It’s been a year of big things for larger-than-life Australian businessman, billionaire and natural resource owner Clive Palmer. His newfounded right-wing political party, Palmer United, had a strong showing in Australia’s elections, winning him a seat in the House of Representatives; he built the world’s biggest dinosaur theme park and named it Palmersaurus; and he announced plans to build a replica Titanic, called Tatanic II, and to make a movie about it that he said will be “a lot better” than James Cameron’s 1997 hit.
And now the government has given him approval to move forward with a major coal mine in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland.
According to the The Guardian, Australia’s environment minister, Greg Hunt, announced approval for Palmer’s Galilee Basin mine, China First, just as work let out on Friday before the holiday break — which would indicate he hoped people wouldn’t notice. Which makes sense because the coal mine is very controversial for those who aren’t Clive Palmer or part of an Australian government hellbent on rolling back the previous government’s climate change mitigation efforts and mining as much coal as possible before it becomes uneconomical.
The AU$6.4 billion mine will produce up to 40 million tonnes of a coal a year, which according to The Guardian, “would release an estimated 85.6m tonnes of CO2 once burned, slightly more than the annual emissions of Romania.”
The mine will also come with a 280-mile rail line to bring the coal to Australia’s east coast where it can be shipped out of large new ports along the fragile coastline of the Great Barrier Reef where dredging and other activity is already impacting the area.
Just last week Environment Minister Hunt approved the expansion of Abbot Point port that will support Palmer’s Galilee Basin mines.
On land, the mine will displace half of the 8,000-hectare Bimblebox Nature Reserve, which is home to the endangered koala and certain endangered birds.
The Galilee Basin is a vast geological basin covering about 97,000 square miles with 27,750 million tons of coal already identified. According to the Green Institute, if mining goes ahead in the Basin, the destruction of its carbon stocks will account for more than 5 percent of the world’s carbon budget.
In the lead-up to the government’s announcement of approval this week, Queensland’s Green Party Senator Larissa Waters made the case against the mine by citing a new Oxford study that says China — where most of Australia’s coal ends up — is moving away from coal toward cleaner sources of energy.
“What we’ve seen with this report is it’s pointing out that China, one of our biggest customers, is rapidly diminishing its demand for Australian coal and we might end up having no customers for this coal and therefore doing huge damage to the environment for absolutely no reason,” Waters said. “It’s a wake up call for the Federal Government who have got things like the Clive Palmer mine on their desk for tick-off this week … We just need to start adapting to the fact that we’re in the 21st Century now and the world wants to do something about climate change and we’ve got to get on board.”
The Oxford study found that Australia has proposals for 89 coal mines, which if built could, “more than double annual output from about 430 million tonnes in 2011 to about 980 million tonnes by 2020.”
This expansion would account for 20 to 40 percent of total global growth in coal by 2020. With other countries also expanding mining, and China likely decreasing demand, prices could drop due to oversupply.
The report says that the China First mine will need a “cash cost” of $93 a tonne to be viable once built but $130 a tonne to provide adequate investment returns. The current price for thermal coal is about $94 a tonne.
The government said the approval of the China First mine came with 49 conditions to “avoid, mitigate or manage” the impacts on the environment, especially groundwater.
However environmental groups were not convinced.
“We are deeply disappointed with this decision,” Bimblebox co-owner Paola Cassoni said in a statement. “Minister Hunt is clearly kowtowing to mining interests over the conservation outcomes we have been working towards for years.”