MAC: Mines and Communities

Australians ignite around Coal and Food

Published by MAC on 2011-08-23
Source: Reuters, AAP, Sydney Morning Herald, FOE statement

Farming v Mining debate heats up

If anything is certain about the stances of Australian politicans on coal mining and coal-seam gas exploitation, it's that nothing is certain.

The country's powerful farmers' federation wants the right to negotiate access to their land by mining companies. It's supported in this by the Greens party which holds the balance of power with the Labor party in both the Upper and Lower Houses of parliament.

Yet the conservative opposition, under the vocal and abrasive leadership of Tony Abbott, is also apparently backing the farmers - even though his centre-right coalition customarily supports the mining industry to the hilt. See: Oz opposition leader goes nuts over carbon tax proposal

This "unholy alliance" between environmentalists, farmers and dyed-in-the wool conservatives could spell the end to new coal-seam methane projects - despite their output increasing from 3% to 10% of Australia's  total gas supply in the last seven years.

Virtually all of this methane derives from the state of Queensland - which also hosts the world's largest coal mining complex. See: As storm clouds break, London Calling gets biblical

Protect the future now!

However, when it comes to open-pit coal mining, one thing does seem clear. Although the Greens are emphatically against it (as are many farmers) neither the opposition nor the government will contemplate imposing a blanket ban on the practice.

Earlier this month, Friends of the Earth recruited global climate change experts to testify in its court case against London-listed Xstrata's huge proposed Wandoan coal mine in central Queensland.

The case opened on 22 August with a submission that, although most of the coal will be exported, this in no way exculpates Xstrata from its responsibility to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

A farmer from New South Wales has also made a passionate plea for government to keep coal miners out of all the country's prime agricultural areas.

Says Tim Duddy: "The only way agriculture and mining will be able to co-exist is if extractive industries are kept away from productive agricultural land and the precious water resources on which it relies".

"...We cannot eat money or coal, yet we still need light, warmth and industrial activity. Technologies to harvest energy from the sun, the wind and the ocean are advancing fast - if we cast our minds to it, who knows what wonders are ahead?"

"The time to take action to preserve our future is now or there will be no turning back."

Australian Farmers Want Land Protected From Miners

By Rob Taylor


16 August 2011

Australian farmers demanded greater protection against coal seam gas miners eyeing their land for exploration as a political fight surrounding the $70 billion gas industry on Monday threatened to splinter the surging conservative opposition.

After months of tensions between farmers and miners over rapid expansion of the potentially lucrative industry across prime agricultural land, the influential Greens party called for new laws to give farmers stronger rights to keep coal seam exploration rigs off their land.

"(It) is not about stopping coal or coal seam gas exploration or mining," National Farmers' Federation President Jock Laurie said. "It is about empowering farmers and giving them a greater right to negotiate proper commercial terms for access to their properties."

Australia's coal-seam gas industry plans to build roughly $70 billion worth of LNG projects in Queensland state alone over the next seven years, while exploration is also gathering pace in neighboring New South Wales.

But opposition leader Tony Abbott, who heads a conservative coalition of pro-business and pro-farming parties, sparked a political firestorm last week when he said farmers should have the right to stop CSG miners such as Santos and Origin Energy accessing prime agricultural land.

Farmers in recent months have locked gates on properties and staged protests against coal seam gas and coal miners trying to tap below-ground deposits. Under Australian laws, landholders must allow resource companies access for exploration and mining.

The minority Labor government, which commands a one-seat lower house majority with the support of one Green and three independent MPs, said Abbott had injected fresh sovereign risk into mining investment after for months complaining about Labor plans to tax carbon and carve a bigger slice from resource firm profits.

"In the end the coal seam methane industry is very important to Australia, and especially Queensland where you've had A$45 billion in investment since December of last year," Resources Minister Martin Ferguson told Australian radio.

Abbott, wary of reversing months of opinion poll gains for the conservative coalition in a damaging fight between its pro-farmer and pro-business factions, refused to back legislation drafted by the Greens that would give more rights to farmers.

"The Greens are just against mining, full stop. They are particularly against the coal industry, which they want to close down," he told reporters.

Prime Land

But Abbott, in a concession to farmers who mainly support his center-right coalition, said mining should not be allowed to destroy prime agricultural land, leaving unclear the question of which lands he thought should be protected.

Production of coal seam gas in Australia has soared in the past five years, with its share of total gas production lifting from 3 percent in 2003-04 to 10 percent in 2009-10.

Around 97 percent comes from the mining and farming powerhouse Queensland, where state conservatives in opposition called for a moratorium on new coal mining, warning food and water security were more vital to the national interest.

Greens leader Bob Brown said his party, which holds the balance of power in the upper house Senate, would seek support in the finely-balanced parliament for laws requiring a farmer's written permission before companies could explore for coal seam gas.

Conservative resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane said it would be a "cold day in hell" before the Greens backed farmers, accusing Brown of trying to wedge apart the resurgent center-right alliance.

The Farmers Federation said open and clear land access agreements were needed to ensure farmers were aware of their rights and had greater negotiation power when faced with companies seeking exploration and mining licenses.

"The NFF is calling for tighter controls around land access agreements so that mining and CSG companies must abide by the terms set, and farmers have a greater understanding of the negotiation process," Laurie said.

A Nielsen poll in Fairfax newspapers on Monday showed Abbott's party would wipe out Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Labor if an election were held soon, holding a 58 percent to 42 percent lead. New elections are not due until 2013.

(Editing by Alex Richardson)

Govt faces alliance against coal seam gas


15 August 2011

The federal government is facing the prospect of a combined coalition-Greens move that would give farmers the right to deny coal seam gas miners access to their land.

As anger grows in the bush against the burgeoning industry, the Australian Greens have flagged legislation that will require miners to obtain the written permission of landholders before exploring and extracting energy deposits.

But the Greens have stopped short of backing Queensland LNP leader Campbell Newman who has vowed to go further by pledging to ban open-cut coal mining on prime agricultural land in the Darling Downs, west of Brisbane, and the state's grain-growing region, known as the Golden Triangle.

The government for its part is trying to make the issue one about foreign investment and jobs, accusing the opposition of raising the spectre of sovereign risk.

"If you're going to up-end the whole way of doing business in Australia here in the mining sector I wouldn't do it with some reckless, risky thought-bubble," Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten said.

Mr Shorten was responding to comments Mr Abbott made on Friday but was reluctant to repeat when quizzed by reporters in Perth on Saturday.

The opposition leader agreed farmers had "a right to say no" if they did not want miners to come onto their land to explore for energy and mineral deposits.

"I'm surprised that he has put such a, to be blunt, sovereign risk in investment in Australia on the table," Mr Shorten said.

But opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne said his leader had simply been commenting on the "cavalier" attitude of some miners and had not been advocating any legal changes.

"I don't think Tony Abbott was saying that he believed farmers had the right to veto exploration on their properties," he said.

"I think what he was saying was they should have more opportunities to negotiate and consult with the miners than they are currently being given."

Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson wasn't seeing it that way, accusing Mr Abbott of wanting to shut down the coal seam gas industry in Australia.

He described as an "interesting combination" the possibility of an alliance comprising the coalition, the Greens and country independents.

That prospect is something Greens leader Bob Brown wants to pursue with Mr Abbott, as the minor party prepares to introduce legislation to the parliament during the next fortnight.

"It is a simple solution to the growing alarm in rural Australia," he said of the move that would require coal seam gas miners to obtain written permission before entering a farmer's land.

"We would like to extend the bill to include open-cut coal mines but feel that, at this juncture, we'd be better to confine legislation to the terms set by Mr Abbott."

Senator Brown has written to the opposition leader seeking talks "to move our common position forward" as quickly as possible.

There were sufficient numbers in both houses of parliament for the legislation to be approved before Christmas, he said.

Mr Ferguson predicted significant growth in the use of gas during the next decade, especially as it helped reduce Australia's carbon emissions.

"That effectively means we've got to invest in the development of our coal seam methane in a sustainable way," he said.

Coal seam gas makes up nearly a third of the nation's gas supply on the east coast.

The industry had an obligation to work cooperatively with landholders as assets were developed, Mr Ferguson said.

It's our coal, does it matter who burns it?

By Graham Readfearn

Sydney Morning Herald

22 August 2011

Australia's responsibility to consider the greenhouse gas emissions generated by coal exported to other countries will be tested as part of a court hearing starting today against a giant Queensland mine.

Environment group Friends of the Earth Brisbane is challenging the planned Xstrata mine at Wandoan, 350 kilometres west of Brisbane, which is set to be Queensland's biggest single coal producer, and perhaps the biggest in the southern hemisphere.

The export-focused mine has already been given conditional state government approval to mine 30 million tonnes of coal per year for the next 30 years.

Scientists called by FOE as expert witnesses will tell the Queensland Land Court the impact of the greenhouse gases from the burning of the mine's coal will be global in scale, causing global temperatures to rise, thousands of homes to flood and putting the Great Barrier Reef at further risk of collapse.

In statements already filed to the court, Dr Malte Meinhausen, a leading climate researcher from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, states the mine "could cause the extra annual flooding of the settlements and houses of 23,000 people worldwide by the 2080s".

According to Xstrata's own Environmental Impact Statement, the mining operations and the burning of the mine's coal over 30 years will add more than 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Dr Meinhausen's statement says the emissions are the equivalent of more than seven times the Federal Government's target to cut emissions by five per cent by 2020.

Calculating the impact of those emissions, Dr Meinhausen claims they will push average global sea levels 23 millimetres higher, causing an extra 23,000 people's homes to flood every year.

FOE wants the court to recommend the Queensland Government refuse final approval of Xstrata's mining lease and environmental authority, which are both needed for the mine to go ahead.

Bradley Smith, FOE spokesperson, said: "The impact of the greenhouse gas emissions from this mine will be much larger than from any other mine in Australia."

Because most of the coal would be exported before it was burned and not counted in Australia's greenhouse accounts, Mr Smith said Xstrata had "no responsibility" for those emissions "and neither does anyone else in Australia".

"But they are our biggest contribution to climate change. It is reckless to go ahead and build more and more large mines without taking some responsibility for those emissions."

Mr Smith compared the issue with that of uranium mining, where Australia refuses to export to any country which has not signed the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"We recognise that uranium could cause a lot of harm. But with coal mining, there is not even a consideration of the harm that will be caused. That is the link we are trying to build in this case."

An Xstrata spokesman said the company had followed a "rigorous environmental assessment and review" through each stage of its mining lease application.

"The approvals process includes an ability for any party to object to the granting of the Mining Lease and the Draft Environmental Authority for the Project, prior to the final determination on whether a Mining Lease should be granted.

"Objections have been received on issues including the impacts of mining, greenhouse gas emissions associated with the mining and subsequent burning of the coal, road access to landholder properties, effects on cattle, water arrangements, and the existing state and federal legislative approval processes."

He said Xstrata Coal had continued to transparently report the emissions profile for the project throughout the approvals and community engagement process.

Emissions from the mine were expected to peak in year 24, at which point the mine's activities would represent 0.08 per cent of Australia's total emissions. But this figure did not include emissions caused by the burning of the coal overseas.

The spokesman added: "We take our responsibility for the reduction of our greenhouse footprint seriously and continue to invest into the development and implementation of carbon capture and low emissions technology locally and globally. We need to ensure the matters to be addressed before the court are practical, and relevant to the mining lease application."

The court will also hear objections from 10 landholders from the Wandoan area. Mr Smith said the landholders had "real concerns about loss of agricultural land and damage to ground water supplies".

Representing FOE, Sean Ryan, senior solicitor at Environmental Defenders Office Queensland, said the basis of the objection was that "the mine will increase the likelihood, severity and longevity of global warming" and that by adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere "this makes warming more likely".

FOE is calling three other expert witnesses: Griffith University Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe, University of Queensland Professor of Marine Studies Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and his father, economist Hans Hoegh-Guldberg.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg's court statement says the emissions from the mine's coal "represents a very significant contribution to the impacts being felt on the Great Barrier Reef and across a vast number of other ecosystems, agricultural and societal activities and concerns."

See also:


International Experts Called in to Stop Xstrata’s Wandaon Coal Mine

Friends of the Earth Australia Press Release

6 August 2011

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has called in some of the world’s leading climate change experts as witnesses to assist the Queensland Land Court in understanding FoE’s climate change case against the Wandoan Mega Mine. FoE are calling on the Court to recommend that the Queensland Government reject the mine as part of the formal approval process for the proposed mine.

The experts include;

Friends of the Earth is challenging the proposed Xstrata mine at Wandoan in Central Queensland because it will be one of the largest coal mines in the world which will create a sizable 0.15% of annual global emissions every year.

"The court case set to commence on 22 August, will be a test case in Queensland and the first case of its kind in the Queensland Land Court," said Dr Bradley Smith from Friends of the Earth. "We want the Queensland Government to reject the mine, because of the massive carbon emissions and environmental impacts from the mine. We are taking this action to protect our climate and the environment. "

"The Queensland Government continues to approve coal mines, without regard for the global emissions from mining the coal. They approve the mine, collect the billions of dollars in royalties and then wash their hands of the impacts”.

"The coal from the proposed mega mine at Wandoan will be exported and end up contributing to climate change. This mine will create upward of 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon emissions over 30 years. This will contribute to impacts on the Great Barrier Reef leading to job losses and massive impacts on the Queensland economy.”

"The Great Barrier Reef is an economic powerhouse, generating thousands of jobs in tourism and services, and contributing $6.9 billion to the economy every year.1 Without the reef, destinations like Cairns, Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays would become ghost towns.”

"Estimates show that upwards of $1 billion could be lost to local Queensland
communities every year from climate impacts on the Great Barrier Reef over the coming decades."

"It really does not make sense. On the one had the Queensland Government approves coal mines across Queensland. Yet these mines will prove be a future disaster for the State," said Dr Smith. "Queenslanders have had enough! City, rural and coastal communities want this mine stopped."

"The Queensland Government should reject this mine under the EIS, until it can be proven that the emissions from using the coal will be zero," said Dr Smith. "A mine of this size should not be approved in Queensland until technology is available that eliminates emissions from coal combustion."

"The Queensland Government has the power to reject the proposed mine under Queensland EIS legislation. They need to and start regulating coal mining to stop the impacts on the climate system."

For comment:

Friends of the Earth: Dr Bradley Smith, +61 413 280 006
Environmental Defenders Office: Sean Ryan, +61 7 3211 4466

For further information please see:


Environment group takes Wandoan MEGA coal mine to court

Xstrata's mega mine threatens Great Barrier Reef

23 May 2011

This week marks the next step in our epic court battle with multinational coal mining giant Xstrata. Friends of the Earth were presented with 7 pages of questions from Xstrata's lawyers regarding the details of their objection. Our concern about the future of the Great Barrier Reef is a key reason for initiating legal proceedings against the mine.

"There is no doubt that the Great Barrier Reef is the canary in the coal mine and is at grave risk from climate change. The death of the reef will be a massive economic blow to Queensland," said Friends of the Earth spokesperson Shani Tager.

"The Xstrata equation is simple: more coal mining means more carbon emissions that will increase climate risks to the Great Barrier Reef. The alternative is also simple: reject Xstrata's proposed Wandoan mega coal mine and help keep our reef alive."

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority figures show that the reef generates over 60 000 jobs and contributes $7 billion to Australia's economy every year.

Economic modeling shows that by 2020 upwards of $3 billion in revenue could be lost because of climate impacts on the Great Barrier Reef.

"When considering coal mining approvals, we need to be aware of the likelihood that within the next ten years regional communities will already be suffering from their climate impacts," said Ms Tager. "The Great Barrier Reef is an economic powerhouse and without it destinations like Cairns, Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays could become ghost towns."

"More and more scientific research is telling us to curb emissions to save the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland needs to be transitioning away from coal mining, rather than supporting the largest coal expansion in our history."

"According to Xstrata's own Environmental Impact Statement, the coal mine will create up to 49 mega tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, a sizeable 0.17% of annual global emissions. The Queensland Government should not be giving the green light to new mega coal mines with the Great Barrier Reef on the brink."

"Over a million tourists from all over the world come to Queensland to visit the Great Barrier Reef every year. It is an international icon, with the highest diversity of coral reefs, tropical fish, turtles and dugongs."

"Spiralling carbon emissions mean higher temperatures and more severe coral bleaching. Seawater also absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, so higher emissions mean that seawater becomes more acidic and destroys coral reefs."

Our trial is scheduled for August 22nd.


Environment group takes Wandoan MEGA coal mine to court

Global mining giant Xstrata will today face the Land Court of Queensland over the greenhouse impacts of its proposed Wandoan mega coal mine.

Friends of the Earth lodged the objection with the Land Court due to the colossal carbon emissions from the mine. They say that the mega mine will have disastrous impacts and should simply not go ahead.

"Each year that the Wandoan mine operates it will result in more greenhouse pollution than 150 countries. The impacts that this will cause on our climate and the Great Barrier Reef are unacceptable and will be around long after the mine is closed," said Friends of the Earth spokesperson Dr John Mackenzie.

Todays initial hearing will set out the scope and timing of the trial, which will call a variety of experts to give evidence on the impacts that this mine will have on Queensland's environment and the global climate.

Each year the proposed Xstrata coal mine will extract 30 million tonnes of coal and cause 47 mega tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution, a sizable 0.15% of annual global emissions.

If the mine goes ahead, it will be one of the largest coal mines in the world.

"This project will lock Queensland into a huge expansion of the worlds dirtiest energy source for the next three decades, when the only responsible thing to do is transition to a cleaner economy," said Dr John Mackenzie.

"Approving mega coal mines which lead to massive carbon emissions will be another nail in the coffin for the Great Barrier Reef," said John Mackenzie from FoE.

"Queensland will lose an economic asset which generates over $6 billion dollars annually and provides over 50 000 jobs."

"Queensland's climate is set to worsen over coming decades. The CSIRO predicts more extreme floods and cyclones to batter the state, and much harsher droughts that could decimate rural industries."

For interview and photo opportunities, please contact Dr John Mackenzie, Friends of the Earth Media Spokesperson, ph: 0405 433 550 

Background Information

The proposed MEGA Wandoan Coal Project is located near the town of Wandoan in Central Queensland approximately 350 km Northwest of Brisbane. The proposed Wandoan MEGA COA mine is the first stage of the gargantuan coal expansion into the Surat Basin coal deposits. The development of the Surat Basin coal deposits operations marks a new 'dirty phase' in energy resource development in Australia. The Wandoan MEGA COAL operation is being by Xstrata Coal Queensland Pty Ltd (75%), ICRA Wandoan Pty Ltd, and Sumisho Coal Australia Pty Limited. Xstrata plc is a multinational mining giant, with headquarters in Switzerland.

The proposed open-cut mine will extract 30 million tonnes of coal per year, with the potential to expand to 40 million tonnes per year. The mining operations require the development of substantial new rail, port and water supply infrastructure in the region. This infrastructure will be partly funded and subsidized by taxpayers through the Queensland Government. These infrastructure projects will also cause substantial environmental impacts.

The new Surat Basin Rail project requires 220 km of rail line connecting Wandoan with the Moura- Gladstone Line to transport the coal the Gladstone. The coal will be shipped from the either:

The MEGA MINE also requires a new water supply for processing the coal from either;

The Nathan Dam and Glebe that were proposed by the Queensland Government owned Sunwater has already been rejected by the Commonwealth Government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) due to its potential impacts on the Great Barrier Reef.

Carbon emissions and impacts

Coal is one of the most carbon intensive fossil fuels and is a major source of global greenhouse emissions. The proposed MEGA COAL mine at Wandoan will contribute an estimated 0.15% of global carbon emissions each year over the next three decades proposed for mining. Once these emissions enter the atmosphere they will contribute to global climate change, which is causing unprecedented climate impacts in Queensland.

There has been an observed increase in temperatures, more severe storms and cyclones and more intense droughts in Queensland, which will worsen over the coming decades.

Our food bowls should not be sacrificed to mining

By Timothy Duddy

Sydney Morning Herald

18 August 2011

Tim Duddy on his sunflower farm says a moratorium should be put on mining in agricultural areas until a regional solution is reached to protect farmers.

TAustralia is the driest continent on earth and as we push towards an ever increasing population we must be mindful of the fact the less than 9 per cent of our continent's surface is arable land: a far smaller portion of that is prime agricultural land, and an even smaller portion of that has underground water resources.

This limited area for producing food for the nation is under threat from coal seam gas mining and so far the pendulum has been firmly tilted towards the miners' interests. There is a way the two industries can co-exist, but it will require a moratorium on further mining exploration while a regional plan is formed.

I cannot overstate the importance to the country of our food producing areas. The Liverpool Plains in the north-west of NSW, where I am from, is an area of just 1.2 million hectares that produces about 37 per cent of the nation's cereal crops. After 185 years of working the land, locals now use some of the most advanced broad-acre farming practices in the world, while local irrigators led the state in water reform.

Many Australians have their wealth tied up in mining stocks and it is in their own interests to imagine that these companies will never affect the agricultural viability of our nation.

A few well-run media campaigns have ensured that Australians hold this view. I too felt the same way until mining came into my life six years ago.

The truth is far different - pollution, damage and destruction are the norm, and water resources are being compromised and destroyed on an hourly basis. For far too long, this industry has been able to fix any problem by waving the cheque book.

The legislation in this area is totally inadequate to deal with the coal and gas rush in this nation. Farmers in the Liverpool Plains engaged in the process as set out by the Acts, but the process failed to protect our property and water rights and interrupted our ability to work our own land. We then went to NSW Supreme Court and won, only to have the NSW Labor government of the time retrospectively change the laws, with the full support of the opposition.

Yet while agricultural areas are under siege, Queensland will protect urban areas from mining. NSW and Victoria say they will not follow suit, but the issue of urban mining and the controversial extraction method of fracking is gaining prominence.

The issue of mining in agricultural areas, leading to questions of how the country will feed itself, sits alongside broader questions about how the nation will generate heat and light into the next millennium.

The mining industry suggests that money justifies everything. But like the little boy who ate too much chocolate cake, we as a nation must think about tomorrow.

We still need a mining industry but, like other industries, it must be held accountable for the damage it inflicts. Until now, the nation has turned a blind eye - we love our wealth and we love our prosperity, and Australians have been unaware what they've been sacrificing to meet these ends.

Good fences make good neighbors, but at present the mining industry is not prepared to be fenced out of anywhere. They say they do no harm, but all around we see evidence to the contrary. Throughout the Hunter Valley wells are dry and rivers no longer run clean, while aquifers in central Queensland are predicted to drop more than 50 metres following coal seam gas extraction.

The only way agriculture and mining will be able to co-exist is if extractive industries are kept away from productive agricultural land and the precious water resources on which it relies. A regional plan is needed that sets out areas for certain land use, including agriculture, wine production, thoroughbred breeding and mining. Boundaries drawn in black are the only way to achieve a diverse regional Australia where the various industries can co-exist in peace.

Forcing the mining industry to be accountable could also serve to promote renewable energy policies and investment. We cannot eat money or coal, yet we still need light, warmth and industrial activity. Technologies to harvest energy from the sun, the wind and the ocean are advancing fast - if we cast our minds to it, who knows what wonders are ahead? The time to take action to preserve our future is now or there will be no turning back.

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