The development of the Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin, Queensland, Australia was given the go ahead by the Queensland government in June this year. The mine is controversial for many reasons. First, it is on land that was home to an indigenous Aboriginal population, who have been forced off their land. Second, the Galilee Basin is one of the world’s largest untapped supplies of thermal coal (the type used in power stations). Burning it will release vast amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to global warming. Third, development of the mine and extraction of coal will require a large volume of water. Queensland’s water supplies have been diminishing in recent years. Fourth, most of the coal will be exported to India via ‘superhighways’ which will be very close to, if not through, the Great Barrier Reef.
On the other hand, Queensland’s economy has faltered as mining has slowed down. This scheme could provide major injections of export earning over the decades to come for the state. In 2018 coal overtook iron ore as Australia’s biggest export earner. However, the mine is about 400 km from the coast and a rail link is needed to transport the coal. So far, the Queensland government has refused to subsidise the railway for Adani, the Indian company developing the mine.
The mine has a capacity of around 60 million tones. A further six mines are also proposed for the Galilee Basin. The environmental and social destruction that these could bring are immense, just as the economic benefits are.
The Great Barrier Reef has suffered from warming waters in recent years. In 2016 there was a major coral bleaching event. Dredging for the marine superhighway can also seriously damage the coral, as could emissions and discharges from the supertankers that will use them.
In addition, many banks are now reluctant to invest in a controversial mining development, and the market for thermal coal may have peaked. The economics of the venture may not be as good as they first seemed. However, for Adani and for Queensland (and Australia), the Carmichael mine has the potential, once developed, to earn huge revenues.