Indian mining giant Adani has been accused of seeking to dodge federal scrutiny of its plan to build a pipeline pumping billions of liters of water from the Suttor River in the state of Queensland, 60 percent of which has been drought-declared since 2013, to service its proposed Carmichael coal mine.
The $16.5 Billion USD Carmichael project is proposed by the mining arm of Adani Group, a multinational conglomerate with other interests including port development, agribusiness and the energy sector. If Carmichael proceeds it will be the largest coal mine in Australia and one of the largest in the world. Controversy surrounding the project has focused on carbon emissions, danger to protected animal species and particularly impacts on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The project’s threat to the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is also increasingly in the spotlight.
GAB is one of the world's largest groundwater resources, lying under 22 percent of Australia’s land mass.
Adani wants to build a 61 kilometer pipeline to pump up to 12.5 billion liters of water a year from the Suttor River to the mine.
Farmers argue that agricultural land use which has produced food sustainably for generations is existentially threatened by mining companies concerned only with short-term gain.
Large coal mines require federal approval if they are likely to have a significant impact on a water resource. This is known as the “water trigger”.
If the federal government was to activate the water trigger, the pipeline would undergo a higher level of scrutiny than that applied by local and state assessments, including input from an independent expert scientific committee.
Adani has claimed that the water trigger applies only to water used in the extraction of coal, and the pipeline plan is not captured because the water to be pumped “is not part of the extraction process”, but for other purposes including coal washing, dust suppression, cooling, equipment maintenance and fire risk reduction.
Australia’s opposition Labor party this week criticized the move to avoid the water trigger. Environment spokesman Tony Burke said Adani’s claim the project did not qualify for the water trigger appeared illogical.
“If (water) is involved with the mine then by definition it should be referred for assessment,” he said.
“The more I look at this project and the way the company has dealt with different layers of government the more skeptical I have become”.
Labor is under pressure from agriculture and environmental groups to cancel the Carmichael project if the party secures power.