Why Adani is wrong in saying they did not pollute the Reef and Caley Valley Wetlands during Cyclone Debbie
Adani has repeatedly claimed it did nothing wrong in relation its management of Abbot Point coal terminal during Cyclone Debbie. The reality is that Adani did cause pollution. Here are the facts:
Temporary Emissions Licence
On 28 April 2017, the Department of Environment & Science (formerly Dept of Environment & Heritage Protection - DEHP) issued Adani with a retrospectively amended Temporary Emissions Licence for the company’s coal terminal at Abbot Point.
The licence permitted Adani to increase the concentration of contaminants flowing into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the Caley Valley wetlands from the 30 milligrams per litre (mg/L) to 100mg/L.
Exceedance of TEL
After the cyclone Adani reported to the Queensland Government that the concentration of contaminants measured in water samples collected at the location that flowed into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (known as W2) was 806mg/L. Those samples were collected using an automated process. The concentration of contaminants exceeded the temporarily permitted limit by more than 800%.
At the other authorised location (called W1), which flowed into the Caley Valley Wetlands, samples were collected after staff returned to the site following the cyclone. At the time of collection the concentration was 80mg/L which was below the temporary limit. However, there were no samples collected during the event so nobody knows whether the limit was exceeded at any time while the licence was in operation.
On 3 May 2017 the head of Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Jim Reeves, said that Adani could face a penalty of $3.8 million for a wilful breach of its licence. However, on 20 July DEHP issued Adani with a $12,190 fine for the breach. On 24 August the ABC reported that Adani had informed DEHP that it would contest the fine. The government has until 7 September 2018 to decide whether to take the matter to court.
Public awareness of the coal spill followed aerial photographs taken after Cyclone Debbie indicating a significant flow of coal from stockpiles at the port into Caley Valley wetlands through release point W1. A July 2017 report by the Queensland government reports on a scientific assessment of the wetlands post Cyclone Debbie. Soil samples collected by the Queensland government were analysed by two companies, Australian Laboratory Services (ALS) and UQ Materials Performance (UQMP).
ALS analysed the samples using Australian Standards AS2856 Part 1 & 2 and found that coal made up 26.8% of the samples taken from Caley Valley shore and 15.4% of the samples from Caley Valley wetlands. The report says that these represent “quite a significant volume of coal”.
UQMP used an in-house analysis method and found that the samples contained 10% and 2% coal just near location W2 and trace contamination across the wetlands.
In Adani’s 27 August 2018 statement the company quotes a Queensland government report that says there is little visual evidence of coal fines across the entire wetland.
Mackay Conservation Group visited the Caley Valley wetlands on 27 & 28 April 2017 following an invitation from Queensland’s environment minister. We had been told that we would be able to collect soil samples at the site but on arrival people representing Adani told us we could not collect any samples or photographs. During our visit we observed significant coverage of coal fines in the parts of the wetland we were permitted to visit. The Queensland Government photo above shows significant coal contamination in the soil sample taken in the Caley Valley wetlands. More photos from the site inspection can be found here.
Adani has been required by the Queensland Government to undertake an environmental evaluation into the causes and impacts of the coal spill into the Caley Valley wetlands. Adani has appealed this requirement and the case will be heard in October 2018.
For a more extensive background document on this issue see this article on our website.
A Right To Information request by Mackay Conservation Group (MCG) has resulted in the release of previously secret documents which reveal that both Adani and the Queensland Government were well aware that water, containing high concentrations of pollutants, could be released from Adani’s Abbot Point coal terminal into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area during Cyclone Debbie, in breach of even the special licence to pollute that the Department of Environment issued at the time.
After the cyclone Adani admitted to breaching its Temporary Emissions Licence (TEL) by more than 800% of the amount of coal polluted water allowed to be released into the Reef coast. Adani subsequently spent a year attempting to block the release of documents that would reveal what the company knew about the concentration of pollutants that could flow into the environment. In agreeing to release the information, the Right to Information Commissioner criticised Adani’s arguments for blocking the documents as “too speculative or conjectural to form a reasonably based expectation” that it could prejudice an ongoing investigation into a possible contravention of the TEL.
Despite a clear breach of Adani’s licence to pollute, it is now sixteen months since the cyclone and it appears that the Queensland government has failed to yet launch proceedings to prosecute Adani for unlawfully releasing coal polluted water into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The latest advice from the Department is that it has until 7 September 2018 to launch a prosecution.
Meanwhile Adani is:
- challenging the Penalty Infringement Notice (PIN) of $12,190 for the breach and, as part of proceedings, was alleged to have submitted an altered laboratory report about the concentration of contaminants released to the marine environment;
- appealing the Queensland Environment Department’s decision to require that they carry out an environmental investigation as a result of the discharge during the cyclone into the Caley Valley Wetlands at Abbot Point, to look at causes and impacts
- seeking approval from the Queensland government to increase the amount of coal that goes through its Abbot Point Port by 10 million tonnes per annum, yet failing to ensure its terminal is more storm proof and likely to pollute.
The previously secret documents, released under RTI are here. The judgment by the Queensland Information Commission is here.
An extensive blog on the pollution incident at Abbot Point, and how events unfolded, has been prepared by the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office and can be found here.Read more
On 11 March the new government announced their new proposal for the Abbot Point expansion, which shifted dredge spoil from the Caley Valley wetlands to a site immediately adjacent on the former site of terminal 2.
The series of new proposals at Abbot Point are the result of community, scientific and international concern about the compatibility of expanding coal export infrastructure at a time when the health of the Great Barrier Reef is in serious decline.
No-one wants to see increased sediment in the wetlands and the Reef as a result of the new proposal. The new development at Abbot Point was discussed at our last volunteer meeting and the views of the MCG volunteers on the new proposal are summarised at our website. Comments welcome.
The following summarises a discussion at a Mackay Conservation Group volunteers meeting on Thursday 19 March. Please leave any comments below:
The Queensland government wants to dredge 1.7 million cubic metres from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and then dump this material into settling ponds in the Caley Valley wetlands, wiping out habitat for endangered and migratory birds and risking sediment running back into the Reef.
If you have two minutes, please make a submission to Greg Hunt: https://caleyvalley.good.do/stop-fast-tracking-abbot-point-dredging-and-dumping/send-in-a-submission-to-protect-the-reef-wetlands/
We’re organising an action and information evening about the Caley Valley wetlands to coincide with our next volunteer meeting. We’ve got great ideas about how you can make a creative submission so please come along!
What: Abbot Point action and information evening
When: 5:30pm, Thursday 27th November
Where: Environment Centre, 156 Wood Street
Hunt fast tracks Abbot Point coal terminal project after pressure from Queensland government
Greg Hunt has today decided that dredging and dumping for the controversial Abbot Point project does not need to go through a full environmental impact assessment.
The Queensland government has a proposal to dredge 1.7 million cubic metres from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, and dump the spoil into the adjacent Caley Valley wetlands.
‘The Queensland government wants to start dredging for the Abbot Point coal terminal next March and so has pressured Greg Hunt to fast track the process, stating that it can be assessed quickly on ‘preliminary documentation,’ said Co-ordinator of the Mackay Conservation Group, Ellen Roberts.
As you may have seen in the news, last Friday Jeff Seeney made a formal request to the Federal government for approval to dump dredge spoil on land. This comes after weeks of media speculation and an adjournment to our case until the onshore dumping is resolved.
Patricia Julien and Mackay Conservation Group have been working on the issue of the Caley Valley wetlands for many years now. See for example this story in 2012, when Patricia and Tub Wilson raised concerns about what coal port expansion would mean for the wetlands.
Pictured below: Patricia being interviewed at the wetlands in 2012, and right a pair of painted snipes
Legal case against Abbot Point dumping will continue
Rumours are circulating that the companies wanting to build Abbot Point coal terminals will propose a land based dumping option to address concerns about the impact of dumping dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
In March this year MCG launched legal action against the Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s decision to approve dredging and dumping for the proposed Abbot Point coal terminal expansion.
‘We would need to see any alternative proposal to determine how far it goes towards addressing all our concerns and whether it affects the current Federal Court case.Read more
On Thursday 12 December there was a strong showing from Mackay locals at a protest we organised at the North Queensland Bulk Ports office in Wellington Street, Mackay against the approval of the dredging and terminal construction at Abbot Point, near Bowen.
In an event described by the Daily Mercury as 'dramatic' we threw dredge spoil over some of local marine creatures: dugongs, reef fish and sea turtles. All of these animals will have their habitat affected by the proposed 3 million cubic metre dredging project.
The photo above was taken by ABC Tropical North, and the full story can be seen at their website: http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2013/12/11/3909708.htm
For more information about the Abbot Point coal port expansion: http://www.mackayconservationgroup.org.au/abbot_point_a_disaster_in_the_making
As Queensland prepares to build the largest coal ports in the world on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area, few protections are in place to prevent the destruction of fish, coral and iconic marine mammals.
Green and Flatback turtles nest along the beautiful Abbot Point Beach just east of the sand dunes containing the Juru burial grounds which themselves would adjoin the enormous coal stockpiles.
As the coal dust blows off the stockpiles and rain leaches toxic chemicals into the near shore marine waters, the turtles will ingest this pollution via consumption of the local sea grasses.Read more