Australian politics, society & culture

Wednesday, 30th July 2014

QUARRY VISION

On Monday this week, environment minister Greg Hunt approved the proposed Carmichael Coal and Rail Project. On the eastern edge of central Queensland's largely untapped Galilee Basin, the $16.5 billion project is expected, according to the government, to employ up to 2,500 workers during its construction phase, and to produce up to 60 million tonnes of coal for electricity over the next 60 years.

The project, which would be seven times the size of Sydney Harbour, is set to include six open-cut pits and five underground mines. Hunt is at pains to emphasise the 36 conditions he has imposed on the mine's operator, Indian giant Adani. But expert critics worry that even if adhered to, those conditions say nothing about the mine's effect on climate change, and are unlikely to prevent damage to groundwater systems. Critics have also pointed to Adani's poor record at meeting environmental conditions. The Indian environment ministry last year fined Adani the equivalent of $33 million after it was found to have hidden the true nature of its projects so as to obtain faster approvals.

Industry analysts are also puzzled by the approval. World coal prices are already low because of a global oversupply. If the Carmichael project goes ahead – which in practice would mean that billions of dollars of infrastructure is built to service it – then up to nine other projects in the Galilee Basin would also become viable. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, whose mission is to reduce dependence on non-renewable energy resources, suggests that the combined projects may increase global coal supply by 30 per cent. Under present conditions Adani will not develop the mine, if only because it won't be able to raise the required capital. But Hunt's approval extends to 30 June 2090.

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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