Great Disaster for the Great Barrier Reef

by Max Bruns, Managing Editor

The iconic, ecological superstructure, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, has been a topic of hot discussion among environmentalists and conservationists throughout many of the world's largest industrial expansions. Known for its massiveness and extreme biodiversity, the Reef is on the shortlist for conservationists because it provides a home for so many species and conserves centuries of coral and thousands of marine plants. This year, the Reef falls under scrutiny again by conservation group GreenPeace and other concerned environmental groups. They're up in arms over the state of the Reef's future because Australia's Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, signed off on the last regulation to build a 200 square kilometer coal mine on Australia's Galiliee Basin, which lies 400 kilometers inland from the Reef itself. The sign-off happened on July 29 and the project has been progressing since.

The project, owned and operated by India's Adani Group, will require 6.3 million metric tons of seafloor to be dredged up and then dumped onto the reef. It will require a new major rail line that runs along the coast and an average of 450 extra ships per year to sail directly through the reef to India. 

Mr. Hunt says that the decision to "OK" the Reef wasn't as challenging to make as conservationists may have thought. He called GreenPeace's reaction "casual, uninformed, and it is false and untrue," according to ABC News. Talking about the coal mine's predecessor, the Alpha mine, Hunt says environmental groups were less critical, and that this mine is on a similar level. 

But GreenPeace disagrees. They claim that they called the previous mine an "environmental disaster" and heavily criticized the government for the decision to build it, even taking out a full page ad with GetUp and BankTrack in the India Financial Times to try and stop Indian investors from paying for the mine, again according to ABC News and websites like www.fightforthereef.org. Hunt is a big proponent for the mine because between it and the Alpha mine there is a potential to export 78 million metric tons of coal per year out of Australia. In fact, the new mine itself will feature six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines, which could supply India with enough coal to power electricity for up to 100 million people.

However, some experts are wondering if this much extra coal is even going to be beneficial in the long run. Tim Buckley, from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, says that the coal market is already oversupplied, and “India would require an electricity price double the current levels in order to get a viable return on the coal that they'd be bringing in from the Galilee.” In fact, Mr. Buckley reported that many mines in Australian are already running unprofitably, and a new mine could crash the market.

With so many environmental and financial implications related to the new mine by the Adani group, the question is begged to be asked; is the new mine worth the build, and is the Australian government making the right decision with this project? Many environmentalists and economists would say no.

Sources:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-29/greg-hunt-hits-back-at-criticism-over-massive-coal-mine/5631210

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/01/-sp-great-barrier-reef-and-coal-mine-could-kill-it

https://fightforthereef.org.au/risks/mega-ports/

http://www.dw.de/great-barrier-reef-threatened-by-coal-mining/a-17842934

Article reviewed and revised by Justin Weller, Editor in Chief