In the heart of Central Queensland lies the Gailee Basin, an open woodland home to endangered species, rich culture, and endemic flora and fauna. It’s also one of the largest untapped coal reserves on the planet.
Naturally, developers are eager to get their hands on the basin. The Adani Group, an Indian energy company, gained rights to develop a mining operation in the Basin mid-2019. With projects in India, Indonesia, and Australia, the Adani Group focuses on finding untapped resources, developing significant operations, and exporting those resources back to India. They also have a reputation for breaching environmental standards. Adani contributes to the statistic that a majority (86%) of Australia’s mining industry is foreign owned.
The Carmichael mine will be one of Australia’s largest. In addition to six open pits, and five underground mines, it’s estimated to produce 60 million tonnes of coal/year at peak capacity. A permanent rail line to transport coal, temporary labor camps, and general infrastructure will be built. According to the Land Court of Queensland, the project will generate up to 1,464 jobs in Australia.
Large-spread energy projects, especially in sensitive landscapes, are complicated. Understanding each side of the story is key to forming a non-biased and educated opinion. Rural Australia, especially the small towns that inhabit the area, see the project as an opportunity for employment, economic growth, and prosperity. Environmentalists are concerned with the integrity of the project, and fear that Adani’s reputation, coupled with a questionable reputation, will lead to environmental disaster. Environmentalists also see the Carmichael coal mine telling of government’s priorities. Foreign investors are interested because a project like Adani open the possibility for future investments.
As of June 13th, 2019, the Queensland Government passed Adani’s group environmental approval after nine years of planning and debate. Prior to getting the ‘ok,’ Adani submitted over a dozen iterations of environmental plans – all were declined because they failed to meet environment requirements. While Adani has received the go-ahead, they are required to continue researching groundwater sources, sampling air, and understanding the landscape in which they hope to mine. Their Environmental Impact Statement Plan is in place, but the execution is still very much in the future.
Outrage has been widespread. On one hand, the development of the Adani basin could lead to environmental disaster. The project has been dubbed the ‘World’s Most Insane Energy Project,’ because of its aggressive approach, ambitious goals, and proximity to ecologically sensitive areas. Energy projects are logistically intricate – from exploring the land, to setting up camp, to developing infrastructure, to actually mining, to processing – there’s a lot of room for mistakes. The land Adani plans to mine lies near the Great Barrier Reef, an ecosystem that’s already suffering from rising ocean temperatures and external anthropogenic influences. The introduction of a coal industry, which requires significant extraction and burning, could further affect the health of the reefs through acidification and heightened air temperature. Logically, ports would be established to transport the coal, introducing barges, coastal traffic, and increasing the potential for spills.
Socially, the Basin holds spiritual and historical significance to the Wangan and Jagalingou people. In late August, the Queensland Government quietly pulled native title for over 1,385 hectares, which legally gives Adani the right to manage land previously considered ‘Native Title.’ That means that previous habitants may be permanently displaced. Sacred sites, like the Doongmabulla Springs, are also jeopardized. Coal mining is a water intensive process – scientists believe that excessive mining could drain and pollute the natural underground water, causing the spring to dry up.
Australia is vast and for the most part, desolate. Without consistent press coverage and a general understanding of the situation, it’s easy to forget that projects like the Carmichael are even happening. Australia’s charm lies in her rugged beauty - introducing projects with the potential to damage that beauty over the long term should be challenged and understood by all - regardless of if you’re sitting pretty in the Byron hinterland, meandering Melbourne, or in the woop woops.
The Adani project is layered and elaborate. It’s worth delving into a further investigation to fully understand the relationship between economic growth, landscape integrity, government priorities, and native land.
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