Is Australia inventing « clean » mining?

by / Thursday, 23 August 2012 / Published in Smartgrid-CI Blog

After years of negotiation the $10B Alpha Coal project received a green light yesterday.
Coal may be in trouble in the USA but apparently not in Australia. The Australian government authorized yesterday the opening of a coal mine that will produce 32 million tons of coal a year for the next 30 years.

The $10B Alpha Coal project was controversial for a while because of its location and dimension. The Galilee Basin, where it is taking place, is located alongside the Great Barrier Reef. What is new and different is that the government clearance comes with 19 drastic conditions aimed at ensuring the protection of the areas’ natural environment. This is the least one could expect; the Great Barrier Reef is one of the UNESCO world’s heritage sites.

The area is also home to many rare or endangered animal such as dolphins, turtles and the Dugong, a close cousin to the manatee.

GVK-Hancock, the company that will operate the mine is satisfied with this clearance that did not happen easily. A first clearance that was given by the Queensland government a few months ago was disapproved by the Federal Government that imposed a new negotiation that ended with the present contract.

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No doubt that many will follow very closely what will happen with this project roll out, and not just in Australia. Will the drastic conditions taken for environment protection really work? How will the impact of this mine on the environment be measured? What will happen if the operator does not fulfill its obligations? What will be the impact of these drastic conditions in the project’s profitability? 
Coal is not the only resource to be potentially impacted. Oil and gas and rare earth could be added to the list, in particular because of the development of very deep offshore drilling that takes places in places that are more and more difficult to reach.
The environmental factor is not the only one to take into account. Drastic environment protection conditions or not, the economic viability of the project may actually be questioned. Interestingly enough, a few hours before this clearance was made public, the world’s biggest miner, BHP Billiton, shelved two major expansion plans in Australia worth $40B. 

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“The resources boom is over,” Resources and Energy minister Martin Ferguson told Australian radio yesterday to explain that decision. 
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