20 October 2015
by Marl Ludlow

Rinehart mine would devastate groundwater, court told

A mine in central Queensland proposed by Australia's richest woman Gina Rinehart would cause significant damage to groundwater and should not proceed, a court has heard.

After Indian energy giant Adani's $16.5 billion Carmichael mine was granted environmental approval by the federal government last week, environmental activists have now moved their focus to Adani's rivals, Indian company GVK and Hancock Coal.

GVK and Hancock Coal are attempting to build two new mines in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland – the $10 billion Alpha project and $4.2 billion Kevin's Corner.

Legal challenges against the Alpha mine have so far failed and a group including local grazier Bruce Currie, Brisbane-based environmental group Coast and Country, the North Queensland Conservation Council and the Mackay Conservation Group are attempting to block the neighbouring Kevin's Corner project.

A two-week hearing, which began in the Land Court in Brisbane on Monday, has heard that opponents to the Kevin's Corner thermal coal mine will argue it should not be granted environmental approval because of the damage to groundwater.

"The company has modelled groundwater drawdown that extends roughly 4 kilometres into our property, but they haven't said where the impact ends or how low our water will drop," Mr Currie said outside the court.

Bores indispensable to grazing
"Our groundwater bores are absolutely indispensable to our grazing business. They underpin our productivity and the value of our property. Like the other families around Acland, if we lose our water, we lose our family business, it's that simple."

The North Queensland Conservation Council also moved to submit evidence about the impact of extra shipping on the Great Barrier Reef.

The court heard the Kevin's Corner mine – which is 360 kilometres south of Mackay – would export up to 30 million tonnes of coal each year if granted approval. It was expected to generate 1800 jobs during construction and 1600 jobs during operation.

Lawyers for GVK said there was a 38-kilometre buffer zone between the Kevin's Corner mine and local graziers, saying groundwater reserves were being protected.

The company has reached "make good agreements" with other graziers in the region, which requires them to fix any problems caused by the mine.

The Kevin's Corner mine was approved by the federal government in 2013, subject to strict conditions on groundwater.

Expert report
The court heard an expert report that showed the mine would be able to exist without a significant impact on the water table.

"The report found there was little likelihood of damage to the Great Artesian Basin. And post-mining there will be a recovery in the groundwater," GVK Hancock lawyer Damian Clothier QC told the court.

But Mr Clothier admitted water experts were divided over the amount of "re-charge" of existing aquifers during the life of the mine.

The former Abbott government moved to tighten requirements for legal challenges against big mining projects, saying environmental activists were using existing laws to "sabotage" projects.

But federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt last week conceded the proposed change to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was unlikely to proceed through the Senate and was unlikely to be revived by the new Turnbull government.

The Queensland government is desperate for the Galilee Basin projects to proceed to help kick-start the state's ailing economy. But Adani and GVK are struggling to raise the funds to develop the projects, given the plummeting international coal price.