Adani's Carmichael coal mine has received approval for its groundwater management plan, clearing the way for construction to commence at what will be one of Australia's largest coal mines and opening up the Galilee Basin - dubbed by environmentalists as Australia's biggest carbon bomb” - to development.
Approval for the controversial mine's groundwater dependent ecosystem management plan has been granted by the Queensland Government, following assessments by the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia.
The approval removes the last major hurdle for the Adani mine before construction can commence at the site. The Queensland Government has moved quickly to progress approvals
following the Federal election, where Labor received a backlash in Queensland. Up to 60 million tonnes of coal a year is expected to be produced at the mine.
'Over the coming days preparatory activities such as finalising contracts, mobilising equipment, recruitment and completing inductions will continue.” Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow said.
“These preparatory actions will enable us to then start construction activities including fencing, bridge and road upgrades, water management and civil earthworks on the mine site.”
“The level of construction activity will then steadily increase over the coming weeks.”
The groundwater management plans were previously signed off by the Federal government just days before the federal election was called.
Further advice about the management plan was sought from the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia as late as 7 June, with uncertainty over the major source aquifer of springs on the mine site. Concerns were raised that the groundwater used by the mine would impact sacred Doongmabulla springs
The Department of Environment and Science has agreed with Adani's contention that the mine's water source was a different source to the Doongmabulla springs, the Clematis Sandstone, but a set of conditions have been placed on the approval.
These conditions include requirements for Adani to undertake ongoing studies of the geology of water flows through aquifers at the location of the Adani mine, and will be required to complete analysis of groundwater chemistry.
“Underground mining will not commence until these actions are completed and only if predicted impacts are consistent with approved impacts. Likewise, if the hydrogeological conceptualisation differs from that of the approved project, approval must be sought prior to relevant impact causing activities.” the Queensland Department of Environment and Science said in a statement.
The groundwater management plan was the last of two outstanding environmental approvals required to be obtained by Adani before significant construction and mining activities could commence at the Carmichael mine site.
An earlier approval for management of the black-throated finch population at the site was approved on 31 May
The mine is likely to face a series of legal battles as environmental groups seek to challenge the environmental and planning approvals granted to the mine, with Adani required to deliver
further plans for research and environmental management to both Federal and state governments before construction can commence.
'Put simply, this decision is bad news for everyone who loves and relies on a healthy Reef and bad news for the dolphins, turtles, fish, sharks, rays and corals that call the Reef home, but the fight isn't over.' AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaigner Shani Tager said.
'Adani's water approval plan will be just as heavily scrutinised as their pipeline was. We will look at every legal avenue and continue building people power to ensure that our water and climate are protected for our future.” Mackay Conservation Group community organiser Emma Barrett added.
The Federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, will be required to reconsider Adani's North Galilee Water Scheme, which will see 12.5 billion litres of water extracted from the Sutton River for use in the mine after environmental approvals for the scheme were overturned by the Federal court earlier this week.
The Federal Government conceded that a delegate for previous environment minister, Melissa Price, failed to adequately consider community submissions made concerning the water scheme. The new minister will be required to remake the environmental approval, but it is not expected to significantly impact the progress of the project.
The Adani project has faced criticism for its environmental impact, including the contribution coal produced at the mine have to global warming. Criticisms have extended to claims that the economic benefits of the project have been overstated, with many still questioning the economic viability of the mine
Adani. A couple of issues to watch. How much money will be thrown away on the project; when it will close down bankrupt; and how much will the taxpayers and government have to spend to make good the environmental damage that will be caused?
— Stephen Koukoulas (@TheKouk) June 13, 2019
“This decision will be remembered as an infamous failure of good governance of our precious country. Coal is the number one driver of the climate crisis in Australia, which is exacerbating droughts all over the country,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO David Ritter said following the announcement.
“We are in the midst of the climate emergency, the extinction crisis and a water crisis. By giving this groundwater management plan the go-ahead, the system is acting to legitimise the madness.”
According to an analysis prepared for Adani, the Carmichael Mine is set to create up to 1,464 construction jobs but supporting around 100 ongoing positions. Pro-coal campaigners, as well as Adani itself, have at times claimed that Adani would support up to 10,000, potentially raising false hopes for job creation in struggling parts of regional Queensland.
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.