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Full steam ahead for Adani as groundwater plan gets green light

Adani is set to begin construction on its Carmichael coal mine within weeks after receiving the final sign-off on its groundwater management plan.

The Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) announced it had approved the mining giant’s Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan (GDEMP) on 13 June, after receiving the most recent version the day before.

The GDEMP sets out how Adani proposes to minimise and manage the environmental impacts of its mine on groundwater-dependent species and ecosystems. This includes the Doongmabulla Springs Complex, a 1-square-kilometre stretch of wetland that is home to a number of native plant and animal species.

The aquifer that feeds the Doongmabulla Springs has been the subject of debate. While Adani maintains the water “comes from an underground water source that is not connected to the Carmichael mine”, a group of concerned scientists has written that the springs face “a legitimate threat of extinction due to the Carmichael mine project”.

In a statement, the DES said assessment of the GDEMP had been “rigorous and based on the best available science”.

It said both the DES and Adani had taken advice from the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia in assessing the plan, which was the same advice considered by the Federal Government.

“DES is satisfied that the GDEMP sufficiently establishes the main source aquifer of the springs as the Clematis Sandstone,” the DES said.

“CSIRO and Geoscience Australia also confirmed that some level of uncertainty in geological and groundwater conceptual models always exists.”

However, writing in The Conversation, two of the concerned scientists, Flinders University Professor of Hydrology Adrian Wener and RMIT Associate Professor in Environmental Engineering Matthew Currell, said the final plan failed to consider key scientific issues they and their colleagues had raised.

“The shortcomings in the science raised by a range of scientists from multiple universities and agencies will therefore remain unaddressed until after mining activity begins, risking irreversible harm to the Doongmabulla Springs,” they wrote.

“We believe that uncertainties in the future groundwater impacts from the mine are high, but could have been addressed if Adani had acted upon the advice it has repeatedly received over the past six years.”

Further study needed

The GDEMP represented the last major environmental hurdle for the Galilee Basin project, after the Queensland Government approved Adani’s plan to conserve the black-throated finch on 31 May. It comes after the Federal Government gave an earlier version of the groundwater plan the go-ahead in April this year.

In approving the plan, the DES said Adani will need to conduct more scientific work over the next two years to strengthen the GDEMP.

To improve the understanding of the source aquifers of springs near the mine, including the Doongmabulla Springs, Adani is required to:

  • undertake detailed hydrogeochemical analysis of groundwater and spring samples;
  • undertake isotopic analysis (including noble, radioactive gases and strontium isotopes where isotopic analysis is not sufficient);
  • examine core samples from new bores to get a better understanding of hydraulic properties and provide detailed geological mapping; and
  • incorporate airborne electro-magnetic modelling undertaken by Geoscience Australia to improve hydrogeological understanding of the area.

Jobs and growth

In a statement following the approval, Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow said the company would continue finalising contracts, mobilising equipment, hiring staff and completing inductions in the coming days.

“These preparatory actions will enable us to then start construction activities including fencing, bridge and road upgrades, water management and civil earth works on the mine site,” Dow said.

“The level of construction activity will then steadily increase over the coming weeks.”

According to Dow, the project will provide 1500 direct and 6750 indirect jobs during “ramp up and construction”.