Queensland: Granting Adani unlimited access to water for six decades may lead to irreversible consequences

Protestors outside Westpac Bank’s Sydney headquarters. They want the bank to pull out of funding Adani’s Carmichael coalmine in Queensland. Photo credit: Paul Miller

Adani Mining, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Adani Group based in India, has been awarded an unlimited water license to the proposed and controversial US$21 billion Carmichael coalmine in what legal and environmental groups are calling yet another example of governments giving the conglomerate special treatment.

The license, which enables Adani to draw water near or from the Betts Creek formation when water needs to be either drained or removed from the mine, and recognises that it will “have an impact on the underground water levels in the region of the mine” for the duration of the coalmine’s operation and even after.

“Certainly the severe implications are that if the groundwater is taken, then it’s not available for other more long-term or sustainable uses,” Chief Executive and solicitor at the Environment Defenders Office Queensland, Jo-Ann Bragg, said in an interview with The Guardian. “This would be an irreversible serious consequence of these enormous coalmines.”

The water license will be valid through to 2077, and its 270 conditions unfortunately do not include any volumetric limits on the amount of groundwater Adani can use, or even any circumstances that can bring the mining operations to a halt. Rather, it simply asks of the mining company to keep an eye on the repercussions its project has on water levels, as well as address any damaging issues with landowners with “make-good agreements.”

However, legal and environmental groups have stated that even if Adani took steps to alleviate any reverberations they have on the water supply, it might still be too late to tackle any damages caused to the farms and land in the area. “Our experience is that this is no substitute for sustainable water resources for landowners,” Bragg explained. “There’s an issue about whether this controversial company will even be in existence to honour make-good agreements over that time and practical issues such as where the water would be supplied from.”

A following environmental impact statement allegedly contained a forecast from Adani saying that by 2029, it will be taking approximately 26 million litres of water per day, and will consume an estimated 355 billion litres over its time of operations in the Carmichael coalmine. “The primary concern is that there are no trigger thresholds or, if you prefer another word, impact thresholds, which require a cessation of mining,” Basha Stasak, a campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation said, “The concerns we have is that even at the levels they’re saying they need it’s not clear what the impacts would be.”

Stasak went on to describe the “obscure and opaque” process as an issue of concern. “Best practice should certainly be addressing some very clear standards around what the impacts will be and being very clear on how they are mitigating against them…and where the risks are too high,” he said. “At minimum Adani should be required to play by the same rules as everyone else and not be given special treatment. We are not talking best practice, we are talking minimum standard.”

Adani’s water license is immune to the close examination measures introduced to Queensland’s Water Act in 2016. The company is thus exempted from public appeals or submissions – “special treatment,” according to Bragg, as many other smaller mines such as the New Acland project, are subject to these requirements. “They lobbied politicians from all parties in Queensland to have a special case made for Adani Carmichael, even though other Mega Galilee mines…do need to have public submissions and appeals,” Bragg explained. “Really it’s just shocking that the Queensland community won’t have an opportunity on the merits to scrutinise this associated water license with groundwater experts and point out the weaknesses in this license.”

A lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia, Ariane Wilkinson, pointed out that there were more areas of concern, also citing the Queensland’s Environmental Protection Act lack of requirement to look at Adani’s history, as well as its related companies’ purported environmental law offences in other countries. “It goes completely under the radar. In Australia, Adani has not demonstrated that it can comply with environmental laws and regulations while embarking on a project of anything like the size and scale of Carmichael. ,” Wilkinson said. “In India, Adani has taken on projects on this scale and risk and we know that it has been found guilty of serious environmental breaches and has a terrible track record in its home country.”

However, Anthony Lynham, Queensland’s natural resources and mines minister, supports the water license and stated that more than 100 of the stipulated 270 conditions on license were devoted to groundwater, and that Adani has to pay approximately three times more than farmers for using around one per cent of what water farmers utilise from the Burdekin catchment area.

“These safeguards will ensure that water resources are protected, and that this critical project progresses sustainably,” he said. “This project has been through extensive scrutiny by state and federal governments. The community and many of these groups have had their say, many times.”

Source: The Guardian