Australia approves coal port expansion

Sydney, December 22

Australia today approved a controversial port expansion to support mining projects and the dredging of 1.1 million cubic metres (2.4 million cubic feet) of spoil despite 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 green-lighted an Indian-backed plan to build one of the world’s biggest mines in the same area of Queensland state.

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

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

“The Queensland state Labour government’s Abbot Point Growth Gateway project has been approved in accordance with national environment law subject to 30 strict conditions,” a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Greg Hunt said.

Earlier plans were for at least three million cubic metres 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 metres to be dredged, allowing more freighters to dock at Abbot Point, near the town of Bowen, but spoil must be disposed of on existing industrial land.

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

The decision comes barely a week after 195 nations, including Australia, agreed in Paris to try and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

Hunt said he was comfortable that good-quality Australian coal would feed Indian electricity consumption.

“If they didn’t have Australian participation ... they would be using lower quality fuel,” he told ABC radio. “So lower quality fuel and lower efficiency (power) stations — so the net global impact of not using Australian fuels would be for emissions to go up, not down.”

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 22 billion Australian dollars in taxes and royalties to Queensland,” it said in a statement.

Critics argue that plunging coal prices make the development financially unviable, while major European and US banks have refused funding due to environmental concerns.