Carmichael coal mine
The Carmichael coal mine is an under-construction 10 million-tonne per annum open-pit thermal coal mine in the north of the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland, Australia owned by Bravus Mining & Resources, formerly known as Adani Australia. It struck first coal in June 2021. The open-pit mine was approved by the Queensland Government and the federal Australian governments. The development was initially intended to represent an A$16.5 billion investment; however, Adani announced in 2018 that the mining operation would be significantly downsized from 60 to under 10 million tonnes per year and self-funded to A$2bn.
|Location||about 160 km (99 mi) northwest of Clermont|
|Company||Bravus Mining & Resources (Adani Group)|
The coal produced by the Carmichael mine is high quality thermal coal, with a product specification of 5600Kcal and 11% ash, well above typical Indian or Indonesian coal, which has a weighted average value of 4,301–4,600 kcal/kg. The Adani mine has been scaled back significantly from earlier plans and will now be smaller than other Queensland coal mines. Exports are planned to leave the country via port facilities at Hay Point and Abbot Point after being transported to the coast via rail. The Carmichael Rail Network includes a new 189-kilometre (117 mi) rail line to connect with the existing Goonyella railway line.
Carmichael coal mine is well advanced in its construction and expected to produce coal by the end of 2021. More than AUD$1.5 billion in contracts have been signed to build it. Rail contractor Martinus was awarded a AUD$220 million contract to deliver more than 86 km of track to the mine. BMD won a AUD$350 million contract for the Carmichael Rail Network. Bravus aimed for a local-first procurement strategy, and almost 90 per cent of the contracts were signed with businesses from the state of Queensland. More than 2000 direct jobs had been generated by November 2020  and more than 2600 jobs by June 2021.
The mine has drawn immense controversy about its claimed economic benefits, its financial viability, plans for government subsidies and the damaging environmental impacts. Broadly, these have been described as its potential impact upon the Great Barrier Reef, groundwater at its site and its carbon emissions. The project has faced multiple legal challenges including from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), which has a legal challenge to the approval given to Adani by the federal Environment Minister relating to water. Greta Thunberg has drawn international attention to the mine. On 11 January 2020 Thunberg called on Siemens to stop the delivery of railway equipment for the mine, but two days later Siemens said that it would continue to honour its contract with Adani.
The mining lease mostly covers the Moray Downs cattle station. The majority of the mine lies within the Isaac Region, with a small portion in the Charters Towers Region local government area. It is 300 km inland from the Queensland coast, 350 km from the Great Barrier Reef. Road access is made by the Gregory Developmental Road, an undeveloped section of the Gregory Highway.
It is within the Galilee Basin, a 247,000 square kilometre inland region where there are multiple mining leases and exploration for other resources. Geoscience Australia reports 15 mineral deposits within the Galilee Basin which include; Kevins Corner, Pentland, Alpha (Hancock), Alpha North, South Alpha, Galilee (Liberty), South Galilee, Carmichael, Pentland (United), Hughenden, White Mountain (Clyde Park), Yellow Jacket, South Pentland, Milray, Hyde Park Coal Project.
In 2010, the Premier of Queensland Anna Bligh announced the Coordinator-General had declared the proposed Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project assessment as a 'Significant Project'. Adani Enterprises purchased the lease in 2010. Since then proposal has gone through many changes. The operational mine life was originally proposed for 150 years, later reduced to 90 years and as of 2016 to 60 years.
In May 2014, Queensland's Coordinator-General approved the project to proceed. 190 conditions were set by the state during both construction and operations phases of the mine with particular attention paid to groundwater and water bores.
In July 2014, federal Minister for Environment, Greg Hunt, approved the mine to proceed after 36 conditions were stipulated. Exporting coal from the Carmichael mines required new terminals and seabed dredging at the Abbot Point coal port. A plan was approved to dump the drudge on land in 2015.
In August 2015, the federal Department of Environment and Adani signed consent orders in the Federal Court to set aside approval of the Carmichael project. The Federal Court found the Environment Department did not correctly follow requirements under federal environment law to consider conservation advice regarding two endangered species affected by the proposal, the yakka skink and the Ornamental snake. This led to considerable controversy. The project was re-approved two months later, in October 2019.
In July 2019 Adani Australia commenced construction of the Carmichael Mine after receiving final approvals. Over time the company has obtained more than 100 approvals for the project.
The Carmichael Project has been granted approvals under seven different Commonwealth and Queensland Acts.
In July 2020 Adani commenced the first stages of the box cut process, and construction remains on track for first coal in 2021. This was achieved in June 2021.
Project size and operationsEdit
The stage-one Carmichael Coal Mine will be able to produce 10 million tonnes of coal a year. It is an open cut truck and shovel mine.
The current mine development underway also includes upgrades of regional infrastructure such as roads, accommodation villages, power, communications, water-management infrastructure and other services. There will be more than 120 ground monitoring bores and three air monitoring stations.
A conservation area around the mine will be 33 times the size of the 10 million tonne mining area.
In 2014 the mine planned to contain six open-cut pits and five underground mines, however when the mine was scaled back in size the design was changed to being an open-cut mine only. The surface disturbance area was 27,892 hectares (68,923 acres). The mine site covered an area of 44,700 hectares (110,456 acres), around 447 square kilometres (173 sq mi), and was about 50 kilometres (31 mi) long.
Approvals are in place for water use and monitoring. Operations at the mine were expected to consume 12 billion litres of water each year under the lapsed plan.
Two parallel proposals for rail lines between the Carmichael mine and port facilities were floated during the planning process.
In 2014, Adani signed an agreement with South Korean construction company POSCO to develop the North Galilee Basin Rail Project. This 388 kilometres (241 mi) standard-gauge rail line would provide capacity of 100 million tonnes of coal per year, increasing access to the Galilee Basin. Authorities suggested the line be financed by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF), though the Queensland provincial government rejected a funding request in November 2017.
Queensland freight rail operator Aurizon had separate plans to develop narrow-gauge rail lines in the Galilee Basin to serve what it described as "several" entities planning mines in the area, including Carmichael, but with no firm agreements close to complete it withdrew a loan request from the NAIF in February 2018.
In September 2018, Adani announced that it had abandoned plans to build the standard gauge line in favor of constructing a 200 kilometres (120 mi) 1,067mm line to a connection with existing narrow-gauge trackage. The Carmichael Rail Network will connect the mine to the Abbot Point North Queensland Export Terminal. It is a 200 km narrow gauge railway that will link into existing infrastructure. BMD won a AUD$320m contract to BMD build the rail link.
In January 2020, in response to protests in Berlin by Extinction Rebellion, Siemens announced it would re-evaluate its $20m contract to supply signalling systems for the rail link, but decided to continue with the contract saying there was "practically no legally and economically responsible way to unwind the contract without neglecting fiduciary duties."
Rail line construction is underway, with Queensland-based BMD awarded the $AUD240 million contract in mid-2020.
Labour accommodation and infrastructureEdit
In October 2017, Adani announced that Rockhampton and Townsville will both be used as bases for the expected labour, on a fly-in fly-out basis. In the same date, the councils of both cities announced investments for a new airstrip close to the mining site to allow the transit from the proposed hubs, with up to 31 million AUD or 34 million AUD of total public investment between both institutions. This followed competition to host the expected 2,000 jobs derived from the project construction stage.
The news raised criticisms and following the project delays, government funding for the proposed airstrip was cancelled with the budgeted money allocated to other projects. Adani proceeded to self-fund the airstrip which accepted its first official flights in June 2020.
Jobs and economic benefitsEdit
In 2015, Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced federal approval for the project stating it would contribute $930 million to the Mackay region's GDP and $2.97 billion to the Queensland economy each year for the next 60 years. This was the estimate for the previous plan.
Estimates for the number of jobs to be created at the mine have been revised from 10,000 jobs when the mine was due to export 60mtpa, to the latest announcement of 2,600 jobs officially created so far, in January 2021, for the 10mtpa project. The Queensland Resources Council estimates mining jobs have a multiplier effect of more than four-and-a-half jobs in business and industry. An estimated 9000 indirect jobs have also been created. The mine has a local-procurement strategy and $1.5 billion in contracts have gone to Queensland-based contractors.
It has established Indigenous Land Use Agreements with traditional owners of the mine lands, registered Native Title Applicants from the Wangan and Jagalingou People, Jangga People, Birriah People, and Juru People.
In 2015, a number of major international banks publicly ruled out financing the Carmichael Mine and Rail Project, or the Abbot Point Coal Terminal on which the Carmichael project depended. This included more than half of the top 20 coal financing banks globally. Banks that ruled out funding included: Citigroup; JP Morgan Chase; Goldman Sachs; Deutsche Bank; Royal Bank of Scotland; HSBC; Barclays; BNP Paribas; Credit Agricole; Societe Generale; National Australia Bank. Adani spokespeople said statements from banks they had not approached for funding had "no bearing" on the project. Standard Chartered provided financing to the project, but Adani ended the bank's advisory contract.
Large coal projects in Australia typically engage with one or more of the ‘big four’ Australian banks in arranging or providing debt. In September 2015, National Australia Bank announced it would not fund the project. In April 2017, Westpac announced it would not fund the project. In August 2017 the remaining big four bank Australia & New Zealand Banking Group distanced itself from Adani and announced a strategic shift away from coal.
Throughout the project's development environmental activist groups pursued campaigns to pressure banks to rule out funding for the project. Some have encouraged customers to switch bank accounts and mortgages away from the large banks funding coal projects.
In November 2018, Adani Australia announced the project would be 100 per cent financed by Adani Group resources, with no government funding required. This was the basis of the current development.
In 2021, Adani Australia Chief Executive Officer Lucas Dow raised concerns at a federal parliamentary inquiry about the Australian financial sector's reluctance to lend to resources projects in the face of activist pressure. “What we are concerned about is the misguided actions of the banks really impelling the resources sector by withdrawing the financial services and the banking and insurance services from the sector," he told The Australian newspaper.
Before the mine's construction, some analysts doubted the mine was viable given seaborne (imported) thermal coal prices and market trends at the time. In November 2014 - before the project was scaled back - global commodities analyst at investment bank UBS Daniel Morgan said that a price of about $100–$110 a tonne was required to cover costs and return on capital.
The seaborne thermal coal price (Newcastle benchmark) fluctuated significantly over the decade. It was around US$60/t in 2015 before rising to US$115/t in 2018 and then rising again to about US$170/t in May 2021.
In November 2018, Adani Australia announced the project would be 100 per cent financed by Adani Group resources, with no government funding required or provided.
Most of the coal from the mine will be purchased by Adani in India from the expected start of exports in late 2021. Adani said several times during construction that it had secured the end market for the 10 million tonnes.
Proposed government subsidiesEdit
From 2015 onward, the Queensland and Australian Governments discussed various forms of assistance to the project. No government funding was provided and the company self-financed the project from 2018.
Queensland state subsidy discussionsEdit
In October 2020, the Palaszczuk government announced it had completed its royalties deal with Adani and its $2 billion Carmichael coal mine. This delays some royalty payments but all royalty taxes must be paid, with interest. "I can assure you that Adani will pay every dollar in royalties that they have to pay to the people of Queensland — with interest," said Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick.
Previously, the Newman Queensland Government initially claimed it would not support the Carmichael project, but in 2014 it proposed a "royalty holiday" or reduced royalty rates, as well as proposing to "co-invest" in infrastructure. The Labor Opposition criticised this as a "blank cheque". During the 2015 Queensland election, the Labor Opposition promised not to fund the rail project linking the mine to the port. After Labor's election victory, the new Queensland Treasurer confirmed the government will not fund the rail line, but did not rule out other forms of support such as a royalty holiday.
In September 2015 Queensland Premier Palaszczuk said she was "absolutely committed" to the project going ahead and called for federal funding for the rail line but in 2018 she requested a veto on federally-backed funding.
Federal subsidy discussionsEdit
The 2015–16 Federal Budget outlined the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility "to provide large concessional loans for the construction of ports, pipelines, electricity and water infrastructure that will open our northern frontier for business." The website states "The Commonwealth will not lend to projects that are commercially viable without Government assistance." In August 2015 the ousted Abbott government was considering using this fund to ensure the Carmichael rail line is built.
There has been no NAIF or government funding for the rail line or mine.
Greenhouse gas emissionsEdit
According to environmental group analysis of the mine's previous environmental impact statement, before the project was scaled back, it would have produced 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the expected 60-year mine life. This includes gases produced during the mining process and from emissions created from the mining and transportation of the coal.
Deciding on the approval for the mine, The President of the Land Court of Queensland stated, "there will be no increase of greenhouse gas emissions if the Carmichael mine is approved. This is because alternative supply will be sourced elsewhere to meet global demand if the mine is not approved."
The revised 10 million tonnes of coal per annum Carmichael mine will produce 240,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. To put this in perspective Queensland overall produces more than 95.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year. The Carmichael mine's emissions will be less than 0.04 per cent of Australia's emissions, and less than 0.0006 per cent of global emissions.
However as the worlds global average temperatures rise, any addition of emissions is incredibly detrimental to the long term health of the Great Barrier Reef.
Vehicle convoy – environmental protestEdit
Relations with First Nations peoplesEdit
Adani Mining signed Indigenous Land Use Agreements with traditional owners of the lands on which the Carmichael Mine and Carmichael Rail Network sits between 2014 and 2017. These were the registered Native Title Applications from the Wangan and Jagalingou People, Jangga People, Birriah People, and Juru People. Adani Mining has reached six agreements and other cultural management plans.
In 2019 the full bench of the Federal Court upheld a contested ILUA between Adani and a minority group of the Wangan and Jagalingou people, finding the group did not meet the legal requirements of the Native Title Act. The original ILUA was agreed after registered Native Title applicants voted 294-1 in favour.
Bravus Mining & Resources have engaged Woogal Environmental Services, a Wangan and Jagalingou-owned company, to undertake environmental monitoring and reporting across the Carmichael Project site’s conservation areas. In particular, they will monitor the endangered black-throated finch.
Adani had applied for a water licence to extract up to 12.5 GL per year from the Belyando River for use at the Carmichael mine under their previous scheme. The mine will also use groundwater that flows to the surface during the process of "dewatering" the open cut pits and underground mines.
According to the historical Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) submitted by Adani, "maximum impacts in excess of 300m are predicted" for the local water table. Beyond the mine boundary, Adani's groundwater model predicts water table levels to drop "typically between 20 and 50m" and "up to around 4m in the vicinity of the [Carmichael] river". Impacts on ground water were central to a case in the QLD Land Court, where Adani's expert witness defended inferences drawn from drilling data, against allegations that this was insufficient to determine risks of collapses underground that could impact groundwater systems. The Land Court upheld the approvals.
Water use at the Carmichael mine is strictly regulated, in the same way other Australian mines are regulated. The mine will not use water from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), and according to Adani's environmental approvals, safeguards have been put in place in case there is seepage from the GAB to the mine. The Doongmabulla Springs are more than 11 kilometres from proposed mining operations.
Throughout the mine area there will be more than 120 bores to monitor the groundwater levels and their quality.
The mine site area is home to a number of species, including the yakka skink, ornamental snake, and the waxy cabbage palm. Moray Downs, which is covered by the mine site, is home to the largest known community of black throated finches
The finches' population is in decline, and the southern subspecies is threatened, having vanished from 80% of its former range. Adani Australia produced a management plan for the finch, proposing to gradually clear land around the mine and force the finches to move away. The plan was heavily criticised by some ecologists, who highlighted the plan to graze cattle on protected land and noted the land was tagged to be used for other projects. There was also a lack of transparency and consultation with experts in the field.
The black-throated finch management plan was approved in 2019 after a “rigorous process”. A comprehensive ecologist-led research program is underway.
There have been multiple legal challenges to the project, most of which have not been successful. Mine operations are expected in late 2021.
Native Title claimsEdit
Adani Mining Pty Ltd and Another v Adrian Burragubba, Patrick Malone and Irene White on behalf of the Wangan and Jagalingou PeopleEdit
In 2016 the Wangan and Jagalingou people voted 294 to 1 in favour of a Indigenous land use agreement with Adani. The same year a small group of Indigenous landholders mounted a challenge to Carmichael Mine, arguing they were not consulted, and called on the Queensland Government to refuse a mining lease to Adani Mining. This was unsuccessful with the court finding they had not objected to the grant of the leases.
An appeal in 2018 upheld the mining lease approval, and found the Minister did not have to consult with the group as they were not the Native Title holders.
Adani has Indigenous Land Use Agreements with traditional owners, registered Native Title Applicants from the Wangan and Jagalingou People, Jangga People, Birriah People, and Juru People.
Mackay Conservation Group v Commonwealth of Australia and Adani MiningEdit
In January 2015, the Mackay Conservation Group, based in Mackay, challenged the July 2013 federal approval of the Carmichael project by Greg Hunt, Environment Minister, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The Group was represented by the Environmental Defenders Office of NSW.
The case involved three main contentions, that the Minister did not take into account the greenhouse gas emissions, the company's environmental record in India and the "approved conservation advice" for the Yakka Skink and the ornamental snake.
The Federal Court set aside the approval by consent on the latter ground, regarding the yakka skink and ornamental snake. This means no judgement was delivered. Despite reports Federal Court "overturned" the approval, the decision occurred by consent order signed by the Department of Environment and Adani.
All approvals are now in place and the mine construction is underway.
The Environment Minister re-approved the mine in October 2015.
Adani Mining Pty Ltd v Land Services of Coast and Country Inc.Edit
In May 2014 the Queensland Coordinator General recommended the project be approved and there was a call for public comment and objections. Coast and Country, represented by Environmental Defenders Office Queensland, brought a case to the Queensland Land Court. They contended the approval was flawed regarding the economic, environmental and financial impact of the mine. In December 2015 the Land Court determined the mining leases and the Environmental Authority be approved, subject to decisions. The decision was supported by 139 pages of reasons.
A 2016 the Supreme Court of Queensland dismissed an application for review of that approval brought by Coast and Country. The approval was upheld.
Australian Conservation Foundation Inc v Minister for the Environment – Emissions challenge 2016–17Edit
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) made a judicial review challenge under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) ) in late 2015, contending the Minister did not take into account the impact of emissions on the Great Barrier Reef.
This was dismissed in 2016. The ACF appealed to the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia. ACF lost the appeal in 2017 and was ordered to pay partial costs for the Minister and Adani, which was the second respondent.
The case was dismissed because the court found that the cause and effect was complicated, the lower court stating that it was "not possible for him [the Minister] to draw firm conclusions as to the likely contribution of Adani's action to a specific increase in global temperature" and that if the coal was stopped from the Carmichael Mine it would likely be substituted from somewhere else. Dr Justine Bell-James has criticised the market substitution defence as the "only significant barrier remaining to a successful climate change case".
Australian Conservation Foundation Inc v Minister for the Environment – Water challenge 2018Edit
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), represented by Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO), lodged a judicial review challenge in the Federal Court in December 2018 of the Federal Environment Minister's decision to not apply appropriate legislation regarding water.
The review challenged then-Environment Minister Melissa Price's decision to waive a full environmental assessment for water use from the Suttor River in central Queensland. Adani notified the government that the act was a controlled act but the government decided that it was not a controlled activity under the EPBC Act and that no environmental impact assessment (EIS) was needed for it to proceed.
Under amendments to the EPBC Act the Minister must obtain advice from an Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development if an activity is likely to have a significant impact on water resources or impact on a protected ecological communities, species (such as the black-throated finch, world heritage sites, national heritage sites or protected wetlands. The water trigger was added to the EPBC Act in 2013, after being introduced by then Federal New England MP Tony Windsor.
In June 2019 the application was allowed by consent, meaning the Australian Government would reassess the project’s water use.
Australian Conservation Foundation Inc v Minister for the Environment – Water challenge 2020Edit
On 16 March 2020, the ACF once again lodged papers in court against the Australian Environment Minister.
The fourth judicial review application argued the North Galilee Water Scheme Infrastructure Project – a pipeline for the project - should require assessment under the EPBC water trigger.
In May 2021 the Federal Court granted the application. The Minister is required to reconsider the application according to law. Environmental Law Australia said authorities are “highly likely to again approve the water infrastructure for the mine”.
Adani said the finding would not affect the mine construction or operation.
Criticism of legal actionEdit
Substantial controversy about federal environmental law followed the 2015 Federal Court decision to set aside the Carmichael approval (agreed by consent orders signed by the government). Government Ministers criticised the group bringing this case under federal environment law, calling them "vigilante litigants" engaged in economic "sabotage".
In 2015 the government was seeking to change the law to prevent "third parties" from bringing cases where they are not directly impacted by the proposal. Then Prime Minister Tony Abbott urged the business community to get behind these changes, saying "if the Adani mine does not go ahead soon, we are crazy." This reform did not proceed but a ten-year review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in 2020 recommended significant changes to the laws. These reforms are being implemented.
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