MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia: Coal port dredging, dumping threat to Great Barrier Reef

Published by MAC on 2014-02-03
Source:, Guardian, Reuters

Coal port dredging, dumping threat to Great Barrier Reef

Frik Els

2 February 2014

Another fight over industrial and mining development in areas near Australia's Great Barrier Reef, a 345,400 square kilometer marine park along the country's eastern coast, has broken out after approvals were given that would enable the expansion of a major coal port.

The Abbot Point coal port in northern Queensland will service among others the Alpha Coal project in the Galilee basin owned by Australia's riches woman Gina Rinehart and India's GVK group.

On Friday, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority approved a permit for the state-owned coal terminal operator to dump as much as 3 million cubic meters of dredged sediment inside the park.

The Huffington Post reports that despite strict conditions and close monitoring should reduce the impact, environment groups are not satisfied:

"But outraged conservationists say the already fragile reef will be gravely threatened by the dredging, which will occur over a 184-hectare (455-acre) area. Apart from the risk that the sediment will smother coral and seagrass, the increased shipping traffic will boost the risk of accidents, such as oil spills and collisions with delicate coral beds, environment groups argue."

The Alpha coal mine, which will be built to ship 60 million tonnes of thermal coal through Abbot Point per year has also come under fire for its economics.

A recent study estimated that the Alpha mine would probably need a thermal coal price of at least $90 a tonne to proceed and "possibly more than $150 to generate returns."

Thermal coal used in power generation is currently trading at less than $80 a tonne as number one consumer China tries to tackle problems of pollution and change its energy mix.

Great Barrier Reef authority approves dredging and dumping to expand port

Australian marine park authority grants approval with strict conditions in decision met with derision by conservation groups

Bridie Jabour

The Guardian

31 January 2014

Three million cubic metres of sediment from dredging to expand a coal port will be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef marine park, after the park authority approved the move on Friday.

The spoil resulting from the Abbot Point port project is to be dumped 24km away at a location near Bowen in north Queensland.

The expansion, which hinged on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's approval of the dumping, means an extra 70m tonnes of coal each year, worth between $1.4bn and $2.8bn, will go through the port, which is also a gateway to the world heritage-listed reef.

The authority granted approval with strict conditions on Friday afternoon.

The authority chairman, Dr Russell Reichelt, said he recognised the amount of debate and community concern the project had generated and shared with everyone a strong desire to ensure the reef remained a great natural wonder into the future.

"This approval is in line with the agency's view that port development along the Great Barrier Reef coastline should be limited to existing ports," Reichelt said.

"As a deepwater port that has been in operation for nearly 30 years, Abbot Point is better placed than other ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline to undertake expansion as the capital and maintenance dredging required will be significantly less than what would be required in other areas.

"It's important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds."
Abbot Point Greenpeace activists protest at Abbot Point coal terminal in 2009. Photograph: Greenpeace

North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation had applied to dump within the Great Barrier Reef marine park and, although the authority was asked to make a decision within 10 days of the environment minister, Greg Hunt, approving the project in December, it asked for an extension.

North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation is also expected to come up with an alternative site that is also expected to be within the marine park.

The corporation has maintained flora and fauna are unlikely to be damaged by the dumping, with the water perhaps becoming cloudy for a short period of time, but the UN body Unesco is reviewing the decision.

The corporation says it would be more environmentally damaging to dump the spoil on land.

World Wildlife Fund Great Barrier Reef campaigner Richard Leck said it was a sad day for the reef and anyone who cared about its future.

"Federal environment minister Greg Hunt failed to show leadership on this issue," he said. "Mr Hunt could have stopped the dumping of dredge spoil in reef waters instead he gave dumping the green light.

"The World Heritage Committee will take a dim view of this decision which is in direct contravention of one of its recommendations."

The committee is meeting in Doha in June when it might list the reef as world heritage in danger.
Great Barrier Reef A diver swimmming among fish on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Greenpeace has previously said any dumping of spoil on the reef would be an "international embarrassment".

"We wouldn't throw rubbish on world heritage sites like the Grand Canyon or the Vatican City, so why would we dump on the reef?" said a spokeswoman, Louise Matthiesson.

"Scientists are clear that the potential impacts of dumping the dredge spoil so close to fringing reefs and the WWII Catalina plane wreck are significant."

Great Barrier Reef campaign director with the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Felicity Wishart, said: "Most Australians will be shocked and angry at this decision by the marine park authority and minister Hunt to allow dumping of dredge spoil in reef waters.

"Across the board, people expect them to defend the reef, not approve its destruction."

Among 47 new environmental conditions imposed by the authority with the approval were:

• Measures to minimise impact on biodiversity, particularly coral.

• A long-term water quality monitoring plan extending five years after the disposal activity is completed.

• A heritage management plan to protect the Catalina second world war aircraft wreck in Abbot Bay.

• Offset measures for commercial fishing in the event of adverse impacts.

• The prevention of any harm to environmental, cultural and heritage values of any areas 20 kilometres beyond the disposal site.

• Environmental site supervision by an authority nominee.

• The establishment of an independent dredging and disposal technical advice panel and a management response group, to include community representatives.

Coral or coal decision looms for Australia's Great Barrier Reef

Sonali Paul


31 January 2014

Australia's Great Barrier Reef watchdog is to decide by Friday whether to allow millions of cubic meters of dredged mud to be dumped near the fragile reef to create the world's biggest coal port and possibly unlock $28 billion in coal projects.

A dumping permit would allow a major expansion of the port of Abbot Point for two Indian firms and Australian billionaire miner Gina Rinehart, who together have $16 billion worth of coal projects in the untapped, inland Galilee Basin.

The Galilee Basin could double Australia's thermal coal exports and see it overtake Indonesia as the world's top coal exporter, further fuelling China's power plants and steel mills that have underpinned Australia's decade-long mining boom.

If the permit is not granted it would add to uncertainty over $28 billion in proposed Galilee Basin projects, already delayed due to difficulty raising funds with coal prices down.

The plan has sparked protests from environmentalists and scientists who fear the sensitive marine park will be damaged by the dumping and an expanded port, would nearly double shipping traffic through the reef, increasing the risk of accidents.

"The corals could stop growing or potentially die, depending on how long the mud stays there," said Louise Matthieson, a campaigner for Greenpeace Australia.

Enough mud will be dredged from Abbot Point, that if dumped on land, it would be bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Approval to dump 3 million cubic meters of mud within the marine park could place at risk the World Heritage-listing of the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia's major tourism drawcards with an estimated economic value of $5.7 billion.

World Heritage Listing at Risk

UNESCO, which awarded the reef its heritage listing, last year postponed a decision to June 2014 on whether to put the Great Barrier Reef on its "in danger" list or even cancel its World Heritage listing. It is awaiting a report from the national government on steps taken to address its concerns.

Australia's conservative government, elected last September, has already approved limited dredging to deepen Abbot Point on the northeast coast to spur development of coal resources.

But the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, an independent government agency charged with protecting the reef, needs to issue a permit to North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp to dump its dredged mud within the marine park.

In 2006, the authority allowed triple the amount of dredging waste from the port of Hay Point to be dumped in the reef.

The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp says there have been no adverse effects from the Hay Point dumping.

Green groups fear political pressure to allow the Abbot Point dumping will be too great, with the Queensland state government keen to expand ports.

"The real politics of the situation is they have a new environment minister who expects them to toe the line," Matthieson said.

The Abbot Point expansion would add two new terminals for Adani Enterprise's and GVK-Hancock, a joint venture between India's GVK conglomerate and Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting, which have long term plans to export 120 million tonnes a year of coal all together.

Plans for a third new coal terminal at Abbot Point are on hold after BHP Billiton, Australia's biggest exporter of coal for steel mills, cancelled a port project as it cut capital spending as coal prices fell.

If allowed, North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp plans to conduct the dredging in two or three campaigns spread out over five years. But dredging is unlikely to start anytime soon, because the disposal site has yet to be designated and because Adani and GVK-Hancock have yet to line up funding.

"What would be a travesty is if they went ahead with the dredging and the companies didn't build the terminals," said Felicity Wishart, Barrier Reef Campaign director for the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

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