Probably not. There is more than one issue to be finalised before Adani can press ‘go’, and all the time the social licence to mine coal is fading.
Just before the Federal election was called, on 8 April 2019, environment minister Melissa Price signed off on groundwater approvals under clear and public political pressure from her Queensland colleagues. But the report from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia gave the Adani plans anything but a clean sheet:
- In terms of the careful language used by scientists and bureaucrats, the assessment was damning.
Adani’s key water management plan for its coal mine in Queensland was so flawed its outcomes were unreliable, scientists from the CSIRO warned federal Environment Minister Melissa Price’s department.
They were scathing about the modelling that underpinned the entire plan, which, they said, was replete with errors and false assumptions.
“The modelling used is not suitable to ensure the outcomes sought by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act are met,” the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia stated bluntly in a joint report.
Adani’s approach was “not sufficiently robust to monitor and minimise impacts to protected environments”.
Adani had underestimated the toll on bore water that farmers in the region rely on, which would be drained more severely and more quickly than predicted, the scientists said. And the mine could drain an ecologically sensitive and ancient natural springs complex, exceeding strict limits on draw-down of the springs’ waters.
One would have thought such advice would mean the application should be rejected.
Labor had warned the Government not to rush the decision before the election. I heard Bill Shorten say that PM Scott Morrison had called the election mid-week in order to escape any probing of the decision during Senate Estimates hearings. He could well be right!
The original ABC news story said that Adani had been given Commonwealth approval to start building its Queensland coal mine, and that the decision marked the final construction approval from the Federal Government. However, the Queensland Government now has to sign off on the very same groundwater plan, which it only received half an hour before the announcement by Ms Price. On the face of it, the scientific reviews appear to give Queensland a trigger to block project.
Apparently the Queensland Government has stricter criteria to meet. Adani claims the Clematis sandstone is the sole source aquifer for the Doongmabulla Springs complex. This cannot be guaranteed according to the scientific report.
The company, on its part, points to their plan to drill a network of 100 bores to monitor underground aquifers.
In Queensland the Department of Environment and Science is the state approval authority. State environment minister Leeanne Enoch has made it clear that they will take their time, and that she as minister would be bound by their decision. In her media release she also said:
- I also note Minister Price’s statement that the project must meet further stringent conditions of approval from the Commonwealth before it can begin producing coal.
I did hear Andrew Leigh on radio say that there were as many as nine matters still to be determined. Then of course there is still the matter of the black-throated finch under consideration by Qld. A study published earlier this year found that 775 projects had been considered for their impact on the finch’s habitat. 774 had been approved an only one rejected, amounting to death by a thousand cuts, almost literally.
When asked about her personal position on Adani Leeanne Enoch used the standard Qld government line:
- “I support projects in this state that are upheld by our environmental laws and that have gone through the absolutely stringent processes undertaken by the regulator,” she said.
On ABC TV news, however, Enoch pointed to the fact that the world was moving away from coal, that Glencore, with a number of coal mines in Qld, had recently capped its coal production, and that the jobs of the future would be quite different. Also her media statement stated that under the Palaszczuk Government resources companies have committed to more than $20 billion worth of mining projects in Queensland.
It seems to me that there is about zero chance of Adani getting the final approval before the election. Enoch may be laying the groundwork for a very different approach to coal mining after the election.
Enoch’s statement that the world is turning away from coal receives support from a BP statistical review of world energy which I used last year in the post Coal power fading fast:
To that I’ll add this graphic from commenter Geoff Miell:
The point is that new construction (30,141 MW) is trending down, and appears to have crossed over with retirements from the operating fleet (30,890), which is trending up. Furthermore capacity does not equal output, which is perhaps better reflected in the mining statistics.
Meanwhile almost certainly we will see further legal challenges from the likes of the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office, Adani plans a letterbox campaign in provincial Queensland, and the PM can expect to be reminded of the issue from time to time: