greed of others.

  16. Rebecca Mills

    Dumping the dredged product on land rather than in the ocean is still going to have negative impacts- It’s called run off. Rivers and storm water run off means at least a percentage of the dredging will still end up in the ocean, adversely affecting the ecosystem. Particularly somewhere like Queensland, which receives relatively higher amounts of rainfall than other parts of the country. It shouldn’t be allowed to go ahead, period.

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