From the outset, the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin has been dogged with problems. Adani has struggled to attract investment and has been hounded by environmentalists. Now the company has been caught red handed violating environmental laws and trying to cover it up.
Despite this, Labor leader Bill Shorten is only willing to properly consider the project if elected and Queensland Labor say they are waiting to see if the project can “stack up on its own merits”.
It appears Labor’s measure of whether mass environmental destruction can be allowed is whether the perpetrator can afford it. This also appears to apply to whether or not Labor will extinguish the native land titles of indigenous peoples.
When companies can’t demonstrate they have the cash, Labor have shown they’re willing to help cut costs, like they’ve done for Adani by deferring billions in royalties.
The LNP position is equally clear. They waived the requirement of a full environmental impact assessment for a pipeline that will extract 12.5 billion litres of water from the Sutton River. The Environment Department approved the pipeline 12 days before the end of the public consultation.
Adani also plan to increase the capacity of a north Queensland dam from 2.5 to 10 billion litres of water. Not to help drought-stricken farmers, but to provide water for mines in the region.
The same farmers are now concerned that Adani and other mining operations pose a massive risk to the region’s water supply.
Adani are not only willing to dam water for their use, but they are also willing to place current water supplies at risk. Activist group Coast and Country claim to have obtained drone footage which shows Adani bores sunk into the Great Artesian Basin aquifers without approval.
This potentially threatens groundwater supplies and the nearby Doongmabulla Springs wetland.
If verified Adani may find themselves fighting two court cases at once. The other being in relation to the unauthorised release of coal-laden sediment during Cyclone Debbie in 2017. The scale of the damage is still being assessed, but could cost them up to $3.8 million in fines.
Both Adani and the Queensland government have come under fire after an email exchange showed that both knew of the scale of the pollution. Adani claim that “no known environmental impacts occurred as a result of the discharge”, despite eight times the permitted amount of sediment being dumped into adjacent wetlands.
In a desperate bid to keep the project alive Adani have cut projected output by almost half, to 27.4 million tonnes of coal per year. Meaning they can downgrade their 388km rail line to a 200km narrow gauge line.
Adani are trying to spin it as cost cutting for the purpose of “fast-tracking”, but the reality is that investors simply aren’t interested, and the opposition that has developed before they’ve even properly broken soil has deterred even the most daring capitalists. Despite this cost-cutting, Adani still have a funding shortfall.
Adani have stated that they hope their rail line can be used by “other future players”. The stark reality is that coal is a dying technology. Both India and China, Adani’s intended market for coal, are turning towards renewables.
China has closed thousands of mines since 2015 and India is pursuing a parallel policy of moving towards renewable and nuclear power. Adani themselves have had to cancel construction of Indian coal-fired power plants.
The Adani mine was never going to be economically viable without huge taxpayer-funded subsidies. Original proposals of a “90 year” life span for the mine were made despite the dire need for coal to be obsolete by 2050 to keep global temperatures within a 2°C degree rise. But still Adani cling on hoping to make something from their Galilee Basin project.
At present Adani appear to be waiting out the market, either hoping for higher coal prices, or waiting out the government hoping to claim compensation.
Both LNP and Labor have shown themselves to be complicit with Adani. The courts are limited in their power and ability to take on Adani with or without the government’s backing. Adani simply aren’t willing to cut their losses and abandon the project so others will have to act.
Only organised people, in the workplaces and communities, have the power to stop Adani and the inevitable cascade of exploiters that want to follow their lead.
By Eóin Dawson