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What we know about Adani’s Carmichael coal mine project

May 1st, 2019 | | employment

RAdani’s Carmichael coal mine looms as a federal election issue after the miner was granted a contentious eleventh-hour environmental approval by the Morrison Government in April

That takes Adani another step closer to a golden-shovel moment which is already four years overdue.

It’s also put the spotlight on federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and whether Labor would overturn the decision if it wins power. 

Here’s what we know — and still don’t know — about the project. 

Why is the Adani mine still controversial?

It highlights the political divide on climate change in Australia.

Adani shelled out half-a-billion-dollars for the Carmichael Coal tenement in 2010.

It wants to export coal for electricity to Asia, including in the company’s home market, India, where it’s a power player. 

It originally planned to have the mine up and running four years ago.

The project has become a touchstone for an environmental movement trying to stop new thermal coal mines.

This argument says there are enough carbon emissions from existing fossil fuel projects to blow the world’s “carbon budget” to keep average temperature rises above 2 degrees Celsius.

A stop sign bearing Adani's name leaning against a fence in central Queensland

PHOTO: The controversial mine has been be scaled back significantly from earlier plans. (ABC News)

The Carmichael mine, they say, is the thin edge of the wedge.

Adani would blaze a trail for five other mining hopefuls in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, which contains enough coal to outstrip Australia’s annual carbon emissions if it was all burned. 

Project supporters say local benefits — jobs and property booms from mining income — would otherwise go overseas. 

Asia will get its coal from somewhere else, they say, so the argument is better it be regional Queensland where, in an economy still reeling from the end of the mining boom, Adani has become a symbol of hope. 

And Adani has stared down numerous legal challenges in court, while striving for nine years to get the most-scrutinised coal project in modern Australian history over the line.

Traditional owners of the mine site are bitterly split on the project. 

Other concerns include that the mine could potentially drain the nationally important Doongmabulla Springs dry, and deprive the black-throated finch out of habitat critical to its survival.

How big would the mine project be?

Not half as big as Adani first hoped — but still one of the biggest coal mines in Australia.

A grader doing preliminary work to the section of ground which will be the first to be dug if the mine achieves final approval

PHOTO: Adani planned to have the mine up and running four years ago.  (Amy McCosker)

Adani has walked back its vision of a 60-million-tonne-a-year mega-mine to a 10-to-15MT-a-year proposition, with the option of ramping up to 27 MT.

That puts it on par with the country’s largest existing thermal coal operations, BHP Billiton’s Mount Arthur Mine — 15MT — in NSW and BMA’s Blackwater mine in Queensland — 13MT — but which also includes coal for steelmaking. 

Adani has also swapped its plan for a 388km rail line linking the mine to its Abbot Point coal port, to a 200km one piggy-backing Aurizon’s network.

It put the original project cost at $16.5 billion over its lifetime. It now says the mine component will cost $2 billion.

How many jobs?

Adani used to run advertisements promising the project would generate 10,000 jobs — direct and indirect, at its peak from 2024, according to one form of modelling — and $22 billion in taxes and royalties.

Its economics expert in court in 2015 instead said it would create an extra 1,464 jobs in Australia — 1,206 of them in Queensland — and generate $16.8 billion in taxes and royalties.

While the revised mine plan could be less than a quarter of its original scale, Adani has not publicly put forward a new projection for jobs or tax and royalty streams. 

It is yet to reach a final deal with the State Government on how its royalty payments might be deferred in the mine’s first five years. 

Who is funding it?

Adani.

It says it can “self-fund” the smaller project, after previously seeking finance from Asian banks without success, amid lobbying by anti-mining activists.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk killed off its chances of a $1 billion taxpayer-funded loan for its railway in 2017. 

A group of about 20 protesters stand with signs that read "stop Adani".

PHOTO: The project has become a touchstone for an environmental movement trying to stop new thermal coal mines.(ABC News: Lara Webster)

What is standing in Adani’s way?

Adani has mining and environmental licences from the Queensland Government but it still needs the state to sign off on two environmental management plans — one for the black-throated finch and one for groundwater. 

Adani managed to get federal approval for its groundwater plan on the eve of the Morrison Government hitting caretaker mode in the election campaign. 

Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price reportedly came under pressure to sign off on the plan from Coalition MPs from Queensland.

But the Queensland Government will hold Adani to a different standard on groundwater.

Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Enoch has said Adani must “definitively” identify the source aquifers of the Doongmabulla Springs.

The Doongmabulla Springs is an artesian springs complex in central north Queensland

PHOTO: The Doongmabulla Springs complex is regarded as one of the world’s last pristine desert oases.(Supplied: Tom Jefferson (Lock the Gate))

Ms Enoch said according to her department, the advice to Ms Price from federal agencies the CSIRO and GeoScience Australia was that Adani had not.

Adani Mining Australia boss Lucas Dow reportedly said last year the approvals were a formality. 

The company is now campaigning against what it calls the State Government “changing the goalposts” and dragging its feet on approvals.

The decisions on both plans will be in the hands of the state Environment Department.

What else?

Adani also needs the Queensland Government to extinguish the native title claims of the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people to the mine site. 

It can then take up a freehold lease and start digging. 

But the Palaszczuk Government has indicated it won’t be rushing to make that happen. 

It will wait at least until Adani opponents within the W&J exhaust their legal avenue of appeal in the Federal Court

Adrian Burragubba leads a protest against the proposed mine outside Queensland Parliament in Brisbane

PHOTO: Traditional owners of the mine site are bitterly split on the project. (ABC News: Patrick Williams)

A hearing is set down for next month, and a decision on whether a crucial land-use agreement with the miner should stand is likely months away.

Adani supporters in the W&J maintain they have the numbers.

The anti-Adani contingent in the W&J, who describe themselves as the last line of resistance to the mine, have flagged taking their fight to the High Court.

It’s not clear if the state would wait for that outcome. But most of the critical levers on the Adani project remain in the Palaszczuk Government’s hands.

The Australian Conservation Foundation is also challenging Ms Price in the federal Court over her decision not to apply “water trigger” assessment over a water-pipeline project proposed by Adani. 

It’s one of at least a dozen legal challenges to Adani over the past eight years.

Would a Shorten government overturn approval of the project?

Maybe. 

Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten has refused to rule out reviewing the groundwater approval but has “no plans”. 

He says Labor would, “adhere to the science, the law, we won’t create sovereign risk”.

Ms Enoch has claimed the approval “reeks of political interference” from Adani’s supporters in the Coalition, which “may have compromised the integrity of the decision-making process”. 

Ms Price has noted the project must meet further conditions of approval from the Commonwealth before a golden-shovel moment.

Source: ABC Rural

Sourced by Mike Barrow