Adani breaks laws, given billions of litres of water

Anti-Adani protesters with a community 'Stop Work' order in Brisbane on September 13. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The federal Coalition government is so keen to assist Adani with its mega coalmine project, it is breaking its own laws to do it.

On September 18, the government decided Adani did not need to undergo a key assessment to extract billions of litres of water from the Suttor River in central Queensland for its Carmichael coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme proposes to expand an existing 2.2 billion-litre dam to 10 billion litres and build associated infrastructure including 110 kilometres of pipeline to transport water from the Suttor River and Burdekin Basin. The aim is to supply at least 12.5 gigalitres of fresh water to the Carmichael coalmine and other mines in central Queensland.

As Queensland suffers through a severe drought, environment minister Melissa Price decided not to apply a “water trigger” assessment to Adani’s proposal to extract river water for up to 60 years, expand a dam and build a pipeline to transport the water to its mine.

Under federal environment law, if coalmines are likely to have a significant impact on water resources they must undergo a full environmental assessment that would be scrutinised by an independent scientific committee.

Adani’s lawyers argued that the “water trigger” only applied if the water was used in the extraction of the coal and that the water being taken from the river will only be used to wash coal and manage dust.

Lock the Gate’s Carmel Flint condemned the Coalition government for “another special deal for Adani that puts our water resources at risk”.

She said that the decision had been “rushed through” to assist Adani. “In the past, water pipelines a tiny fraction the size of the Adani pipeline have been forced to conduct full environmental impact assessments. So, letting Adani off without doing the research needed is an absolute disgrace.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has released a document, obtained under freedom of information laws, suggesting that the Environment Department had approved the North Galilee Water Scheme by June 13, even though the public comment period ran until 12 days later.

Illegal clearing

Adani has also been sprung conducting illegal clearing and drilling work before a Matters of National Environmental Significance Management Plan had been approved by the government.

Aerial shots by environmental group Coast and Country appear to show that Adani has already cleared vegetation and drilled six groundwater dewatering bores on the site of its proposed Carmichael coal mine despite lacking government approval.

The Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld), acting on behalf of ACF, has written to Price asking for an urgent independent investigation into any alleged breaches of national environment law by Adani.

Adani claimed on September 18 to have made an “administrative error” by not submitting the clearing and drilling paperwork on time.

EDO Qld lawyer Jo Bragg accused Adani of acting in a misleading way. “This is not an administrative error; this is in fact a very serious error,” she said. “[Adani was] saying there is no disturbance when they are now saying it was six hectares.”

Adani has now cleared a total of 127 hectares on the mine site.

The appointment of Lucas Dow, Adani’s Australian CEO, in April, seems to have triggered this frenzy of activity. Dow was previously a senior executive of BHP Billiton and a former vice president of the Queensland Resources Council.

Adani’s application to expand the dam by 450% and build a pipeline to its Carmichael coal mine was made in April.

ACF’s Kelly O’Shanassy called on the federal government to launch an immediate and independent investigation into the illegal work undertaken by Adani on September 12.

“The public has a right to know what harm may have already occurred to the environment and what enforcement action the government will take”, she said.

“Australia does not need another dirty coal mine that will pollute our climate and guzzle our clean water. The power to revoke Adani’s federal environmental approval is available to the minister and should be exercised without delay.”

Rail link shrunk

Adani announced on September 13 it had amended its rail link project. Its original proposal was for a 388-kilometre standard gauge track, expected to cost $2.3 billion. It now proposes to make use of the existing Aurizon rail infrastructure that runs to Abbot Point.

A new narrow-gauge rail line of about 200 kilometres would be constructed to connect the existing network to the Carmichael mine site, reducing the length of the track Adani would have to build by 188 kilometres and significantly reducing the cost.

ACF’s Christian Slattery said it is a signal that Adani “is more serious than ever about building its climate-damaging coal mine”.

Then, on September 19, Adani announced it could finance the mine without government help.

It omitted to mention the significant contribution it will receive from the public purse — a five-year royalty “holiday” and discounted coal for another four. The cost to Queenslanders will be almost $1.2 billion in lost revenue.