Wed, Dec 23, 2015 - Page 15 News List

Canberra approves coal port expansion

REEF FEARS:The Carmichael project has been strongly criticized by environmentalists over the potential damage to the Great Barrier Reef. Banks have been wary as well

AFP, SYDNEY

Australia yesterday approved a controversial port expansion to support mining projects and the dredging of 1.1 million cubic meters of spoil despite conservationists’ fears it threatens the Great Barrier Reef.

The decision, creating a huge port capable of handling up to 120 million tonnes of coal per annum, comes two months after the government approved an Indian-backed plan to build one of the world’s biggest mines in the same area of Queensland State.

The A$16.5 billion (US$12.1 billion) Carmichael project by Adani Enterprises in the Galilee Basin, home to vast coal reserves, has attracted fierce criticism, requiring the fossil fuel to be shipped through the deepwater Abbot Point Coal Terminal which is currently at capacity.

Environmentalists have said that any expansion at Abbot Point risked the World Heritage-listed reef’s health and would destroy local habitats.

“The Queensland state Labor government’s Abbot Point Growth Gateway project has been approved in accordance with national environment law subject to 30 strict conditions,” a spokeswoman for Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt said, adding that further approvals were needed from the state government.

Earlier plans were for at least 3 million cubic meters of material to be dredged and dumped into waters around the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but this was later abandoned after an outcry.

The approval now permits 1.1 million cubic meters to be dredged, allowing more freighters to dock at Abbot Point, near the town of Bowen, but spoil must be disposed of on land.

“All dredge material will be placed onshore on existing industrial land. No dredge material will be placed in the World Heritage Area or the Caley Valley Wetlands,” Hunt’s spokeswoman said. “The port area is at least 20 kilometers from any coral reef and no coral reef will be impacted.”

Supporters say the mine and a bigger port would provide thousands of jobs and pump millions into the local economy.

Adani, which has previously accused environmental activists of exploiting legal loopholes to stall its massive open-cut and underground mine which is forecast to produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal a year for export, welcomed the decision.

“The expansion of Abbot Point, the lifeblood of Bowen, is key to Adani’s plans to deliver 10,000 direct and indirect jobs and A$22 billion in taxes and royalties to Queensland,” it said in a statement.

“The approval given by Minister Hunt to the Queensland government mirrors the approvals given to Adani’s mine at Carmichael and North Galilee Basin Rail projects, in that they reflect the strictest, world’s best practice environmental safeguards,” the company said.

Critics said that plunging coal prices make the development financially unviable and Standard Chartered and the Commonwealth Bank have withdrawn as financial advisers, while major European and US banks have refused funding due to environmental concerns.

Greenpeace said the Abbot Point greenlight was “irresponsible for the reef, illogical and unnecessary.”

“It’s illogical to expand the port to make capacity for the proposed Carmichael mine, because it is a dead-end prospect,” Greenpeace reef campaigner Shani Tager said.

“Adani hasn’t got the A$16 billion, no one’s lending it to them and coal prices are tanking. Even the International Energy Agency is questioning the project, Tager said.

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