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Last update: 2016-11-01 15:23:00
Julien Vincent, Lead Campaigner, Market Forces
Lucie Pinson, Private Finance Campaigner, Friends of the Earth France
Yann Louvel, Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator, BankTrack
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The Alpha Coal project is a AUD6 billion coal mine and export project that is proposed to be constructed in Queensland, Australia. The black thermal coal mine and associated rail and port infrastructure are expected to produce and transport, respectively, an estimated 30 million tonnes per year to Asia. The rail corridor would be 495 km long linking the mine near the town of Alpha in the Galilee Basin with an export port at Abbot Point, Queensland. If the project is approved, it will be the first coal mine in the Galilee Basin. The activities of this project are expected to directly and negatively impact the Great Barrier Reef due to export shipments, which will directly cross the reef.
The Hancock Alpha project was originally proposed in 2008. It was deemed to be a “controlled action” in 2009, meaning that it would require approval under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act before it could proceed. The EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) process began in 2009.
On 29 May 2012, the Queensland Coordinator-General issued a report on the project and recommended that it be approved subject to 128 conditions. However, within hours of this being announced, the Federal Environment Minister issued a statement explaining that significant national environmental issues had not been adequately considered by the State Government and that additional Federal assessment may be required.
After a public slanging match between the Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, on 5 June 2012, Minister Burke held a press conference announcing that:
- He would stop the clock on the approval process for the Alpha Coal Project;
- More work was needed to be done in order to satisfy the requirements of Federal environmental law;
- The Queensland Government could not be trusted to protect the Great Barrier Reef
In August 2012, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke approved the Alpha Coal project with 19 conditions attached.
What must happen
Banks and financial institutions should declare their intention to avoid investing in the Alpha Coal Project.
The Alpha region where the mine is proposed has a very low population base and is a cattle grazing region. In order to build the mine, major new infrastructure will be required. The region is expected to be transformed from its traditional agricultural base. Skills shortages created by the rapid expansion of mining are leading to a heavy use of FIFO (Fly in, fly out) workers. It is expected that most of the workers at the Alpha mine will be FlFO.
A report published by IEEFA in May 2014 has shown that coal exported to India from the Galilee Basin in Australia would need a wholesale electricity price double India's current level to be viable, categorically discrediting the argument that it might alleviate India's energy poverty.
- The mine would directly impact an area of 20,618 hectares. This land is currently a range of different types of woodland and non-remnant grassland (grazing land).
- The Alpha project will result in the clearance of thousands of hectares of land that is high value habitat for a number of threatened species including the endangered black-throated finch and star finch and the venerable red goshawk, squatter pigeon, Australian painted snipe, greater long-eared bat, and yaka skink.
- Surveys of the project area identified a total of 167 vertebrate fauna species: 94 birds, 36 mammals, 27 reptiles and 10 amphibians. The mammals included 3 species of wallaby, kangaroos, bettong, echidna, koala and 17 species of bat. The birds included emu, the vulnerable southern Squatter Pigeon and 24 migratory species.
- The Greentree Creek flows across an area set to be opencut mined. The proponent is also planning a 9km diversion of the Lagoon Creek which crosses the mine site.
- The Alpha project would be the first mine to be created in the Galilee basin, opening the door for several other major coal mine proposals in the region. The 30 million tonne Alpha coal mine would be the biggest of its kind and result in an additional 65 million tonnes of CO2 added to the atmosphere each year.
- As the first thermal coal export mine of its kind, and by establishing infrastructure that could be shared by other mines, the Alpha project would facilitate the opening up of the Galilee basin to coal mining at large. This would result in billions of tonnes of carbon pollution generated from burning the coal over the coming decades. It would also have a devastating impact on the Great Barrier Reef coastline, increasing shipping numbers by up to 10,000 ships per year over the coming decade.
- The proposed port expansions to service the Galilee basin coal development would result in construction and significant dredging work taking place along the Great Barrier Reef coastline. New ports and expansions are proposed in regions home to rare and threatened marine species, as well as migratory habitats of several species of whale.
- The United Nations World Heritage body UNESCO visited Australia in March 2012 out of concern which effect coastal development was having on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. UNESCO delivered a report on June 1 2012 that proposes a UN decision that “…requests the State Party to not permit any new port development or associated infrastructure outside of the existing and long-established major port areas within or adjoining the property, and to ensure that development is not permitted if it would impact individually or cumulatively on the Outstanding Universal Value of the [World Heritage] property.” This is likely to result in additional environmental scrutiny for GVK's port development at Abbot Point.
- The World Heritage Committee has been requested to consider placing the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The Alpha coal project would directly lead to increased port development in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, as well as lead the way for numerous other port expansions, placing the Great Barrier Reef at risk.
Janice Barnes, Jessie Driver, Owen McEvoy, Deree King and Patrick Fisher on behalf of the Wangan and Jagalingou People lodged expedited procedure objection applications (QO08/188) against the State of Queensland’s proposed granting of a coal exploration permit to Hancock Prospecting in for an area adjacent to the mine site and included in the mine’s Mining Lease Application (MLA). This objection was rejected.
The Great Barrier Reef provides $5.1 billion per year to the Australian economy and sustains 50,000 jobs. The rapid expansion of mining in Australia is also distorting the economy in ways that have severe adverse impacts on other sectors. The high Australian dollar has made it difficult for other export-driven sectors such as manufacturing.
Norms and standards
Legal challenge by CCAQ
According to abc.net.au: the Alpha coal mine in central Queensland will be delayed by another six to nine months because of a legal challenge by environmental group Coast and Country Association Queensland (CCAQ).
Land court of Queensland decision
The Land Court of Queensland recommends that either the MLA 70426 be rejected or that it be granted, by subject to the condition approval to Hancock first obtaining licences to take, use and interfeer with water under s 206(10)(a) and (b) of the Water Act such that all concerns pursuant to the precautionary principle are resolved.
Australian Environment Minister approves first of many new port developments along Great Barrier Reef
The Australian Environment Minister, Tony Burke, has quietly approved the first of many new port developments along the Great Barrier Reef coast last Thursday. It appears that the minister made this decision with incomplete information. The Caley Valley wetland, which is adjacent to Abbot Point (where the proposed T3 terminal will be located), is of international significance. However, these concerns appeared to have been brushed aside by the state government and the company (GVK, Hancock). For more information please click here.
NGOs warn investors on project risks
On June 8 Greenpeace, GetUp! and BankTrack placed an ad in the Asian Financial Times, alerting potential investors to the risks associated with the Alpha project. When the Federal Treasurer was asked what he thought of the ad, encouraging people not to invest in new coal export projects in Australia, he was livid, calling the campaginers deplorable and obnoxious. The story took off from there. Please click here to see some examples of the media coverage this has received.
Federal approval process stopped
The mine and rail corridor received conditional environmental approval from the Queensland Coordinator-General office on May 29 2012. However, the approval failed to deal with critical national environmental issues. After a conflict between the Queensland and Commonwealth Government the Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said in a press conference 5 June 5 2012 that he would stop the clock on the approval process until the additional environmental assessments have been completed.
export credit agencies
The US bank Citi has also been involved as financial advisor to the Alpha Coal project but its mandate lapsed mid 2013.
The French bank Société Générale suspended its advisory mandate on the Alpha Coal project in December 2014.