The Queensland government has approved the groundwater plan for Adani's controversial Carmichael mine, clearing the company's last significant environmental hurdle in the Galilee Basin.
The proposed coal mine is the first of six waiting for approval to begin mining in Queensland's Galilee Basin, described as Queensland's last significant coal resources.
Plans for the project, known as the Carmichael mine, were first proposed almost a decade ago. Initially, Adani said it would be one of the biggest in the world and employ 10,000 people. But the mine has been scaled back significantly and it is now expected to create "1,500 direct and 6,750 indirect jobs", the company says.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Science said the company submitted the most recent version of the plan, addressing department feedback, on Wednesday – 24 hours before the approval deadline set by Queensland’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk.
On Thursday, state officials endorsed Adani's plan for groundwater management after several revisions to satisfy environmental requirements. The state also recently approved a separate plan to protect the black-throated finch, an endangered species which lives in the region. Adani will now be able to begin preliminary work, such as land-clearing and road access development at its mine site.
The mine has frequently become a flashpoint for pro- and anti-coal forces, prompting protests and counter-protests. Alongside are those advocating job creation and activists who are pointing towards the environmental degradation the project will bring. Environmental campaigners fear the project could pave the way for six other mines to be approved in the area, which is about 400km (248 miles).
The Carmichael site itself is barren land but those who oppose the mine say that activating it would still harm the fragile ecosystem of the nearby Great Barrier Reef. The federal department said the review of the groundwater dependent ecosystem management plan (GDEMP) “has been rigorous and based on the best available science” and there had been regular meetings to “ensure the plan is robust and provides the maximum environmental protection”.
The groundwater plan has been extensively scrutinised by CSIRO, Geosciences Australia and criticised by seven prominent groundwater scientists earlier this week, demonstrating how Adani Mining plans to protect the region's underground water supplies as it extracts coal. One of the most contentious issues has been the impact of the mine on a group of ancient desert springs which provide underground water to several threatened vegetation species. Those issues have been focused on the potential impact to the Doongmanbulla Springs, about seven kilometres to the south-west of the mine. Adani's groundwater dependent management plan is the final environmental issue to be approved by both the Queensland and Australian governments and has sparked a range of protests from conservation groups and landholders.
Speaking to Newsclick, senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta said, “The scale of this project is historic, it is the biggest investment by an Indian company in Australia, the project extends beyond environmental concerns, when one looks at the economic viability of the project, it becomes apparent that it is a huge risk, what the Adani group is trying to do is to essentially use the coal for its plants in India.” He added, “When one looks at the viability of the project in terms of its economics no bank was ready to back it up, in March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Gautam Adani met the then head of the State Bank of India (SBI) Arundhati Bhatacharya, however the deal did not work out, globally there is a shift to more sustainable forms of resources away from coal, it remains to be seen what gains can be achieved through this project.”
Also Read: Will Australia’s New Govt Change Fate of Adani’s Carmichael Project?