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State forced to make a difficult decision on Palmer coal project

Business

The State Government has allowed Clive Palmer’s controversial central Queensland coal project to move to an assessment report stage.

 

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The project, which was heavily criticised as posing a potential threat to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, was expected to be given an answer on its environmental approval today.

But instead, it has gone to another reporting stage.

“The Department of Environment and Science has decided that the Environmental Impact Statement for the Central Queensland Coal project can proceed to the assessment report stage,” the Government said late this afternoon.

“This does not mean the project is approved.

“While the department is undertaking the assessment on behalf of the Commonwealth for matters of national environmental significance, the final decision on the Commonwealth environmental approval rests with the Federal Minister for the Environment.

“DES will now prepare an assessment report for the project that will consider the impacts of the project, submissions from stakeholders and advice from relevant agencies.

The project is difficult for the Palaszczuk Government because granting approval to it indirectly supports a political rival and makes it a target for environmentalists and the Greens.

If it rejects the project it faces the prospect of having to continue to fight against the perception that it is anti coal.

The project has already split the Rockhampton Regional Council which voted against a formal letter of support, but had several individual councillors give it backing.

The project was dealt a heavy blow from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development, which said the planned mine could release pollutants into the rivers and creeks which feed into Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Adani is also facing a backlash from the normally pro-mining Isaac Council which said it had lost patience with the project and its treatment of landholders and noncompliance with some obligations.

It came as the Curragh mine owner Coronado forecasted a significant improvement in coal demand after it reported a stunning loss of profit for 2020 of $226 million. That forced a sell off in its shares by as much as 18 per cent before a recovery this afternoon.

Coronado said demand for metallurgical was about to take off with India’s steel demand almost back to its pre-COVID levels. Metallurgical coal is used in the production of steel.

It said blast furnaces were being brought back on line in Japan, South Korea, Europe and Brazil and an improved global outlook was likely to mean greater utilisation of those blast furnaces.

Its own plans for an expansion at the Curragh mine were also being reviewed, while it has plans to sell off housing and accommodation at the mine.

Coronado said steel demand was robust and supply of metallurgical coal would be tight this year despite China’s ban on Australian coal.

It said supply was expected to increase by about 13 per cent over the next 10 years and demand would increase by 14 per cent.

But growth was likely to be impacted by access to financing for greenfield projects, permitting of projects and production of high quality assets.

“Supply is expected to remain tight as mines in Australia recover from weather impacts.

“The growth in demand is driven by requirements for metallurgical coal increasing by about 52 per cent between 2021 and 2030.

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