Adani has set a dangerous precedent in requesting scientists’ names



The Galilee waterhole is part of the area potentially affected by Adani’s Carmichael mine.
Stop Adani, CC BY-SA

Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

A freedom of information request has revealed Adani sought the names of CSIRO and Geoscience Australia scientists involved in reviewing groundwater management plans related to its proposed Carmichael mine.

Adani argued it required a list of people involved in the review so as to have “peace of mind” that it was being treated fairly and impartially on a scientific rather than a political basis.

Ten days before Adani’s request, Geoscience Australia’s acting director of groundwater advice and data reportedly raised concerns that Adani had “actively searched/viewed” his LinkedIn profile and that of a colleague.




Read more:
Interactive: Everything you need to know about Adani – from cost, environmental impact and jobs to its possible future


Significantly, Adani’s request to the government was made before CSIRO and Geoscience Australia had reported their review findings back to the Queensland government.

While the federal Department of the Environment and Energy reportedly declined to hand over the names, the fact the letter was sent in the first place is concerning. It fundamentally interferes with the capacity of individual scientists to provide clear and informed evaluation.

The letter obtained under freedom of information by environmental group Lock The Gate. Click to enlarge.
Lock the Gate

Was Adani denied procedural fairness?

In the absence of clear legislation to the contrary, government decision-makers have a general duty to accord “procedural fairness” to those affected by their decisions. While procedural fairness is protected by common law, Commonwealth legislation also provides some protection, and a breach of procedural fairness is a ground for judicial review.

What exactly constitutes procedural fairness varies from case to case. Fundamentally, the principles of procedural fairness acknowledge the power imbalance that can arise between an administrative decision-maker and an individual citizen. Traditionally, procedural fairness has two elements: the fair hearing rule and the rule against bias.

The fair hearing rule requires a person – or company, in this case – to have an opportunity to be heard before a decision is made affecting their interest.

The rule against bias ensures the decision-maker can be objectively considered to be impartial and not to have prejudged a decision. This rule is flexible, and must be determined by reference to a hypothetical observer who is fair minded and informed of the circumstances.

There is no indication of any breach of procedural fairness in the environmental assessment process. The review of the groundwater management plan was conducted rigorously, according to the public interest.

The letter sent by Adani requesting the names of scientists was allegedly grounded in concerns about the possibility of anti-Adani activism by expert reviewers. Despite this, Adani made it clear that it was not explicitly alleging bias. Its objective, the letter said, was a desire to be “treated fairly and in a manner consistent with other industry participants”.

The real purpose of the letter

If Adani was seriously concerned about a breach of procedural fairness in the review of their groundwater management plan, it would have sought a judicial review. It did not – because there was no breach.

The scientists working at CSIRO and Geoscience Australia are all experts in their disciplines. They were engaged in the important process of determining whether Adani’s plan for managing groundwater around their mine would meet the environmental conditions of their mining licence. In other words, the scientists were doing their job.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has said he “understands” Adani’s actions because of the delays associated with the review, but this is not how the system works.
The delays occurred because the original plan submitted by Adani had to be revised following expert review, and the updated plan required detailed evaluation. The mine could potentially have a serious impact on groundwater, the communities and ecosystems dependent on the water, and the nationally significant Doongmabulla Springs; this deserves careful scrutiny.




Read more:
Unpacking the flaws in Adani’s water management plan


As Adani has not brought an action for judicial review, the substantive purpose of the letter appears to be, as suggested by CSIRO representatives, to pressure scientists and potentially seek to discredit their work. The potentially chilling effect is clear.

Concern about climate change is not bias

The profound concerns raised by climate change and fossil fuel emissions are shared by many scientists around the world. The reports prepared for the International Panel on Climate Change make it clear that coal fired electricity must drop to nearly zero by 2050 to keep warming within 1.5℃.

This shared concern does not make scientists political activists. Nor does it prevent scientists from acting fairly and impartially when reviewing a groundwater management plan.




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The UN’s 1.5°C special climate report at a glance


An acceptance of climate science and even a belief that coal-fired energy should be decommissioned does not constitute bias. A reasonable bystander would expect most environmental scientists to be concerned about climate change.

It is crucial the environmental assessment process for large coal mines remains rigorously independent and absolutely free from any direct or indirect pressure from the coal industry. This is even more important when dealing with groundwater assessments, given their economic, social and ecological significance.

The letter, sent before the review was handed down, sets a dangerous precedent. Not because it suggests the scientists were impartial or there was any procedural unfairness involved in the process. But rather, because it jeopardises the independence of our scientists who, in seeking to ensure the longevity of our water, food and energy resources, carry a heavy responsibility to the public interest.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Adani’s finch plan is approved, just weeks after being sent back to the drawing board


Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin University; Brendan Wintle, University of Melbourne; David Lindenmayer, Australian National University; Don Franklin, Charles Darwin University, and John Woinarski, Charles Darwin University

The Queensland government has ticked off a crucial environmental approval for Adani’s Carmichael coalmine, bringing the contentious project a step closer to becoming reality.

It has approved Adani’s proposed management plan for the endangered black-throated finch, less than a month after the state’s environment department announced a delay in approval because the plan was judged to be inadequate.




Read more:
Why Adani’s finch plan was rejected, and what comes next


Four days after the May 18 federal election, in which the mine’s future was a prominent issue, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called for an end to the delays and uncertainty.

In a statement issued today, the government said it has now approved a “strengthened” version of the plan, submitted by Adani earlier this week.

Under the revised plan, Adani has now committed to:

  • “establish enhanced understanding” of the finch, with the help of “appropriate population studies”

  • implement “appropriate monitoring protocols” to track the finch’s population over time

  • restrict grazing in nearby areas.

The only remaining state environmental approval for the project now is Adani’s groundwater management plan, on which a decision is due by June 13.

Bad plan caused the delays

As members of the scientific panel that reviewed the finch management plan, we can understand the Premier’s frustration. There is no excuse for such a poor plan to have been put forward for approval when the company has been aware for almost a decade that the land it wants to mine is home to the largest known remaining population of the black-throated finch.

There has already been ample time to undertake the studies Adani has pledged to carry out in the future. Had it done so before now, it could have put its claims to be able to manage the finch’s extinction risk on a much more solid footing.

As it is, the plan we reviewed made biologically improbable assumptions about the finch, while ignoring what is known about the finch’s precipitous decline so far. Under the plan, people with the curious title of “fauna spotter-catchers” were to find finches and move them “to suitable habitat adjacent to the disturbance, if practical” before the habitat is destroyed.

It sounds impractical, and will in all likelihood prove to be so. If the adjacent habitat already has finches, it is likely to be “full” and so won’t be able to support mining refugees. If it lacks finches, there is probably a very good reason.

The finch has been observed only a handful of times in just a tiny proportion of the area purchased for conservation purposes near the mine site. The finch has had more than 10,000 years to occupy and breed in the proposed conservation area that is supposed to offset the impact of the mine. It hasn’t, and it probably won’t.

As far as can be determined by overlaying the available maps, the proposed conservation area has a different geology and soil type. Adani has categorically failed to provide robust scientific evidence to demonstrate that the conservation reserve will adequately offset the loss of the finches and the habitat in the mined area. It has had more than 10 years to conduct the science to provide the evidence.



Meanwhile, before the existing habitat is mined, the plan had talked about grazing being used to control bushfire fuel loads and reduce the abundance of a weed called buffel grass. Yet grazing is thought to be the main reason the finches have disappeared from most of their once vast range – they once occurred from the Atherton tablelands to northern New South Wales.

The new plan is said to “restrict grazing” but no details are yet available. Under the original plan, the cattle would have got fat on the buffel grass pastures just as they did in all the places where the finch once lived.

Rigorous research

What must really frustrate the Queensland Premier is the contrast between Adani’s efforts with the black-throated finch and the much more rigorous work done by mining companies who find themselves in similar situations. Rio Tinto, for example, is currently funding high-quality research on two other birds, the palm cockatoo and red goshawk, ahead of its planned expansion of bauxite operations on Cape York Peninsula.

Vista Gold, meanwhile, funded research on stress levels in Gouldian finches long before mining was planned to begin at its Mt Todd goldmine in the Northern Territory.

In criticising Adani’s plan, we are not criticising mining. Like all Australians, we use the products of mining every day. We enjoy a high standard of living that is delivered partly by royalties from mining. We also understand that miners (and politicians) in Queensland want to see jobs created.

Most mining companies, however, provide jobs while willingly abiding by national and state legislation. They compromise where necessary to minimise environmental harm. And crucially, they commission research to demonstrate how they can mitigate damage well before that damage occurs, rather than when their operations are already underway.




Read more:
Does ‘offsetting’ work to make up for habitat lost to mining?


In contrast, the so-called research and monitoring that went into Adani’s finch plan seems only to conclude that more research is needed. After nine years, Adani did not even know the population size of the finch, how it moves around the landscape, or even what it eats.

Given the time available, this bird could (and should) have been among the best-studied in Australia. The management plan could then have been based on robust evidence that would show how best to safeguard the finch population.

Now the research and monitoring is a hurried add-on with no proof that the threat posed to the finch can actually be solved and an extinction averted. Given the high stakes involved, Australians might reasonably have expected something altogether more rigorous.The Conversation

Stephen Garnett, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University; Brendan Wintle, Professor Conservation Ecology, University of Melbourne; David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Don Franklin, Adjunct Research Fellow, Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, and John Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With the LNP returned to power, is there anything left in Adani’s way?


Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

After months of “start” and “stop” Adani campaigning, the coalmine is poised to go ahead following the surprise success of the Coalition government at the federal election.

So is anything still stopping the coalmine from being built?

Australia has a federal system of government, but states own coal. This means the Queensland Labor government is responsible for issuing the Adani mining licence.

And there are suggestions pressure is mounting in the state Labor party for the final approvals to be passed.

Strategists have argued the state government must approve the Adani mine if they are to be re-elected next year. One of the reasons Labor lost votes in Queensland may have been because of perceived delays in the approval process by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science.




Read more:
View from The Hill: It’s the internal agitators who are bugging Scott Morrison on Adani


Now, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has appointed her coordinator-general to oversee the remaining approvals. In a press conference, she said:

I think that the community is fed up with the processes, I know I’m fed up with the processes, I know my local members are fed up with the processes … We need some certainty and we need some timeframes — enough is enough.

But what has “delayed” the state government so far is its legal duty to make sure the coalmine has an effective plan to manage matters of environmental significance.

Before the election, the federal government already approved two controversial environmental plans – the groundwater management plan and the finch management plan. The only thing left now is for the Queensland Labor government to give its nod of approval.



Not ‘delay tactics’, but a legal duty

The federal government does not have jurisdiction over state resources unless the project impacts matters of national environmental significance.

And the Adani mine is one such project. The mine would remove the habitat of an endangered species and significantly impact vital underground water resources.

This means the project needed to be referred to the federal government.

The aim of this referral was to make sure the environmental assessment process would sufficiently prevent or reduce irreparable damage to the environment.




Read more:
Traditional owners still stand in Adani’s way


Generally, in a bilateral arrangement, the federal government authorises the state to conduct an environmental assessment. And this is the framework that has informed the Adani project from the outset.

This is our rule of law, and one that’s in the public interest.

So any suggestion the Queensland government engaged in “delay tactics” when they were carrying out these critical legal responsibilities is inaccurate and misconceives the fundamental legal responsibilities that underlie this process.

There are two more approvals left

There are two outstanding approvals required for the environmental conditions to be satisfied: the black-throated finch environmental management plan and the groundwater environmental management plan.

The habitat of the endangered black-throated finch must be protected.
Steve Dew, CC BY

Black-throated finch

The Queensland government rejected the black-throated finch management plan submitted by Adani last month. This was because the plan did not constitute a management plan at all.

If the finch’s habitat is destroyed by the coalmine, then it’s necessary to outline how this endangered species will be relocated, and how this relocation will be managed.

But the Adani management plan does not do this. Rather than setting up a conservation area for the finch, the Adani plan proposed establishing a cow paddock, which would destroy the grass seeds vital for the survival of the finch.

Clearly this plan does not comply with the environmental condition attached to its licence.




Read more:
Why Adani’s finch plan was rejected, and what comes next


Groundwater management

The Queensland Department of Environment and Science is currently reviewing the groundwater management plan and have sought further advice from Geoscience Australia and CSIRO.

Adani must address how the mine will impact the threatened Doongmabulla Springs in the Great Artesian Basin. This involves creating a groundwater model capable of estimating how much groundwater levels will decrease when water is used to extract the coal.




Read more:
Unpacking the flaws in Adani’s water management plan


This is important because the basin is a water supply for cattle stations, irrigation, livestock and domestic usage. It also provides vital water supplies to around 200 towns, which are entitled to draw between 100 and 500 million litres of water each year.

Any impact on the underground aquifers that feed into the Great Artesian Basin would not only be devastating for the environment, but also for all the communities that rely on its water resources.

The original groundwater model submitted by Adani was not “suitable to ensure the outcomes sought by the EPBC Act conditions are met”.

It’s unclear whether Adani’s resubmitted groundwater model still under-predicted the impact because the further submissions made by Adani have not been subjected to extensive review at the federal level.

Great care needs to be taken to ensure the expert advice from CSIRO and Geoscience is properly heeded.

The mine may cause the Doongmabulla Springs to cease flowing.
Lock the Gate Alliance/Flickr, CC BY

The Adani mine is an outlier in the global coal community

The approval of the Adani coalmine comes at a time when the global community is rapidly moving away from coal.

Germany, a pioneer of the mass deployment of wind and solar power generation, announced the phaseout of its 84 coalfired plants.

Britain has just had its first week without coal-fired electricity, and this new energy mix has rapidly become the “new normal”.




Read more:
How to transition from coal: 4 lessons for Australia from around the world


But the international coal market is variable. India’s consumption is expected to rise by the end of 2023, but their aim is to reduce coal imports. And China’s coal consumption is projected to fall almost 3%, largely due to the country’s ambitious clean energy plans. What’s more, coal is in decline in the United States and across Europe generally.

The global economy is de-carbonising. As global warming accelerates and cleaner energy options gain more traction, coal will inevitably decline even further.

A hasty post-election approval of the outstanding environmental plans for Adani coalmine would not only conflict with our domestic legal framework, but also the broader imperatives of the international community.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight would be disastrous for marine life and the local community



A recent poll showed seven out of ten South Australian voters are against drilling in the Great Australian Bight.
Shutterstock

Sarah Duffy, Western Sydney University and Christopher Wright, University of Sydney

The Great Australian Bight is home to a unique array of marine life. More than 85% of species in this remote stretch of rocky coastline are not found anywhere else in the world. It’s also potentially one of “Australia’s largest untapped oil reserves”, according to Norwegian energy company Equinor.

Equinor has proposed to drill a deepwater oil well 370km offshore to a depth of more than two kilometres in search of oil.

But a recent poll showed seven out of ten South Australian voters are against drilling in the Bight. And hundreds of people recently gathered on an Adelaide beach in protest.

Their main concerns include the lack of economic benefits for local communities, more fossil fuel investment, weak regulation and the potential for an oil spill, devastating our “Great Southern Reef”.

Drilling in the Great Australian Bight has occurred since the 1960s, but never as deep as what Equinor has proposed.




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The Coalition government argues the project will improve energy security and bring money and jobs to the region. Labor announced recently that, if elected, it would commission a study on the consequences of a spill in the region.

So what’s the worst that could happen?

As discussed in a Sydney Environment Institute workshop in April, drilling in the Bight would have disastrous environment and economic implications.

A spill could leak between 4.3 million barrels and 7.9 million barrels – the largest oil spill in history, according to estimates from the 2016 Worst Credible Discharge report, authored by Equinor and its former joint-venture partner, BP.

The Bight is a wild place, with violent storms and strong winds and waves. The geography is remote, unmonitored, largely unpopulated and lacks physical infrastructure to respond effectively to an oil spill.

In such an event, Equinor has said it would take 17 days to respond in a best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is 39 days, and the goal scenario is 26 days.

In modelling for the worst-case scenario, the company predicts the oil from a spill could even reach from Albany in Western Australia to Port Macquarie in New South Wales.

How likely is an oil spill?

Reports from Norwegian regulators, compiled by Greenpeace, reveal Equinor had more than 50 safety and control breaches, including ten oil leaks, in the last three-and-a-half years. Each incident occurred in regulatory environments with stricter conditions than in Australia.

Our independent regulator, NOPSEMA, does not require inspections of wells during construction to ensure they meet safety standards.

This can be disastrous. For instance, the failure to properly construct the Montara Well in the North West Shelf caused the worst oil spill in Australian history.




Read more:
The missing stories from Montara oil spill media coverage


NOPSEMA does not have a set standard for well control. This is a risky proposition because in recent years three of the four major international oil spills from well blowouts occurred in exploration wells, the kind planned for the Bight.

And Greenpeace has questioned the independence of NOPSEMA after it was revealed the regulator will speak at an event promoting oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight.

Adding billions to the GDP, but there’s a catch

The Great Australian Bight boasts more marine diversity than the Great Barrier Reef and attracts more than 8 million visitors a year.

Equinor’s proposed project risks local fishing and tourism industries that rely on a pristine natural environment and contribute $10 billion a year to our economy, twice as much as the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Australian Bight is home to at least 14 schools of bottlenose dolphins.
Shutterstock

A 2018 ACIL Allen report on the economic impact of drilling in the Great Australian Bight suggested Australia’s GDP could gain A$5.9 billion a year if the region turns out to be a major oil field.

But the catch is that this would require 101 oil wells to be successfully drilled, and many of the expected benefits wouldn’t be realised until between 2040 and 2060. What’s more, this windfall wouldn’t reach the pockets of locals, but would largely land in federal government coffers via the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax.




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These predictions are based on optimistic estimates of oil prices, and the report assumes our oil demand will remain on an upwards trajectory, which would mean we breach the Paris targets by a significant margin.

Worryingly, Equinor’s former partner in this venture, energy giant BP, even tried to claim an oil spill would benefit the local economy, and said:

In most instances, the increased activity associated with cleanup operations will be a welcome boost to local economies.

There is little evidence to support the argument that this drilling will lead to better energy security.

Given Australia doesn’t have the capacity to refine oil domestically, it’s likely most, if not all, of the oil extracted would be processed overseas.

From a security point of view, far more impact would come from reducing our reliance on oil through better vehicle emission standards and promoting a system-wide shift to electric vehicles.

No real benefit to the community

The Great Australian Bight is home to Australia’s most productive fishery, which directly employs 3,900 locals. An oil spill would threaten 9,000 jobs in South Australia alone.

By comparison, Equinor claim that the construction phase of the project would create 1,361 jobs, most of which require experience that would not be found in local communities. For instance, fly-in fly-out workers from Adelaide would take ongoing jobs on the rigs.

Equinor has had more than 50 safety and control breaches in the last three-and-a-half years, occurring in stricter regulatory environments than in Australia.
Shutterstock

Equinor has already completed seismic testing, which involves firing soundwaves into the ocean floor to detect the presence of oil and gas. The testing alone has pushed schools of tuna further out to sea, increasing costs and risks for local fisherman.

You decide, is it worth it?

Decisions over resource projects with significant environmental impacts need to be based on a thorough cost-benefit analysis and include the precautionary principle.




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The economic advantage to either local communities or the Australian public from this proposal is in doubt. And Australians are entitled to ask their politicians why so little is demanded of these organisations.

In the lead-up to a critical federal election, we are left to ask why our political leaders are doubling down on a fossil fuel bet with no clear advantages and a significant downside risk.The Conversation

Sarah Duffy, Lecturer, School of Business, Western Sydney University and Christopher Wright, Professor of Organisational Studies, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The uranium mine in the heart of Kakadu needs a better clean up plan


Rebecca Lawrence, Macquarie University

Can a uranium mine be rehabilitated to the environmental standards of a national park and World Heritage site?

That’s the challenge faced by the controversial Ranger uranium mine inside Kakadu National Park.

But our new research report found the document guiding its rehabilitation is deficient, and urgent changes are needed for the heavily impacted mine site to be cleaned up well.

Kakadu has been a national park since the 1970s, but the Ranger mine, while surrounded by Kakadu, has never formally been part of the park. This classification is in the interests of resource extraction, and has failed to recognise or protect the area’s cultural and environmental values.

Kakadu National Park encompasses a precious natural heritage. It protects valuable ecosystems of outstanding value, diversity and beauty, and contains the world’s richest breeding grounds for migratory tropical water birds.




Read more:
Australia’s problem with Aboriginal World Heritage


Recent diggings and studies have documented at least 65,000 years of continuous human habitation at a site on the land of the Mirarr people – this is currently the oldest occupation site in Australia.

How was the mine developed?

The boundaries of Kakadu National Park were conveniently drawn around the Ranger mine site through a series of political and administrative negotiations following the Fox Inquiry, which gave a cautious green light for the Ranger operation.

Likewise, Ranger was excluded from the requirements of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act that would have otherwise given the Mirarr people the right to say no to the mine.

Now, as the mining stops and the repair begins, mining companies and government regulators are being tested on their environmental commitment, and capacity to make meaningful change.




Read more:
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But rehabilitating what is essentially a toxic waste dump is no easy task.

And the inadequacy of the Energy Resources of Australia’s Mine Closure Plan – the key document guiding the rehabilitation – shows they are failing this test so far.

Problems with the Mine Closure Plan

Our new research report – jointly conducted by Sydney Environment Institute and the Australian Conservation Foundation – examines the Mine Closure Plan and finds it is seriously wanting in key areas.

These include significant data deficiencies regarding management of mine tailings (mine residue), land stability, and modelling of toxic contaminants likely to flow off site into Kakadu National Park.

The Mine Closure Plan is almost completely silent on crucial governance questions, such as the Ranger mine’s opaque regulatory processes and rehabilitation, and current and future financing – especially in relation to future site monitoring and mitigation works.




Read more:
Ranger’s toxic spill highlights the perils of self-regulation


After the price collapse following the Fukushima nuclear crisis, times in the uranium trade have been tough. Coupled with a mandated end to commercial operations by early 2021, Rio Tinto has accepted the era of mining has now been replaced by the need for rehabilitation.

But the challenge for Energy Resources of Australia and Rio Tinto, who own and operate the mine, is not simply to scrape rocks into holes and plant trees. It is to ensure radioactive and contaminated mine tailings are:

physically isolated from the environment for at least 10,000 years [and that] any contaminants arising from the tailings will not result in any detrimental environmental impacts for at least 10,000 years.

These are time-scales of epic proportions, yet the Mine Closure Plan says little to assure the public this can be achieved.

In fact, Energy Resources of Australia concedes it won’t actually be possible to monitor and measure this over the next 10,000 years, so a model will be required instead. But this model has not been publicly released.

Kakadu is home to more than 280 different types of birds, such as the white bellied sea eagle.
Shutterstock

Rehabilitation success is determined by the mining company

And this speaks to a broader problem with the whole process: the success of the rehabilitation will be judged by criteria created by the mining company.

It is naive to assume a mining company is best placed to propose their own rehabilitation criteria, given their corporate imperative to reduce rehabilitation costs and future liabilities.

And the stakes here are very high. The rehabilitation of Ranger will be a closely-watched and long-judged test of the credibility, competence and commitment of the regulators and the mining companies.




Read more:
Traditional owners still stand in Adani’s way


The Supervising Scientist Branch – a federal agency charged with tracking and advising, but not regulating, the Ranger operation – also made an assessment that should be ringing alarm bells:

[The company’s current plan] does not yet provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the current plan for rehabilitation of the Ranger mine site will achieve the required ERs [Environmental Requirements].

The Supervising Scientist Branch’s disturbing initial analysis is a red flag demanding an effective response.

The Conversation reached out to Energy Resources of Australia for a response to this story. A spokesperson told The Conversation the company is committed to the “full rehabilitation” of the Ranger Project Area:

Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) has committed to update the Closure Plan and submit for approval on an annual basis. Updates to the Closure Plan will be made publicly available.

As noted by ERA at the time of release of the Ranger Mine Closure Plan, there are some aspects of closure planning that will be further developed and refined as a result of ongoing studies and consultation. These will be reflected in future updates to the Closure Plan.

ERA is committed to rehabilitate the Ranger Project Area in accordance with the Environmental Requirements as set out in relevant regulations. The final close out of rehabilitation can only occur when the Commonwealth Minister, on advice of the Supervising Scientist and Traditional Owner representatives, is satisfied that the Environmental Requirements have been met.

Australia has a long history of substandard mine closure and rehabilitation in both the uranium and wider mining sector.

There is a real need to see a better approach at Ranger, and the first step in that journey is by increasing the scrutiny, accountability and transparency surrounding this essential clean up work.


This article was updated at 12.25pm, May 7, to include a response from Energy Resources of Australia.The Conversation

Rebecca Lawrence, Affiliate, Sydney Environment Institute; Honorary Associate, Macquarie University, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Adani’s finch plan was rejected, and what comes next



The black-throated finch is on the verge of extinction.
Brian McCauley/flickr, CC BY-NC

Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University and April Reside, The University of Queensland

Adani’s plan to manage an endangered finch was rejected last week by the Queensland government, stalling progress on the Carmichael mine.

The mine would cover much of the best remaining habitat for the endangered black-throated finch. The Queensland government required Adani to commit to gathering more accurate finch population data, limit the cattle grazing in the finch conservation area and determine food availability throughout the year, before they could approve the plan.

The rejection is one of two outstanding environmental approvals required before Adani can commence work on the mine. The second is the plan to manage groundwater-dependent ecosystems, which the Queensland government has yet to come to a decision on.




Read more:
Unpacking the flaws in Adani’s water management plan


The federal government has been reported as “already approving” the finch plan. But legally, the Queensland government must determine whether the plan complies with the conditions of the environmental authority and, under the bilateral framework, the federal government must give due regard to this assessment.

What’s wrong with Adani’s plan?

Last Friday Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science decided not to approve Adani’s black-throated finch management plan because it does not fulfil certain basic requirements.

The decision is based on a detailed report from an independent expert panel.

The black-throated finch is on the verge of extinction, one of 238 threatened Australian birds.

The black-throated finch is experiencing habitat loss and degradation.
Steve Dew/flickr, CC BY



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The greatest threat to the black-throated finch is habitat loss: it has disappeared from over 80% of its original range. Strong protection, and careful management, of its remaining habitat is crucial.

The finch, once found across north-eastern Australia, is now largely found on Moray Downs and surrounding properties, north-west of Clermont in central Queensland. A core part of the habitat is within the 28,000 hectare (ha) footprint of the Carmichael mine, where there are far more black finches than elsewhere due to the intact woodlands and a history of minimal livestock grazing.

It is expected the mines will disturb 50,977 ha of black-throated finch habitat, and that 34,156 ha will be completely cleared.

A total of 87 square kilometres of habitat will be destroyed through the creation of open pits, and a further 61 square kilometres may be degraded beyond repair due to the influence of underground mining on groundwater.

After habitat loss, the second greatest threat to the finch is cattle grazing, which destroys the grass seeds they need to survive. Yet Adani’s management plan for the black-throated finch involved grazing cattle on areas that are supposed to be devoted to conservation of the finch.

Instead of establishing a finch conservation reserve, the Adani plan proposed what was in effect a paddock. Providing a species management plan that effectively conserves finch habitat is a core condition of Adani’s mining licence.

State vs federal priorities

The Queensland government’s rejection of the plan brings into stark focus some of the problems with the existing environmental assessment framework.

The Adani plan includes cattle grazing, despite the threat to finch habitats.
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The environmental authority for the mining licence was approved by the Federal government. The environmental management plan for the finch did not, however, address core impact concerns. And yet this is the very reason that the plan was required from the outset. The inadequacies of the plan only became apparent because of the oversight of the Queensland government.

The federal government has not been proactive despite’s its mandate under our National environment act – the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation act. In fact, a recent analysis found the federal government has approved hundreds of projects to clear black-throated finch habitat over the last 18 years.




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There are clearly differences in priorities regarding the environment between a federal Liberal and a state Labor government. However, environmental assessment can only be effective if is not undermined by political agendas, and is grounded in scientific rigour and scrutiny.

A one-stop shop

At the federal level, any project likely to have a “significant impact” on a matter protected by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act must be referred to the federal environment minister.

If the minister decides the project impacts a matter of national environmental significance, he or she will then determine how to assess that project at the national level. Legislated options include: an environmental impact statement, a public environment report and public inquiry.

The federal government has entered into bilateral agreements with all state and territory governments. As a result, rather than the state and federal governments conducting separate assessment, the aim is to promote a single, focused environmental evaluation.

The Queensland government has entered into a bilateral assessment agreement with the Commonwealth government for Adani’s coal project, which effectively allows it to make an environmental assessment that the Commonwealth Minister will then take account of when deciding whether to grant approval.

This means that both the Queensland and the federal government are involved in the approval and assessment process environmental authorities and conditions, one of those being the management plan for the black-throated finch. In order to optimise outcomes they need to work together collaboratively.

Where to next?

The rejection means that Adani will now need to submit a new or revised plan that addresses the Queensland government’s concerns. In particular, Adani will need to limit cattle grazing in the conservation area, and gather more information regarding the availability of seed throughout the year.

This may take time but is critical, because in its current form, the plan does not meet the legal requirements for the Environmental Authority, which means that it cannot be approved at the state level.

Without state approval the Adani coal mine cannot proceed. The Queensland government has rigorously assessed Adani’s management plan by commissioning a report by an independent expert panel and then acting on the advice of this report.

This robust approach is crucial to the whole framework of environmental assessment. Genuine commitment to protecting endangered species and managing vital groundwater resources is vital if we want to reverse Australia’s dire trajectory of environmental decline.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University and April Reside, Researcher, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Unpacking the flaws in Adani’s water management plan


Matthew Currell, RMIT University and Adrian Werner, Flinders University

Adani’s groundwater dependent ecosystem management plan for its proposed Carmichael coal mine was recently approved by federal Environment Minister Melissa Price, despite a review from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia that points out major problems with the modelling.

According to the minister, approval was granted only after the company made commitments to fully address these issues (a claim later called into question).




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However, when we look closely at the flaws in Adani’s plan it’s not clear they can credibly be remedied. There’s a very real chance the mine could cause irreversible harm to the nationally significant Doongmabulla Springs.

What a groundwater model is supposed to do

The primary purpose of the model – as is the case for most groundwater models used in mining impact studies – is to determine the likely effect of mining on groundwater levels and flows of water to and from key areas.

One important goal of the model is to estimate the drawdown (decrease in groundwater levels) in aquifers around the mine as it pumps water and digs through aquifers to reach the coal.

Drawdown may cause groundwater levels to decline below thresholds critical to the function of whole ecosystems, such as (in this case) the Doongmabulla Springs.

Groundwater models can also be used to assess changes in flows of water to and from springs and streams, such as the Carmichael River, which crosses the mine site.

What flaws in Adani’s modelling were identified?

CSIRO and Geoscience Australia’s review pointed out three major flaws:

1. Over-prediction of flow from the Carmichael River to groundwater

Groundwater and surface water are intimately connected in the water cycle. For example, in some areas surface water can “recharge” aquifers, while in others aquifers provide water that keeps rivers flowing.

According to the review, Adani has overestimated how much water would flow from the Carmichael River into the aquifers below. This means there is in reality less water available to replenish the groundwater system below the river, which in turn means that the mine will likely cause greater groundwater drawdown than predicted.

2. The hydraulic parameters chosen for key geological units

A fundamental part of any groundwater model is the hydraulic properties selected for each geological layer through which groundwater moves. The most important is hydraulic conductivity: a measure of how much water can be transmitted through an aquifer over time. The review found that Adani’s model uses hydraulic conductivity values significantly different from the values estimated by previous testing of the geological layers at the mine site.

For example, Adani’s model assigned one key layer (the Rewan Formation) much lower hydraulic conductivity values than actually indicated when consultants tested this layer.

This is critically important, as it is the main layer separating the coals that will be mined from shallower aquifers. CSIRO and GA’s conclusion was that this also caused the model to predict less drawdown at the Doongmabulla Springs than is likely in reality.




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3. Bore heights used to calibrate the model were incorrect

According to the Australian Groundwater Modelling Guidelines, groundwater models should be calibrated. This involves comparing predictions made by the model with already measured water levels and other field data.

Calibration fine-tunes models, ensuring they are capable of replicating known behaviour, before predicting future behaviour. Correcting errors identified in the heights of some bores used in the model resulted in a lower overall match between modelled and observed water levels from the site.

The Carmichael River will be affected by Adani’s mine.
Lock The Gate Alliance/flickr, CC BY

Significance of these issues

These flaws are of major significance. If the model is corrected to address them, the review points out that the drawdown at the Doongmabulla Springs will in all likelihood be higher than required under Adani’s federal approval conditions.

We have published peer-reviewed science pointing out additional problems, which the review also noted.

A key uncertainty yet to be resolved is determining the predominant aquifers contributing water flow to the Doongmabulla Springs. It’s possible there exists a deeper source aquifer (rather than, or in addition to, the aquifer assumed by Adani). This has further implications for the level of impact the mine will have on the springs, and the effectiveness of the proposed monitoring program.

Adani was not required to address these problems prior to federal approval of its groundwater plans and is not required to do so until two years after mining activity begins (although, the Queensland government may yet require this).

This raises questions about the environmental approvals process, which currently allows major scientific issues to remain unresolved. Prior to approval, there are opportunities for scrutiny of a project’s impacts, which can result in major project modifications, strict operating conditions or even (in rare cases) rejection. Following approval, opportunities for independent scientific and public input and further modifications are far more limited.

‘Adaptive management’ will not protect the Doongmabulla Springs

In the decision reached by the Queensland Land Court following an objection to the mine in 2014-15, significant uncertainty about its future impacts was recognised. However, it was concluded “adaptive management” would nonetheless safeguard the Doongmabulla Springs. This argument was also the basis for federal approval under the then environment minister, Greg Hunt.

But what is “adaptive management” and can it be meaningfully used here? We would argue no.

The mine may cause the Doongmabulla Springs to cease flowing.
Lock The Gate Alliance/flickr, CC BY

Adaptive management is essentially when a company commits to flexibly changing its approach as it learns more about the environmental impact of its activities.




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However, there is a significant risk that the mine may cause the Doongmabulla Springs to irreversibly cease flowing. Adaptive management, as the US Department of the Interior points out, cannot be used if decisions cannot be meaningfully revisited and modified.

Indeed, Adani has not defined substantive corrective measures for reversing future spring-flow impacts from mining – an essential element of adaptive management. It’s critical Adani puts forward its plan for dealing with these very real risks. Without a credible plan, regulators cannot hope to make an informed decision about the risk the mine poses to the Doongmabulla Springs.The Conversation

Matthew Currell, Associate Professor in Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering, RMIT University and Adrian Werner, Professor of Hydrogeology, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.