The Indian multinational conglomerate Adani has been given the final major environmental approval it needs to start constructing the massive Carmichael coal mine in Australia, but environmentalists say the battle to stop the project is by no means over.
The Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) yesterday (Thursday) approved Adani’s Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan (GDEMP) for the Carmichael mine, which would be the largest coal mine in Australia and one of the biggest in the world.
Environmentalists are horrified that approval has been given despite warnings from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Geoscience Australia, and leading water scientists about the negative impacts of the mine.
The Greens senator for Queensland, Larissa Waters (pictured left), said the Adani mine was not yet a done deal, and pointed out that other approvals were still required.
Waters told Sky News that the Carmichael mine project was a “massive climate bomb” and said the DES approval flew in the face of all the warnings from the water experts.
There is much uncertainty about the source of water that flows into the ancient Doongmabulla Springs Complex (DSC) and it is feared that the springs could be drained dry by the mine operations.
To dig for coal, Adani would have to draw water from the artesian basin and there is concern that water that currently feeds the springs will be drawn to the mine instead.
The Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council said the decision of the Queensland government to approve Adani’s ground water management plan imperilled their sacred Doongmabulla Springs and the water essential to their lives.
“Draining our water for Adani’s massive coal mine will irreparably damage the ecology of our homelands. Without the water, everything will struggle to survive,” the council said.
The CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, David Ritter, described yesterday’s decision as “appalling” for people, wildlife, and a thriving, living planet.
“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,” Ritter said.
“As droughts become worse and more intense from climate change, the Queensland government’s approval of Adani’s plan to let its coal mine suck ancient water sources dry is a slap in the face of common sense.”
Ritter said the advance of Adani’s flawed groundwater management plan through the approval process only showed that the approval process was broken and not fit for purpose.
“Adani’s Carmichael project is an instrument of destruction and climate disaster that the Australian legal and regulatory system isn’t designed to see for what it is,” Ritter said.
“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.”
A spokeswoman for the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) said the approval was “a very bad decision” for the Great Barrier Reef that puts millions of corals and ocean wildlife on the Reef at risk.
AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaigner Shani Tager said: “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.”
The Carmichael mine would be sited on Wangan and Jagalingou traditional lands in the Galilee Basin. There would be six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines.
The coal would be transported more than three hundred kilometres from the Carmichael mine to the Adani-operated coal port at Abbot Point, and would then be shipped through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area for export to India.
In an position paper released earlier this week, seven top scientists warned that Adani’s plan could cause the ancient Doongmabulla Springs, which are southwest of the mine site, to stop flowing permanently, driving surrounding wetlands to extinction.
The Doongmabulla Springs wetlands are home to 173 native plant species, including the endangered blue devil and salt pipewort herbs, and 86 different species of wildlife, including the greater bilby and the squatter pigeon.
The scientists said it seemed likely that Adani had significantly underestimated the Carmichael mine’s future impacts on the Doongmabulla Springs Complex and called for plans for the mine to be delayed.
“Should the Carmichael mine cause springs within the DSC to cease flowing, this impact may be irreversible,” the scientists stated.
The Carmichael mine will cause considerable drawdown (groundwater level drop) in the coal-rich sediments (Permian aquifers) that lie beneath the DSC, the scientists say.
“Adani presumes that the source aquifer for the DSC is the shallow Triassic aquifer and that the Rewan Formation effectively isolates the DSC from significant drawdown in the Permian aquifers.
“However, the source aquifer for the springs is still uncertain, because the existing data indicate that the Rewan Formation may not be regionally impermeable or nearimpermeable, as Adani have presumed.”
The scientists say that if the DSC relies on water from the Permian aquifers to maintain discharge rates, the impact on the DSC from drawdown caused by the proposed mine is highly uncertain.
“Even if the DSC is predominantly dependent on groundwater flow from above the Rewan Formation, unrealistic model assumptions mean that drawdown is still likely to be greater than currently predicted.”
The safeguard against DSC impacts proposed by Adani (adaptive management) is unsuitable and unlikely to protect the DSC from severe degradation or cessation of flow, the scientists say.
“Possible cumulative impacts to the DSC from other mining activities in the Galilee Basin have not been adequately considered,” they added. “We conclude that the DSC face a legitimate threat of extinction due to the Carmichael mine project.”
The scientists say there is probably an eight out of ten chance that the Doongmabulla Springs would become extinct under Adani’s current plans.
The Queensland Department of Environment and Science stated in its approval that it is satisfied that the GDEMP “sufficiently establishes” the main source aquifer of the springs as a geological unit called the Clematis Sandstone, but it is requiring Adani to carry out further tests.
‘Process has been politicised’
Larissa Waters told Sky News that there was a crippling drought In Queensland and farmers were very worried about where their water was going to come from. Adani, she said, was getting fast-tracked approvals that “are going to make climate change, bush fires, and natural disasters even worse”. Both big political parties were bending over backwards to do Adani’s bidding, Waters said. She posted the following tweet.
The environment ministry had only received Adani’s new groundwater management plan on Wednesday, Waters said, so their experts had less than 24 hours to properly examine it.
The department also accepted that it didn’t fully understand the groundwater interactions involved and were going to require Adani to do more studies.
“They are really accepting and acknowledging that there’s still a level of scientific uncertainty here, which is what the water experts who are genuinely independent said just a couple of days ago,” Waters told Sky News.
The process has clearly been politicised, Waters says.
“If they had done these studies properly then they would wait to give final approval until they actually understood the genuine consequences on water and on the climate of these sorts of decisions,” she told Sky News.
Waters said that Adani still didn’t have its railway or pipeline approvals and there were still two federal research plans that needed to be considered before they could break ground. “They still don’t have proper financing,” Waters added.
The Greens’ MP for Maiwar in Queensland, Michael Berkman posted this tweet:
‘The fight to save the Reef is not over’
Shani Tager said the fight to save the Great Barrier Reef was not over. “There’s still plenty that’s standing in the way of Adani beginning to mine coal. Only yesterday the federal government conceded a legal challenge over its handling of Adani’s plan to pump 12.5 billion litres of water a year from the Suttor River.”
As custodians of the world’s greatest coral reef system, Queensland and Australia had to lead by example “and show there’s a bright future for everybody that’s beyond coal”, Tager said.
“Climate change is the greatest threat to our Reef’s future and we cannot risk opening up the Galilee basin for other major coal projects which would heat our oceans and lead to more stress on our beautiful corals and Reef.
“Burning fossil fuels like coal is adding greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, that’s heating our oceans. To give our Reef a fighting chance, we need to keep this coal in the ground.”
The Reef, Tager said, was still a magnificent World Heritage icon and 64,000 tourism jobs depended on its health.
Additional studies required
In the advice they issued in February this year, the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia said they had reservations about Adani’s previous groundwater management plans and the inability of Adani to identify the source of the ancient springs.
They stated: “Modelling underpins the approaches in the management and monitoring plans. The review found that the modelling used is not suitable to ensure the outcomes sought by the EPBC Act conditions are met.
“A number of limitations were also identified in the proposed monitoring and management approaches indicating they are not sufficiently robust to monitor and minimise impacts to protected environments.”
They added that, while the Clematis Sandstone may be a principal source aquifer for the Doongmabulla Springs, “based on the information currently available, it is not reasonable to assert that it is the sole source aquifer”.
The CSIRO and Geoscience Australia recommended that Adani make firmer commitments to protect the springs, but the water scientists say the conglomerate has not made sufficient changes in its GDEMP.
“Adani has not strengthened this part of the plan, and actions required to address impacts to the springs remain vague,” scientistsand .
“Adani has made some changes to the investigations it is required to complete within one to two years. But there appears to be no new scientific work or findings in the most recent version of the groundwater plan to address scientific uncertainties or flaws in the modelling, as pointed out by CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and others,” the scientists wrote.
Yesterday, however, the environment department said that box cut mining could begin at the Carmichael site. Underground mining will not begin until further testing is completed.
The DES is requiring additional commitments from Adani to undertake further scientific work over the next two years. “This is required to identify any potential contribution from other aquifers and strengthen the GDEMP,” the DES said in a statement.
Adani will have to undertake detailed hydrogeochemical analysis of groundwater and spring samples from different springs within each spring complex and carry out isotopic analysis, and will be required to examine core samples from new bores “to attain a better understanding of hydraulic properties and provide detailed geological mapping”.
The DES added: “Additional measures in the GDEMP also address concerns raised last week by Flinders University scientists that the Permian aquifers should not be ruled out as a Doongmabulla Springs Complex source.”
The Carmichael mine and rail project has been approved under national environment law subject to 36 conditions, which include protection of 31,000 hectares of black-throated finch habitat, 135 hectares of ornamental snake habitat, and 5,600 hectares of yakka skink habitat.
Adani’s plan for protecting the black-throated finch was approved on May 31.
Conservation foundation wins federal court appeal
On Wednesday, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) won its federal court appeal against the assessment of Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme.
The federal government conceded the case, admitting that it failed to consider public submissions and even lost some submissions.
The ACF’s chief executive, Kelly O’Shanassy, said: “Once again this case outcome shows the federal government failed to properly scrutinise Adani’s proposed Galilee Basin coal mine.
“With this concession the government admitted it comprehensively failed to apply proper process when former environment minister Melissa Price assessed Adani’s plans to take up to 12.5 billion litres of water from the Suttor River in outback Queensland to service its mine.”
O’Shanassy said the government conceded that it did not properly consider more than 2,000 public submissions from Australians with concerns about the mine and the water scheme.
“The government is fundamentally failing to properly apply national environment laws to its approvals for Adani’s mine and has been ignoring deep public concern about the mine’s environmental impact.
“This raises questions about the influence companies like Adani have over governments in Australia. When a company wields such power that it can cause a minister to rush an approval process, cut corners and make significant errors, it is cause for serious concern.”
Water is scarce in Australia, O’Shanassy pointed out. “The proposal must now go to the new environment minister, Sussan Ley, and be re-opened for public comment.”
The North Galilee Water Scheme is a critical infrastructure project to support the Carmichael mine. Adani plans to construct a 110-kilometre pipeline from the Suttor River, an ephemeral water source in central Queensland, to the mine site.
When making her decision about the assessment process for the water scheme under Australia’s national environment law Melissa Price elected not to apply the “water trigger”, a process designed to scrutinise the impact that large coal and coal seam gas projects have on water.
In February this year, the ACF asked the court to include an additional ground in the case relating to whether the minister properly considered thousands of public submissions in her assessment of the water infrastructure proposal.
Nine years of protests
Over the past nine years, there have been fierce protests against the Carmichael mine project. There have been numerous legal challenges and demonstrators have even locked themselves onto machinery at the mine site.
The Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council said today: “We are the water protectors. We want to look after the land for all future generations. We said no to Adani and we will keep saying no. Adani is not welcome in our country.
“But again, the Queensland government simply continues the relentless dispossession of our lands and waters that our people are forced to endure.”
The council members said they would not be subjected to these actions and stay quiet. “We speak for our law on that country and we will speak out against those who would allow its destruction. We will stand our ground.”
They added: “The ecology is our home, our Yumba, the locus of creation, the Rainbow Serpent. We are being told we must give this up for a few second-rate jobs in a sunset industry. We are offered a pittance in compensation for the destruction of our lands and waters, and the denial of our fundamental rights.”
To add insult to injury, the council members said, they were coerced into so-called “land use agreements”. The state did not have their free, prior informed consent, they said.
“It does not deal with us respectfully as a first nation or recognise our original tribal sovereignty. It interferes with the practice of our culture and ceremony, our law and religion. All of which are deeply and inextricably connected to the water.”
Some members of the council are appealing against a decision by the federal court, which last year rejected their objections to Adani’s Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA).
Under the ILUA, native title over the area would be extinguished for Adani to build the Carmichael mine.
The appellants state that “below reasonable efforts” were made to verify whether participants were Wangan and Jagalingou people at meetings held to make decisions on the proposed ILUA.
“There are aspects of the native title system that are not just, and not in accord with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” the appellants said. “We have found deep flaws in the native title regime.
“We are wary the government will now expedite land tenure arrangements for Adani at our expense, before the conclusion of the court process.”
‘An impending disaster’
The former leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown, says that the Adani corporation’s “dirty coal mine” is an impending disaster with effects that would reach far beyond Australia
In a hard-hitting opinion piece for The Guardian, published in March 2017, he wrote that stopping the Adani coal mine is “the environmental issue of our times”.
Those arguing against the project say that tourism in the area is of much more economic value than the mine would ever be.
Waters’ view is that jobs and prosperity can be created in regional Queensland by investing in renewable energy and community infrastructure, and by safeguarding the jobs in Reef tourism and agriculture that would be lost to coal-driven climate change.
DES says assesment is ‘based on the best available science’
Queensland’s environment and science department says its assessment of Adani’s GDEMP has been rigorous and is “based on the best available science”. The DES and Adani had met regularly to ensure that the plan was robust and provided the maximum environmental protection, the department said in a statement.
In assessing the plan, both Adani and the DES took on board advice from the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, the department said
The DES sought further clarification and advice from the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, which it received on June 7.
“Based on this advice, DES is satisfied that the GDEMP sufficiently establishes the main source aquifer of the springs as the Clematis Sandstone,” the DES said.
“CSIRO and Geoscience Australia also confirmed that some level of uncertainty in geological and groundwater conceptual models always exists.”
The DES says Adani is required to review hydrological, hydrochemistry analyses and seismic information as part of its second geological and groundwater remodelling after box cut mining starts. It must also review seismic information pertaining to underground mining impacts. Further seismic studies may also need to be undertaken.
“Underground mining will not commence until these actions are completed and only if predicted impacts are consistent with approved impacts,” the DES stated.
“Likewise, if the hydrogeological conceptualisation differs from that of the approved project, approval must be sought prior to relevant impact-causing activities.”
The CEO of the mining division at Adani Australia, Lucas Dow, said in a statement that the finalisation of the GDEMP and the Black-throated Finch Management Plan paved the way for construction to commence on the Carmichael project “and the delivery of much-needed jobs for regional Queenslanders”.
He said that, over the coming days, preparatory activities such as finalising contracts, mobilising equipment, recruitment, and completing inductions would continue.
“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,” Dow said. “The level of construction activity will then steadily increase over the coming weeks.”
Dow said that the Carmichael mine project would deliver 1,500 direct and 6,750 indirect jobs during ramp-up and construction, with Rockhampton and Townsville the primary hubs for employment. The
Whitsunday, Isaac, Central Highlands, Mackay, Charters Towers, and Gladstone regions would
also benefit from work packages and employment opportunities, he said.
An alarming environmental record
The Adani Group is chaired by its founder Gautam Adani (pictured left), whose net worth is estimated by Forbes to total US$6.3 billion.
The group has an alarming environmental record GetUp! Australia has published a report about Adani entitled “The Adani Files“, which includes evidence from hundreds of court documents collated by Environmental Justice Australia and Earthjustice.
An ABC “Four Corners” documentary, broadcast in October 2017, catalogues Adani’s alleged bribery and corruption, environmental destruction, tax dodging, money laundering, siphoning money into tax havens, and illegal mining.
Adani denies all the allegations.
There will be protest rallies in Australia tomorrow (Saturday).