Adani’s Australia Mine Faces Fresh Court Challenge Over Water License

The controversial coal mine has become the symbol of anti-coal protests in Australia.  

New Delhi: The Adani Group’s Carmichael coal mine project, which has faced multiple legal and financial obstacles over the last eight years, now faces a fresh court challenge.  

On Tuesday, the Australian Conservation Fund (ACF), a non-governmental environmental organisation, announced that it will take the Australian federal government to court over the grant of a water license to the Adani group without an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).

In March 2017, the Adani group was granted a water license by the Queensland state government. It could use as much as 26 million litres of water a day for a period of sixty years. The groundwater would be extracted through a pipeline from the Great Artesian Basin, which is the only reliable source of water supply for large parts of northern Australia.

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Yet, the Australian Federal government waived the need for a full environment impact assessment for the pipeline in September last year.

“Stand-alone proposals which involve only associated infrastructure, such as pipelines, are not captured by the water trigger because they do not directly involve the extraction of coal,” a spokeswoman for the environment department told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The ‘water trigger’ implies that a more thorough environment impact assessment is necessitated if the impacts of a large coal mine project on water resources is thought to be significant.

“Water is precious on our dry continent, yet Adani wants to take billions of litres of river water every year, nearly as much as all local farmers combined,” ACF chief executive officer Kelly O’Shanassy said.

The ACF will now argue in court that the environment minister erred in not applying the water trigger. “ACF is taking the Federal Government to court over its flawed process for assessing Adani’s plan for a water-guzzling pipeline to service its climate-wrecking coal mine,” O’Shanassy said.

A representation of how people who oppose the Adani coal mine see the NAIF loan to the Indian group. Credit: StopAdaniAlliance

A representation of how people who oppose the Adani coal mine see the NAIF loan to the Indian group. Credit: StopAdaniAlliance

Self-financing a downsized mine

After months of uncertainty, the Adani group last week announced that it will self-finance its Carmichael coal mine project in Australia. The ambitious coal project has attracted stiff opposition in Australia including street protests, political opposition and legal hurdles.

The project has been delayed by eight years in part due to protests and unwillingness of financiers across the world to fund the project. The Adani group has knocked on several doors only to be turned down by all, except the State Bank of India (SBI) which granted a $1 billion loan in 2014 for the ambitious Australia project.

After having tried and failed to raise the additional financing, which was earlier estimated to be around AUD 4.2 billion, the Adani group announced in late November that it will fund the mine on its own.

Also Read: In Relief to Tata, Adani, Essar, Gujarat Allows Pass-Through of Higher Coal Cost

“We will now begin developing a smaller open cut mine comparable to many other Queensland coal mines and will ramp up production over time to 27.5 mtpa [million tonnes per annum],” said Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow.

This is not the first time that the Adani group has announced that it will begin the development of the mine. In June 2017, the Adani group gave a ‘green light’ to its own Carmichael coal mine project. In August 2017, Gautam Adani said that construction of the mine will begin in October 2017.

“The pressing of that green button once again might or might not represent something real – it was not a Final Investment Decision, it was another media announcement of an internal decision,” Tim Buckley, director of Energy Finance Studies, Australasia, within the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a pro-renewables energy research firm, told The Wire.

The mine, though, stands significantly downsized. Initially, the company had planned to mine 60 million tonnes of coal a year. Now, it expects to mine 27 million tonnes a year, when the mine reaches peak capacity. It would now need an investment of around AUD 2 billion, according to the company.

Carmichael coal project in Australia. Credit: Reuters

Carmichael coal project in Australia. Credit: Reuters

Challenges remain

The Adani group still has to face a number of hurdles before it can start mining in Australia. The Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people who are the traditional owners of parts of the land on which the mine is to be built, continue to oppose the mine. Sections of the W&J have refused to give up their native title rights.

The Queensland state and Australian Federal governments are yet to finalise the environmental management plans that are needed to be in place before the Adani group can begin mining.

The Adani group’s operations in Australia are also the subject of a federal investigation into its use of groundwater. An environmental group has alleged, using aerial footage, that the company has dug water bores without necessary approvals.

Recently, representatives of a number of environmental groups met with the Queensland Environment Minister with petitions seeking an assurance that the Adani group will be investigated.

Also Read: Adani’s New Mini Version of its Mega Mine Still Faces Some Big Hurdles

“Collectively close to 100 000 Australians have signed these petitions. Evidence has emerged that Adani has commenced work on the sites without the necessary approvals – dropping dewatering bores and clearing land,” Ellen Roberts of GetUp, who was part of the meeting told The Wire.

“The Minister stated that the investigation into Adani is continuing, but refused to disclose timeframes. She confirmed that Adani does not have approval to commence work on the mine, as the Department is still considering their Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan,” Roberts added.

Adani response

“This legal action will not stop the Carmichael Project proceeding because we do not need the North Galilee Water Scheme finalised in order to commence work on the project. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) are wasting the court’s time and resources, while also wasting taxpayer funds and the ACF’s own charitable donations,” a statement by Adani Australia, sent to The Wire, noted.

“Adani will continue to deliver the Carmichael Project, and we will do so in line with our approvals, along with the strict regulations and legislation that govern our Australian resources industry. The Australian Conservation Foundation has conducted unsuccessful litigation against Adani in the past, resulting in the ACF being ordered by the court to pay Adani’s legal costs,” it added.

“Once again, anti-mining activists are trying to stand in the way of thousands of jobs that are desperately needed by regional Queenslanders. Adani has been through a rigorous and strict approvals process over the last eight years and we have met all of those requirements. Accordingly we now expect that we will be treated no differently to any other Australian miner.

Adani’s approvals have already been backed by the courts nine times over and still anti-mining activists reject the process.”

On claims of “illegal bores”, the company stated that it would welcome “any investigation from the regulator”.

Adani Mining has constructed five bores on the Carmichael mine site for the purpose of conducting groundwater investigations and taking geological samples as permitted under its Environmental Authority for the mine, which was issued in April 2016. We notified the regulator of our Plan of Operations for these Stage 1 project activities in 2017,” a separate company statement noted.

“Once Stage 2 project operations are approved to commence, Adani Mining may then use some of these bores as part of the industry standard dewatering process for mining operations. There is no impact to groundwater dependent ecosystems associated with these Stage 1 activities,” it added.

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