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Some calm facts“Adani”

When I told my wife I was doing a post on Adani she looked at me suspiciously and asked - for or against? I responded - facts based. “Oh shit” she replied.

Whether you agree or disagree with something you have to make that opinion based on facts.

The proposed Carmichael Coal mine in the Galilee Basin proposed by Indian conglomerate, Adani, has become a lighting rod for the current Federal election.

By anyone’s scale, the project is a monster. The mine is planned to contain six open-cut pits and five underground mines over 50 kilometres long and up to 300 meters deep. The surface disturbance area alone is estimated to be 27,000 hectares.

The Project will cost $16 billion to develop, export up to 25 million tonnes of coal per year in its initial phase and extract 2.3 billion tonnes up until 2077.

The original proposal required a 388 km standard gauge railway line to be constructed to connect to Abbott Point. A later revision is for a 200 km line to connect to existing rail facilities at Moranbah.

The output of the mine is equivalent to around 13% of Australia’s thermal coal exports and 2.8% of global thermal coal consumption.

The Project is estimated to deliver 10,000 jobs during construction up to 2024 and 1500 operational ongoing with $22 billion in taxes and royalties.

If you read the news, it appears there are two camps - one camp, is that if the mine goes ahead the Great Artesian Basin will be drained and the world will end from climate change. The other, is if it doesn’t go ahead central Queensland will die a slow economic death.

As with most things, the extreme scenarios of both ends of the argument rarely come to fruition.

The history of the Carmichael Project is a fascinating one. Its audacious scale, its mind blowing cost, its controversy, its litigation and conflict has never been experienced before in Australia’s history.

The Adani story could fill a book case or more accurately an entire data room at the top tier law firms that they use.

However, a quick overview:

In 2010, Adani Mining Pty Ltd bought the coal tenement that is set to become the Carmichael mine from the now defunct Linc Energy. They paid $650 million. I’ve had a bit to do with Linc Energy over the past few years but that’s another post.

In 2010, the Coordinator-General declared the proposed Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project was being assessed as a 'Significant Project'. There were photos of Premier Anna Bligh and Treasurer Andrew Fraser out in some paddock with their awkward akubras on talking up the project.

In 2011, Adani signed a 99 year lease for the Abbott Point Coal Terminal at Bowen. They paid the State Government $2 billion for the privilege. Once again Anna Bligh and Andrew Fraser were out in their awkward looking hard hats talking up the deal.

In 2012, Adani purchased “Moray Downs” a 300,000 acre cattle station owned by the late Graham Acton for $110 million. Adani’s mine site is contained within the bounds of the property and upon it they proposed a 15,000 person town with an international grade airport.

On 8 May 2014, Queensland's Coordinator-General gave approval for the project to proceed. 190 conditions were set by the state during both construction and operations phases of the mine with particular attention paid to groundwater and water bores which may be potentially affected.

On the 29 July 2014, the Federal Government gave approval for the mine to proceed after 36 conditions were stipulated.

On 5 August 2015, the Federal Government and Adani signed consent orders in the Federal Court to set aside approval of the Carmichael project. The Department had not taken appropriate regard to two endangered species affected by the proposal, the yakka skink and the Ornamental Snake.

In 2017, Adani entered into an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with native title claimants the Wangan and Jagalingou people. Some minority members of the Wangan and Jagalingou people sort to over turn the ILUA but the application was rejected by the High Court in 2018.

The Federal Government signed off on Adanis final approvals, including water management plans, prior to the Morrison Government entering caretaker mode in the lead up to the May 2019 election. Given the 9 years Adani have been waiting for approval - the timing wasn’t great.

But the Project is still waiting on State Governemnt approval on ground water and also habitat impacts to the “black throated finch”.

Those against Adani point to numerous adverse environmental impacts ranging from climate change, impacts to the Great Barrier Reef, loss of water in the Great Artesian Basin to loss of endangered species.

Let’s discuss:

Climate change

Australia produces around 556 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year. It is estimated Adani will produce around 500,000 tonnes per year. This equates to 0.09% of Australia’s emissions.

While significant, I doubt Adani alone will end the world.

While if approved Carmichael will be Australia’s largest coal mine it must be put in context of the other mines operating in the market - Blackwater 13MT, Goonyella 11MT, Mount Arthur 15MT, Morwell 20MT, Newlands 12MT, Peak Downs 13MT, Rolleston 14MT.

The North Antelope Coal mine in the Powder Basin in the US produces 107MT, Black Thunder in Wyoming 102MT, Cerrajong in Columbia 40MT and Hei Dai Gou mine in China produces 31MT.

The Great Artesian Basin

The Great Artesian Basin underpins A$12.8 billion of economic activity annually. Almost all of this is from mining and coal seam gas (A$8 billion) and agriculture (A$4.7 billion).

Despite a net yearly draw down of 286,000 ML per year from water stored within the Great Artesian Basin, the total exploitation of water over the last 120 years has used less than 0.1% of the water stored in the system.

Adani have been granted a 12,000 ML license per year to take from “overland flow”. This represents around 1% of the water currently used in the Burdekin Basin. This water does not come from the GAB.

For this license, Adani are required to pay $20.15 million per year (around $1700 per ML).

Accusations have been made against Adani for being granted an “unlimited license” to take underground water from the GAB. This is not correct. Adani are licensed to take pit water from their open cut mining operations.

The Department of Natural Resources and Mines advises that Carmichael will take a maximum of 4550 megalitres of groundwater a year.

According to the Minister:

“This is roughly equivalent to the amount used each year by a 450 hectares of cane farm land in the Lower Burdekin.”

While 4550 ML is a lot of water, Adani’s take from the GAB is 0.015% per year.

Damage to the Great Barrier Reef

Putting climate change impacts to the side (or Adani’s 0.009% of Australia’s 1.3% of global emissions), the Adani Project has been accused of causing irreversible damage to the GBR mainly through sediment and shipping.

The Carmichael Mine is 300km from the coast. The mine is located in the Burdekin catchment above the Burdekin Dam. Adani will be required to comply with some of the most stringent water quality requirements than any other coal mine in Australia and far less than other land uses in the catchment, namely grazing and irrigated agriculture.

Queensland exports, via ships, around 230 million tonnes of coal per year through the Great Barrier Reef. Adani’s extra ships will increase traffic by around 10%.

The Australian Conservation Foundation took the federal environment minister to court claiming he failed to take account of the climate change impact of the Adani project and potential harm to the reef when he approved it.

ACFs argument was rejected by a full bench of the Federal Court.

Species Loss

The project will impact 5000 hectares of “remnant vegetation”. This has been required to be offset under Queensland’s “offset” regulations.

Considering 198,000 hectares of remnant vegetation was cleared between 2016-2018 in Queensland, Adani’s approval is 5% of that but over a 60 year period.

Under the EPBC, additional offsets of up to 10,000 hectares are required for endangered species.

Adani has set aside 33,000 hectares of land as conservation offsets for endangered species - Triple the statutory requirement.

Impact to landholders

The mine only directly affects one property which Adani owns. The biggest impact will be from their railway line - initially 78 from their first alignment and 22 from their reduced option.

Adani is also required to enter into “make good” water agreements with approximately 10 adjacent landholders whose sub-artesian bores may be effected.

I can appreciate their concern. However, you have to put it in the perspective of the 500 water bores predicted to be adversely affected by CSG operations in the Surat Basin and the 100s of bore in the Bowen basin impacted by coal mine activities.

Given that Adani will only extract coal to 300 meters (which is shallow when compared to Bowen basin mines) and the majority of the higher quality of water is beneath the Rewan Formation (a 300 meter thick clay stone) - if affected landholders lose access to water, Adani will be required to drill them deeper water bores.

Cumulative impacts

Adani aren’t flying solo in the Galilee basin. And this is what concerns me the most with the approval process.

There are currently nine coal “mega-mines” proposed for the Galilee Basin, which together make it the second biggest fossil fuel expansion proposed anywhere in the world (after Western China).

At full production, the proposed Galilee Basin projects would double Australia’s coal exports to over 600 million tonnes a year.

These mining leases are owned by big hitters such as GVK, Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer, MacMines (owned by Chinese company Meijin Energy Group) and Vale (one of the largest coal producers in the world).

Arguably, an Adani approval will “uncork” the untapped potential of the Galilee Basin.

Perhaps Adani is the whipping boy in the much larger “Game of Thrones of Coal”.

What about the people?

Those advocating for Adani talk about jobs, royalties and taxes.

Probably the missing segment of the debate is best put by The Australian’s Judith Sloan:

“Think of the benefits of this world-class project for India, a country where more than 300 million people live without electricity. And consider the more than 100 high-efficiency, low-emissions power stations being built around the world that will consume coal whether or not they use (high-quality, low-ash) Australian coal.”

Probably the most heinous thing said about Adani comes from Labor Deputy Opposition Leader Ms Tanya Plibersek when she said “we can’t rely on an Indian company to bring jobs to central and western Queensland.”

So we can rely on Japanese, Korean, Chinese, American, Swiss and Brazilians to own and control our coal mines but just not Indians.
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