Dr Ashutosh Misra
CEO and Executive Director
Institute for Australia India Engagement
In recent weeks in Australia, two incidents made media headlines. First, public protests against the proposed Carmichael mine by Adani in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland flashing placards “Stop Adani”, “Coal Kills” and “Quit Coal”. And second, protestors disrupting Labour leader Bill Shorten’s speech at a Labour conference in Adelaide, waiving the “#Stop Adani” flag.
These are very compelling stories. It is a no brainer as to why a project that would allegedly wreck such environmental havoc and cultural devastation would be given a bipartisan endorsement at the state and commonwealth levels.
Following the dismissal of the last litigation in August in the court, the news came that Adani mining will self-fund the project and construction commence as early as before Christmas.
So is there any substance to the key charges levied by the Greens and environmental protestors? Let us analyse these charges: coal kills; robs our water; destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and destruction of ancestral lands, waters and cultures of the indigenous people.
These charges have been scrutinised exhaustively in court in nine litigations, all of which now have been dismissed by the courts, the last one being in August.
Let us delve into these charges to ascertain their veracity.
Coal Kills: A myth in Australia among the Greens and environmentalist lobbies has been perpetuated that coal fired power generation is decreasing globally, which is a European centric assertion. According to the International Energy Agency Energy Outlook 2017 figures world coal production has increased by 3.2%, which is driven by the 3.6% and 6.9 % percent output in China and US, respectively.
Driven by rising urbanisation and population, global coal consumption has risen by 1% in 2017, with 4.8% consumption growth in India. In China, India, Middle East, South East Asia and Central/South America coal based power generation is growing.
The environmental activists claim that Carmichael mine is a ‘super/mega mine’ which will produce more coal than any mine in the world. The fact is it constitutes a mere 2.5% of the total world thermal coal traded in 2018 and 0.5% of the world thermal coal demand in 2017.
Albeit in India, and many other countries the share of renewable energy, hydro, gas and nuclear powered electricity generation has increased, yet, coal remains the predominant source for power generation. One must be mindful that for a Munni, sitting in a remote Indian village where electricity is yet to reach, climate change campaign is a luxury. The Carmichael mine carries hope for millions of Munnis in India and Queensland people can potentially change their lives forever.
Robbing of our water: Another charge laid against the project is that it will rob us of our water. In fact, water will be used for washing approx 30% percent of the coal to increase its energy efficiency, for human use in workshops, offices and accommodation village, and for dust suppression to minimise any adverse impact on the health of the employees and neighbours. Water will be acquired from multiple sources: ground, rain, recycled and Sutton/Belyando river.
The ground water will come from local aquifers connected to the coal seams beneath the mine site and not from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), which is separated by a 250-300 metre thick layer of claystone called the Rewan Formation which prevents water from moving between the GAB and the mine. Safeguards are in place to check seepage from GAB to the mine and the potential seepage is predicted at 730 ML per year, if the mine was producing 60 MT per annum. Phase one will produce less than 27.5 MT per annum.
GAB water has been extracted over a century for farming, town water supplies and industrial use by drilling bores. Since the 1950s there are government regulations which require new bores to be tapped to control the flow. The mine will not extract any water from GAB and to offset any seepage, Adani will cap free-flowing GAB bores meant for agricultural users, totalling 730ML per year for the first five years. In total, 3,650ML water will go back to the GAB.
The Sutton river water will only be pumped during floods and after the farmers and other users have taken their shares, and when the flow rate is higher than 2.592 ML per day.
The Carmichael project has been granted license to use a maximum of 12.5 GL of water at a fee applicable to other local industrial users as well. The Department of Natural Resource, Mines and Energy spent nearly two years assessing the water license, and in the end attached over 200 conditions to the project to protect the natural environment, interests of landholders and traditional owners. The Carmichael project water management plan adheres to a regulation based on six years of environmental assessment.
The Doongmabulla Springs, located 11 km away from the mine activities will be regularly monitored and reported for maintaining specified water levels (20 cm). Besides, a levee wall and 1km of buffer zone will separate the mine from the Carmichael river to protect the riverine environment.
Destruction of the Great Barrier Reef: One of the most potent charges that caught the public eye is the potential destruction of the GBR from mining activity. Perhaps, few know that the distance between the mine and the GBR is the same as between London and Paris i.e., 350 km. There are four other mines, Clermont, Goonyella, Blackwater and Mt Arthur, operating much closer to the GBR and Carmichael mine is located the farthest. Last year, environmental activists charged that Adani polluted a nearby wetland at Abbot Point in the wake of the Tropical Cyclone Debbie. An environmental sediment investigation was conducted in April 2017 by the Queensland Government, supported by CSIRO, which established that the license was fully complied with and there was no damage to the wetland. The charge was based on an aerial imagery of the Abbot Point Terminal, mistaking the cloudy reflection in the water as seeping coal sediments.
Many are unaware that Adani is developing the largest private conservation area in Queensland which will have medium length native grass, variety of seeds, particular types of trees to enable nesting of birds and water puddles, troughs and dams for water conservation. This conservation area is 33,000 hectares, 25 times the size of the open cut mine area (1,300 hectares) in phase 1.
Adani Renewables Australia is also developing a 300MW Rugby Run Solar Farm project in Queensland which will supply 65MW of RE power in phase 1 and gradually expand to 170MW. More than 247,000 panels have been installed which will generate 185,000MWh of power annually from phase 1.
Whyalla Solar Project is another initiative in South Australia that was granted pre-construction approval in August 2018 which will deliver up to 140MW of RE power and 300,000MWh of power annually. Environmental campaigners must consider these RE initiatives too in their narratives.
Destruction of ancestral/indigenous lands, waters and cultures: Environmental and pressure groups have long alleged that Carmichael project will destroy ancestral lands, waters and cultures of the indigenous people, and the promise of 10,000 jobs is a mere hogwash. A close scrutiny reveals that the project will create multi-generational benefits for the Traditional Owners and since 2010 it has been working with four Traditional Owners of the land on which the project will operate.
Perhaps, a lesser known fact to the public is that in 2016 the Wangan and Jagalingou People voted 294 to 1 to endorse the Indigenous Land Use Agreement for the Carmichael project. ILUA are in place with all four claim groups and are registered by the National Native Title Tribunal.
In fact, the courts have dismissed cases saying “lacking no merit”, and some federal liberal leaders have described the opposition to the mine as an “ill-informed protest activity”.
The Carmichael project has committed to a minimum of: $7.5 million for indigenous educational bursaries/pre-employment programs, $250 million for indigenous business development and contracts, 7.5% indigenous employment target and 10% indigenous trainee target. The initial construction and ramp-up of the project will generate 8,250 total jobs including 1,500 direct mine and rail jobs and 6,750 indirect jobs in equipments, hospitality and engineering.
The expected jobs for Queenslanders would range from office workers, scientists and miners to food preparation, truck drivers, waste removalists, cafes and gas stations. As per the Queensland Resource Council’s economic modelling estimates, for every one direct job 405 additional indirect jobs are supported.
Bill Shorten too has dismissed calls for cancelling the Adani license on grounds of ‘sovereign risks”, which means a possible adverse impact on the investors’ confidence from entering into Australia for business. Some speculate that Adani may also sue the Australian government to pay multi-million dollars in damages, at the cost of the tax payers as per the provision enshrined in the Australia-India Bilateral Investment Treaty, which was scrapped by India on 23 March 2017. It has been replaced by the Investor-State Disputes Settlement (ISDS) process and the AIBIT remains in force for another 15 years covering agreements reached before 23 March.
While public protests continue against the Carmichael project, there is a discernible shift in public mood, both in electoral domain, as seen in the recently concluded Victorian elections and also the Batman by-election as well as social media.
Five years ago, finding a consenting voice for the project in the social media was a rarity. But now more and more are openly backing the project. On one the social media posts by Green Peace Australia, some comments capture the changing public mood and Green’s rapidly shrinking public support.
Consider the following social media comments: “Greens are against it but I bet they sit at home using power and enjoying it”; “wonderful, more jobs with stringent controls -win win all round”; “great news for North Queensland”; “stop bloody Greenpeace”; “they seem to be a law unto themselves, useless mongrels”; “Adani will be great for the local economy and a win against the fascist greens”; and finally, “Greens don’t worry about Australian jobs. Greens never work. Why should they? They get dole and heaps of “research grants”. Life is great when living off the tax payers”.
So why this change in mood and public perception? The answer is simple. To advance Australia fair, people feel everyone deserves a fair go, including the project. After years of litigations, environmental and legal audits and putting hundreds of checks, balances and monitoring mechanisms in place, and courts endorsement that the project complies with all the laws and norm of the land, Adanis deserve a fair go.
While environmental protestors have the right to protest, a line needs to be drawn here. Living in developed societies it is lost to us what it means not having basic amnesties. There are millions clamouring for electricity and other associated basic amenities in India, and for Queensland it beckons a dual opportunity: creating jobs for the locals and lighting up the world of Munni 10,000 km away.