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Greg Hunt approves dredging off Queensland to create huge coalport

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Greenpeace activists protest at the Abbot Point coal terminal in 2009. Photograph: Greenpeace


Powered by article titled “Greg Hunt approves dredging off Queensland to create huge coalport” was written by Oliver Milman, for on Tuesday 10th December 2013 08.32 UTC

The environment minister, Greg Hunt, has approved controversial dredging off the Queensland coast that will help create one of the world’s largest coalports, while imposing some of the “strictest conditions in Australian history” to safeguard the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Hunt said he would allow the contentious dredging program for three proposed terminals at the Abbot Point port near the town of Bowen. The approval documents show the spoil from the dredging will be dumped within the Great Barrier Reef marine park area.

One of the three terminals was proposed by the Indian resource giant Adani, the second by a joint venture between the Indian company GVK and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Coal, and the third site was to be developed by BHP Billiton. But BHP recently pulled out of its involvement in the project.

Hunt has also approved the Arrow LNG facility on nearby Curtis Island, as well as its associated transmission pipeline.

The four projects have been opposed by environmental groups for a variety of reasons, including fears of damage to the reef caused by increased shipping and dumping dredged seabed near the world heritage-listed site.

Hunt said the projects would meet “highest environmental standards and conditions”, placing 95 conditions on the Abbot Point projects and 53 conditions for the Curtis Island venture.

These include a 150% “net benefit requirement” for water quality which, Hunt said, would result in a long-term reduction of sediments entering the reef marine park from land-based sources.

The reef will also be aided by an $89m boost to programs such as the Reef Trust, a Coalition plan to improve water quality and tackle threats such as a plague of starfish which has devoured much of the reef’s coral. A total of $32m in “offsets”, to be paid by developers, will be required over 40 years to bolster the health of the reef and protect sea turtles.

“Some of the strictest conditions in Australian history have been placed on these projects to ensure that any impacts are avoided, mitigated or offset,” Hunt said.

The environment minister said the Coalition had scaled down the previous Labor government’s plans for Abbot Point, with a reduced total of 3m cubic metres of seabed set to be dredged.

Hunt added that he would require all spoil from future dredging in central and northern Queensland to be placed at the “shoreline, near to shore or land reclamation disposal”.

A study commissioned by the previous Labor government found that dredging spoil dumped at sea travelled further than previously thought, potentially endangering coral and other marine life.

This year Unesco’s World Heritage Centre warned that the Great Barrier Reef, which has lost half of its coral cover in the past 30 years, would be placed on its “in-danger” list if there were major new port developments.

“The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s great natural wonders and protecting it for the future is vital,” Hunt said. “As well as being a natural marvel, the reef plays a vital role in the north Queensland economy, generating significant business and tourism.”

Hunt’s decision, which was twice deferred, is likely to be welcomed by both the Queensland government and mining industry, which have hailed the Abbot Point and Curtis Island LNG projects for their job-creating potential.

The expansion of Abbot Point will open the way for the large-scale export of coal from Queensland’s Galilee basin region. Two proposed coalmines in the region could be responsible for an estimated 3.7bn tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over their lifetimes.

“The Abbott government has sacrificed the climate and the Great Barrier Reef for overseas mining companies with its approval today of the world’s largest coalport and another CSG plant in our Great Barrier Reef,” said the Greens senator Larissa Waters.

“The prime minister is ignoring the World Heritage Committee’s warnings about the mass industrialisation of the reef, and is inviting a world heritage ‘in danger’ listing.


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