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Queensland government gives final approval for controversial Adani coal mine to go ahead

Sarah Elks, Domanii Cameron, Jessica Marszalek and Sarah Vogler, June 13, 2019 6:39PM The Australian

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Coal production in an open cut mine. media_cameraCoal production in an open cut mine.

environment

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After nine years, nine legal reviews and $3.7 billion to get it started, the controversial* Adani megamine* in Queensland has finally been approved.

Adani could start building its Carmichael coal mine immediately after the Queensland government gave final environmental approval for its water management plan on Thursday.

The water management plan had to ensure environmental protection for waterways and that it would not drain rivers and springs dry from overuse of water in the mine.

The decision comes more than two years after the company submitted its first groundwater plan to Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science.

The mine in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin has been the subject of fierce protests and endless political debate over issues including the impact on the environment and climate change, the protection of wildlife, Aboriginal land rights and the use of water.

media_cameraAnti-Adani coal mine protesters are seen in King George Square in Brisbane on June 7. Picture: AAP

Adani has been pressing for final approvals from the department for months with no result. After Labor’s poor showing in Queensland at the May 18 federal election was linked to the delays on Adani, Premier Anna­stacia Palaszczuk ordered deadlines be set for the outstanding environmental approvals.

The department signed off on Adani’s strategy to protect the endangered* black-throated finch, which relies on habitat in the area for survival, on May 31.

Thursday’s decision on the water approvals comes after the department sought advice from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia on Adani’s groundwater strategy.

The scientific bodies raised concerns — which have not been detailed publicly — and Adani was forced to rewrite its plan over the weekend.

Aboriginals in the area feared the project could damage sacred* wetlands, including draining the nationally important Doongmabulla Springs dry.

The department said on Thursday it was satisfied Adani had met all its environmental requirements and had agreed to strict monitoring of its water use.

EXPLAINER: The Adani coal mine

After the announcement, Queensland’s Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch told parliament the decision was “free from political interference”.

“Today’s decision … was not and could not be made by me, or anyone else in the Cabinet, it has been made by the regulator*, and backed by expert advice,” Ms Enoch said.

Ms Enoch said the speed of the process had been criticised by some in the community and the media, but she said the government was merely upholding the rigorous* state laws, and making decisions based on science.

“We do not apologise for that,” she said.

Adani Mining chief executive officer Lucas Dow said the approval of the groundwater and finch protection plans meant the company could start building.

“Moving forward, our priority is ensuring the safety of everyone who works on the project and that all construction activity meets the strict environmental requirements we have agreed to meet in our management plans and approvals,” he said.

  • FAST FACTS
    Adani is a multinational company with operations in mining, ports, shipping, rail, power generation and transmissions. Owned by Indian billionaire industrialist Gautam Adani.
  • The Adani project will feature:
    a) six open-cut pits (used when minerals are found over a large area and relatively close to the surface. The open cut mine is dug downwards in benches or steps which slope towards the centre of the pit.)
    b) five underground mines (when coal is retrieved from deep underground using tunnels).
  • Construction will begin within days or weeks
  • The mine is expected to produce 10 million tonnes of coal a year initially but could be ramped up to 27.5 million if future stages are approved.
  • Almost 19,000 workers have applied for the estimated 1500 construction and ramp jobs expected over the next two years.
  • Further rolling deadlines from June to September are set for leases and licences, allowing a rail line to be built, a workers’ camp and airport.
  • Most of the coal is expected to be exported to India to produce electricity.
  • There are eight coal mines proposed in Australia that are as big or bigger than the Adani mine in value, with about 60 listed as major projects with the Department of Industry.
  • There are 125 coal mines in Australia already active.

CRITICISM OF THE PROJECT
The mine has been criticised by Aboriginal elders with members of the Wangan and Jagalingou people claiming they did not give permission for the mine to proceed. But last year, the federal court ruled in favour of the Indian mining company.

Adani Meeting media_cameraAdani Mining CEO Lucas Dow.

Green groups immediately reacted with anger at the decision accusing the Government of condemning* the environment for political gain.

State Parliament’s lone Greens MP Michael Berkman took to Twitter to warn the campaign to stop Adani would continue.

“Make no mistake, this is not the end. Labor’s internal meltdown and capitulation* to coal billionaires won’t make an entire movement of people disappear … we’re just getting started.

“If Adani really believes they’ll get their way, they’ve got another thing coming,” he said.

Queensland students angry at the mine’s approval have already threatened to close down the centre of Brisbane in protest.

Uni Students for Climate Justice and Movement Against Destruction unveiled plans to stage a mass rally in the Brisbane CBD during afternoon peak hour next Friday, June 21.

Organiser Catherine Robertson, said the decision to approve the Adani coal mine’s groundwater plan was an “absolute disgrace”.

“It will spell the end of the Galilee Basin and cause irrevocable* destruction to million-year-old ecosystems*,” she said.

media_cameraA huge coal loading conveyor belt piles up coal.

STATED BENEFITS OF ADANI

  • Jobs: Will deliver 1500 direct and 6750 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 will also benefit from work packages and employment opportunities.
  • Economic benefit: over the course of its life, the mine is expected to generate an enormous amount in taxes and in royalties*, revenues for state and federal ­governments. More than $21 billion is expected to go into mining, rail and port infrastructure in Queensland alone.
media_cameraWaterlilies at the aquifer-fed Doongmabulla Springs. Picture: supplied by Lock The Gate

STATED RISKS OF ADANI

  • Environmental impact: The mining, burning and exporting of coal, which is a fossil fuel, is a massive contributor to climate change. Environmentalists fear the Adani project will add 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon pollution to our atmosphere.
  • Damage to the Great Barrier Reef: The project will allow 500 more coal ships to travel through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area every year for 60 years.
  • More mines: The Carmichael mine is expected to open up the Galilee basin for another six mines in the future.
  • Threat to birds: Could force the black-throated finch out of habitat critical to its survival.
  • Water management: Traditional Aboriginal owners of the mine site are bitterly split on the project with many concerned the mine could damage sacred wetlands, including draining nationally important Doongmabulla Springs dry.
  • The mine is expected to use 270 billion litres of water over 60 years as Queensland currently suffers through a drought.

GLOSSARY

  • controversial: likely to cause public disagreement
  • megamine: a massive mine
  • endangered: at risk of dying out
  • sacred: regarded with great respect by a certain group
  • regulator: person or body that supervises a particular industry or business activity
  • rigorous: extremely thorough or careful
  • condemning: forcing something unpleasant on someone
  • capitulation: surrender
  • irrevocable: in a way that cannot be changed or undone
  • ecosystems: community of interacting organisms and their physical environment
  • royalities: a payment made by a producer of minerals, oil, or natural gas to the owner of the site or of the mineral rights over it

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Where will the Adani mine be located in Queensland?
  2. Which bird was under threat from the project?
  3. What is an open cut mine?
  4. How many jobs will the mine create?
  5. Name the sacred springs the Aboriginals want to be protected. 

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1.
A bird’s eye-view
The approval for the Adani mine relied on a number of environmental plans including one to ensure the safety of the black-throated finch population which currently lives there. Part of the plan is to conserve vegetation for the finches on land next to the site. This land currently doesn’t have finch populations, unlike the mine site which has several.
Imagine you are ‘Mayor’ of the Finch population and need to give a speech to explain to the birds what is happening in their current home and encourage them to move to this new site. Obviously, there will be some negativity and upset over the plan to move. It is your job to make the move sound like the best course of action to ensure the survival of the population.

The birds will want to know why this mine has been given the go-ahead and what the benefits and impacts this decision will have on the environment (not just for the finches) and the economy. Present this information from the bird’s perspective – would they think ruining their home is okay if thousands of jobs are created for humans? 
Practice reading your speech with expression.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, The Arts – Drama, Critical and Creative thinking, Sustainability

2. Extension
Why are the black-throated finches such an important consideration in the Adani mine debate? Find out about the black-throated finch and present a fact file about them.
Include the following information in your file.

  • Species name
  • habitat type
  • diet
  • behaviour
  • endangered rating
  • any other interesting information.
  • include a picture or diagram of them

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
Simplify
Summarise the article into a more simplistic paragraph or two for a younger audience.
Try and keep not only the government’s decision, but some of the main points addressed as well. Sometimes lower level vocabulary is just as important as wow words.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you agree with the decision to approve the Adani mine project? Tell us why or why not.
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.

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