Mining billionaire Clive Palmer is seeking approval to develop a Queensland coal mine twice the size of the controversial Carmichael project – but has done so by drawing heavily on environmental work done by other mines proposed for the region.
The federal environment department told Fairfax Media it will decide by Monday whether the Alpha North mine proposed by Mr Palmer's Waratah Coal company will require "detailed assessment under national environmental law," according to a spokeswoman.
The monster mine planned for the Galilee Basin, abuts Adani's Carmichael mine, and is separate from a proposal by Mr Palmer to develop the China First mine, also in the region.
Alpha North would have an "initial life" of 30 years and produce as much as 80 million tonnes of thermal coal per year, or about double Carmichael's, according to the proposal lodged with the federal government.
Alpha North's footprint would be about triple Carmichael's, at 144,000 hectares, or about 27 times that of Sydney Harbour, according to Greenpeace, which lodged a submission against the mine.
At that size, it would be the "largest project of its type ever proposed in Australia," the environmental group said.
In making its pitch, Alpha North relied heavily on referrals submitted by Adani and other mines proposed for the area.
For instance, the proposal's impact on the area's groundwater refers to "a series of groundwater and impact assessment reports, submissions and proceedings carried out for the Kevins Corner and Alpha Coal projects".
Greenpeace said given its scale, "it is unlikely that the project will not have unacceptable impacts on a water resource," noting that the project would come within 200 metres of the Doongmabulla Mound Springs Nature Refuge and is adjacent to other springs complexes in the region.
Similarly, the proponent also relies on the environmental impact assessment for the Carmichael Coal and Rail Project from 2010, "which suggests that a thorough and up-to-date assessment has not been undertaken" by Waratah Coal, Greenpeace said in its submissions.
Fairfax Media sought comment from Waratah Coal.
The mine's proposal also ruled out an impact on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, despite the extra greenhouse gas emissions and need for additional port and shipping activity.
'Never underestimate a billionaire'
Jonathan Moylan, a campaigner for Greenpeace, said the project represented "a whole additional carbon bomb" to that advanced by Adani.
The proposal comes "at a time when we can't be building any new coal mines at all," he said, adding that Alpha North's annual coal production would alone amount to about one-third of Australia's current total carbon emissions.
Tim Buckley, a director a the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said Mr Palmer's proposal appeared to be an effort to keep his options open, should Adani or another Galilee mine ever get developed.
"He could become a second or third-mover, using someone else's infrastructure and losses," Mr Buckley said.
While Alpha North – or indeed, Carmichael – remained a long-shot at ever being developed, Mr Buckley said people should "never underestimate a billionaire," particularly if backed by subsidies such as those proposed for rail links by the Turnbull government.
Waratah Coal in 2012 applied to the Queensland government for a so-called "environmental authority" for what was called the "North Alpha" project.
The company, though, never submitted an Environmental Impact Statement, and the process lapsed, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Environment and Science said.
"Waratah Coal withdrew the North Alpha mining lease application made in 2012 on 17 April 2018," the spokeswoman said, adding that the company had recently submitted a new application.
The spokeswoman said it would be up to the federal government to determine the veracity of the company's submission to Canberra but "the Queensland government would be thoroughly assessing any information provided by Waratah to support its application for an environmental approval".
Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.
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