The proposed Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin has recently been given a boost by the Queensland Government which has declared it ‘critical infrastructure’. This designation means fast tracking the remaining project approvals and removing the power of the community to challenge it in court as well as enabling the company to forcibly acquire land.
The last time this designation was given to a development in Queensland was in 2008 when parts of the South East Queensland Water Grid were declared critical infrastructure because water supplies in this heavily populated area were at critically low levels because of drought. There’s a great deal of difference between the critical infrastructure of a water supply grid and a massive coal mine!
The mine, proposed by Indian company Adani, gained most of the necessary state and federal approvals in 2014. However, the project is controversial and has been subject to a number of court challenges.
Two concerns encouraging opponents to undertake court challenges are the threat the mine and its associated port developments (at Abbot Point, 25 km north of Bowen) pose to the Great Barrier Reef and to groundwater in the Basin.
Another major concern is the carbon emissions this project will see released into the atmosphere at a time when the world should be drastically cutting its emissions. When peak production is reached, Adani expects to mine 60 million tonnes of coal per year. Over its estimated 60 year life it expects 2.3 billion tonnes to be extracted. Whether the mine, if it goes ahead, will have a life of 60 years is problematic, given moves around the world to limit coal production, moves which are likely to become more influential in future years as concern rises about the necessity of limiting emissions to combat climate change.
There are other concerns in relation to Adani. These involve corruption, illegal activity, human rights abuses, tax evasion and environmental destruction
(1. The Sydney Morning Herald 3 October 2015 - Adani faces questions over conduct at home
2. Times of India 13 September 2016 - Adani, Essar get DRI notice for overvaluing imports
3. The Sydney Morning Herald 5 September 2014 - Concerns at Barrier Reef contractor's humanitarian, environment record )
While the unsuccessful court challenges may have slowed Adani’s start, another major problem has been its inability to obtain project funding - the result of a very successful lobbying campaign targeting major banks and other financial sources.
The Queensland Government’s recent encouragement stems from concerns about job losses in central Queensland following the general mining downturn in the last year or so. The Government appears to believe the original company spiel of 10,000 jobs - even though Adani’s own economic expert recently put the job number at 1464.
The Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lynham sees the project starting construction in mid to late 2017.
The Queensland Government should be looking at the big picture. This is not a time when governments should be encouraging the development of new coal mines - particularly one as large as this. Those opposing the mine are concerned that if all the coal from Carmichael was burned, it would register on a global scale - amounting to about 0.5% of the "budget" of carbon dioxide that can be emitted before the world tips past global warming of 2 degrees celsius.
As well as the climate change scenario, the Government - anxious as it apparently is about jobs - should be considering the 69,000 Barrier Reef tourism jobs that will be put at risk by this mine.