Queensland coal projects a threat to water

Sept. 24, 2013 at 11:35 AM
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BRISBANE, Australia, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Mega mines planned for the Australian state of Queensland would adversely affect the region's water supply, a new report says.

The report, "Draining the Life-blood," by the anti-mining Australian network Lock the Gate, examines nine coal mines proposed for the Galilee Basin that would involve a total 34 open cut pits and 15 underground mines along a 168- mile area.

Together, the proposed coal mines, which are expected to produce more than 300 million tons of coal annually, "have the potential to cause permanent and unacceptable impacts on regional groundwater and surface water," the report states.

The Lock the Gate report, released Monday, is based on publicly available environmental impact statements for five of the mines, with those figures used as a benchmark for the impact of the other four mines. The study was overseen by former senior Queensland government officer Tom Crothers, who served as the state's general manager of Water Planning and Allocation.

The report estimates that the nine mines would need 13 billion to 18 billion gallons of water each year for washing coal and other operations.

"This is a desert region that's highly dependent on groundwater, so dozens of farming properties will be impacted by these mines, as will the people in the towns of Alpha and Jericho," Ellie Smith, Lock the Gate coordinator, told The Guardian newspaper.

The Guardian report notes that Queensland's cattle industry is now experiencing a lack of water, and some experts have warned that 80 percent of the state could be in drought within weeks.

The Queensland Resources Council, a representative body for the Australian state's coal industry, acknowledged that the extreme development scenario underpinning the Lock the Gate report could be a useful planning tool in working towards a regional solution to future water supply issues in the Galilee Basin.

However, the council noted in a statement, the report "seeks to portray the instantaneous development of the Galilee Basin as a done deal when only one project has moved through the stringent environmental approvals process."

Jeff Seeney, the deputy premier of Queensland, was critical of the report, saying a "rigorous" approval process would soon be supplemented by new monitoring of groundwater systems.

"Lock the Gate and [its president] Drew Hutton are against any resource development ... and are working constantly to undermine industries which provide tens of thousands of jobs to Queenslanders and substantial revenue to the state and federal governments," Seeney was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

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