Coal miners and urban greenies have one thing in common, and Labor must use it



Coal stockpiled before being loaded on to ships at a terminal in Gladstone. researchers say Labor should not “cozy up” to the coal industry.
Dave Hunt/AAP

Fabio Mattioli, University of Melbourne and Kari Dahlgren, London School of Economics and Political Science

Months after Labor’s shock election loss, it is still pondering how the Liberals metamorphosed from party of the bosses to party of the workers – one that stole an election win from under them.

At the May 18 federal election, several working class seats in Queensland did not fall into Labor’s hands as expected, and the party narrowly retained others in New South Wales with large negative swings.

They include the coal seat of Hunter, north of Sydney, where Labor’s resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon suffered a 10% swing against him. He this week claimed constituents were scared off by Labor’s ambitious emissions reduction goal – which necessarily entails curbing the burning of fossil fuels such as coal.

Fitzgibbon called on Labor to adopt the government’s weak emissions targets – a call that drew ire from some of his colleagues. But there is no doubt that since Labor’s election loss, the party has set about proving itself as pro-coal.




Read more:
Labor’s climate and resources spokesmen at odds over future policy


Days after the election, the controversial Adani mine received long-outstanding approvals from the Queensland Labor government, which also adopted a strong pro-coal message at its party conference. Federal Labor MPs were reportedly tripping over themselves to join the newly formed group Parliamentary Friends of Coal Exports.

But cosying up to coal is not the way forward for Labor. Instead, it must find the common ground that unites workers in the cities and the regions – job insecurity – and build a consensus for climate action on that basis.

Now-Labor leader Anthony Albanese in Brisbane in 2017, followed by anti-Adani protesters.
Darren England/AAP

Neo-liberalism has gutted coal communities

The rise in populist votes in Australia is to an extent part of a larger global movement spanning the UK’s Brexit vote, the election of US President Donald Trump, and the rise of far-right agitators across Europe. In Australia, as abroad, this process is the outcome of almost 50 years of neo-liberalism.

Large companies have departed from industrial heartlands, relocating abroad without implementing the same level of social protection and welfare. Blue-collar jobs have been supplanted by white- or pink-collar positions, offering careers in the immaterial world of finance and the service economy.

For some, this shift is not a bad thing, as it opens opportunities in less gruelling urban service jobs. But for working-class and coal communities, it means a loss of their way of life.

In their heyday, industrial factories were holistic experiences that synchronised workers’ lives to the rhythms of production. In coal communities, intergenerational attachments grew to the towns that were constructed to house mining workforces. So pervasive are the emotional attachments to mining that the prospect of moving into a different industry is not appealing to most. Not everyone wants to be a consultant, a service worker or a financial trader.

Office workers are seen on a lunch break at Martin Place in Sydney. Casualisation of the workforce is not confined to the mining industry.
AAP/Mich Tsikas

Labor is between a rock (of coal) and a hard place

This global trend pulls Labor in two directions. Urban workers in the services, finance or creative industries perceive climate change as the greatest threat to their futures and demand a transition from coal to renewables. Labor’s traditional base, however, is mining communities who feel threatened by the policies environmentalists are calling for.

Is there a way to navigate these apparently conflicting voter needs? Yes. But not by embracing coal and hoping city voters won’t notice. Instead, Labor must build a coalition across both coal communities and its urban base, recognising that the political issues around coal in Australia are about more than climate change.

The biggest threat to existing coal jobs is not climate policy, but the increased casualisation of the mining workforce. Coal miners are significant victims of what unions such as the the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union has termed the “permanent-casual rort”.




Read more:
How gig economy workers will be left short of super


Coal workers are increasingly employed on casual contracts through labour hire companies. They work the same shifts and do the same jobs for years, but are not entitled to paid holidays or sick leave and are liable to be sacked at any time.

Insecure jobs also mean casuals are less likely to raise safety concerns. In the past year there have been six Queensland mining fatalities, the highest rate in 20 years.

This shift is not confined to mining and industrial manufacturing. Fewer than half of working Australians have full-time permanent jobs. Employers such as rideshare service Uber and others in the gig economy offer flexibility in exchange for exploitation, insecurity, and a lack of workplace protections.

Like coal miners, people working in the immaterial economy – many of whom are concerned about climate change – also face increasingly insecure workplaces.
Yet few on the side of climate action see these commonalities, or think of coal communities as potential allies.

A CFMMEU video arguing against incensed workforce casualistaion.

Labor should broker a new kind of coalition

For Labor, a pro-coal message designed to win back coal miners will only alienate its urban base. Instead of flipping scripts between electorates, the party should build a broad coalition on the common job insecurity faced by both coal miners and urban, post-industrial workers.

This would create spaces of solidarity between environmentalists and miners. It would refocus the discussion from how environmental policy puts jobs at risk to how it can address workforce insecurity across industries.




Read more:
Coal mines can be closed without destroying livelihoods – here’s how


Labor’s existing “Just Transition” policy goes part-way there. But it allocated just $15 million over four years to administer redundancies, and fund worker training and economic diversification. Judging by the election result, coal communities were not convinced by it.

Labor should look to the US, where the proposed Green New Deal promises to cut climate pollution while creating millions of safe, stable jobs, whether in weather-proofing homes, expanding railways or making wind turbines. It is underpinned by the notion that structural reform to address inequality is central to climate policy.

Coal miners are not ignorant of the changing economics of their industry. But Labor will gain ground only if it devises a climate policy that is environmentally sound and offers protection against precarious employment.The Conversation

Fabio Mattioli, Lecturer in Social Anthropology, University of Melbourne and Kari Dahlgren, PhD in Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science

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

Advertisements

When it comes to climate change, Australia’s mining giants are an accessory to the crime



Australia’s major mining companies are significant contributors to global emissions.
Global Warming Images

Jeremy Moss, UNSW

There are many reasons for Australia’s absence from the podium of the the United Nations Climate Action Summit this week. No doubt it would send a poor message if emission reduction laggards such as Australia had taken centre stage.

But Australia is also the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquified natural gas. And by providing fossil fuel subsidies and exploration rights, the Australia federal government encourages its major mining companies to export more. This situation is now profoundly hostile to action on climate change.




Read more:
Australia’s energy exports increase global greenhouse emissions, not decrease them


The emissions produced from the fossil fuels extracted by Australia’s major gas, coal and oil producing companies – our “carbon majors” – such as BHP, Glencore and Yancoal, are now larger than all Australia’s domestic emissions.

While these companies, and Australia itself, have no legal responsibility for these “exported” emissions, morally it is comparable to selling uranium to a failed state or dumping medical waste unsafely. We understand the harm our exports cause, and are therefore at least partially culpable for the harms they cause.

We think in nations, not companies

Why aren’t Australian carbon majors considered to be responsible for addressing their emissions and their consequences? One reason is when we think about reducing emissions, we typically focus on the role of nations.

After all, it is nations that negotiate climate agreements, and their policies are substantially responsible for the contribution their citizens make to the problem of climate change.

But the impact of carbon majors is now so large, we must make the case for holding them responsible for the consequences.

In 2018 alone, BHP’s global fossil fuel production led to the emissions of the equivalent of 596 megatonnes (Mt) of CO₂-equivalent . Over the last 15 years BHP’s Australian coal operations have produced 1,863Mt of CO₂-e.

These figures would be significantly higher still if we included the remainder of the emissions since 1990, when the first major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed the risks of climate change and the consequences of emissions.

To put that in perspective, in 2018 BHP’s emissions from its global fossil fuel operations alone were more than the whole of Australia’s domestic emissions (534Mt CO₂-e) for 2018. If BHP were a country, the products it produces would cause emissions greater than those emitted by 25 million Australians.

As well as their current levels of production, many of the carbon majors hold vast reserves to be extracted in the future as well as new fossil fuel projects. Glencore, the largest coal mining company in Australia, reported in 2018 that they have 6,765Mt of measured metallurgic coal resources, and 1,565Mt of thermal coal in proved marketable reserves. Together, that’s the equivalent of 18,202Mt of CO₂, more than 34 times Australia’s 2018 carbon emissions.

Moral responsibility

But why should we hold the companies themselves responsible for these emissions? After all, except for the emissions created during the extraction process, they don’t themselves directly produce these emissions. For the most part, carbon majors contribute by being producers and suppliers of fossil fuels.

Like nations, carbon majors are seen as having responsibility only for emissions they have produced directly in operating a mine or transporting their commodities to port. This is the “territorial” model of emissions attribution.

Yet the responsibility of carbon majors is much greater than this territorial model suggests. To see how this might be the case, it is useful to draw on some basic moral and legal theory.




Read more:
Youth climate movement puts ethics at the center of the global debate


For example, a murderer or thief is directly responsible for the harm they cause their victim. They pulled a trigger or absconded with the money, and no-one else shares that direct blame.

But in the case where a person intends to shoot another person and I announce that I will sell them a gun — knowing full well what it will be used for — the responsibility for the murder no longer falls solely on the person who pulls the trigger. Given I sold the gun knowing that someone would be harmed, I am now an accomplice to the crime and should share at least some of the blame.

In this case, there is a relationship between my actions and the murder that ought to make me at least partially responsible.

In the case of carbon majors, by producing and selling fossil fuels which are, in turn, consumed in another country, they are complicit in the harm directly caused by their customer: the releasing of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere by consuming the fuel.

Australia’s carbon majors are accessories to the wrongful harm of climate change.

Shared blame

These companies of course point out they are not wholly responsible – other companies and people actually use the fossil fuels overseas, where the emissions count towards another country’s tally. But accepting even some fault for the effect of their exports is a huge increase in a company’s moral responsibility over what they currently admit.

What does this mean in practice? First of all, it means that they have a strong moral reason to stop contributing to the harm by appropriately cutting their fossil fuel operations in line with IPCC timeframes and take a fair share of their climate-related liabilities. They should also stop seeking support for fossil fuels through lobbyists, politicians, “think tanks” and industry groups.

It will be argued that such actions will be costly to the carbon majors. But unless we are willing to concede that it is acceptable to harm others without sanction or an end it sight, this is not a convincing response.




Read more:
Coal does not have an economic future in Australia


However as citizens, we also need to move beyond reducing our domestic emissions. As voters, investors and consumers, we share a responsibility for our exported emissions. Ending state and institutional support for carbon majors should now be a major focus of climate action.The Conversation

Jeremy Moss, Professor of Political Philosophy, UNSW

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

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.




Read more:
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.

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.




Read more:
Noise from offshore oil and gas surveys can affect whales up to 3km away


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.




Read more:
Deepwater corals thrive at the bottom of the ocean, but can’t escape human impacts


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.




Read more:
Brexit could kill the precautionary principle – here’s why it matters so much for our environment


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:
Treasure from trash: how mining waste can be mined a second time


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.

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).




Read more:
Morrison government approves next step towards Adani coal mine


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.




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


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.




Read more:
Why does the Carmichael coal mine need to use so much water?


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.