THE State Government’s economic recovery coordination taskforce heard today how the coal industry had lost an estimated $2.3 billion in export revenue since heavy rain and deluge stopped mining.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche, says many of the state’s 57 producing coal mines are working around the clock on removing floodwater from mine sites and securing access to rail transport.
“QRC estimates that about 15 per cent of the state’s coal mines are in full production, with 60 per cent operating under restrictions and a further 25 per cent yet to resume normal operations,” he says.
“At full production, the coal industry is worth $8.5 million a day to Queensland taxpayers through royalties paid to the State Government. It’s essential that the industry is given every opportunity to get back on its feet to restore that flow of much-needed funds to the state government after such a horrendous start to the wet season.
“Until December 2010, the coal industry was on target to deliver the production volumes underpinning Queensland Treasury’s forecast of $2.8 billion in royalties to Queensland taxpayers this financial year.”
Roche praised the efforts of State Government and coal rail network owner QR National in supporting the recovery.
“QR National has restored the Moura line to Gladstone and we are hoping for similar good news for the Blackwater system later this week,” says Roche.
“However, it is also clear that the restoration of rail services to mines west of Brisbane and in the Surat Basin are going to take much longer.”
Roche says some coal seam gas sites required further dispensation from the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) to pump flood water into nearby creeks that feed strongly flowing watercourses.
“QRC has made submissions to DERM last week and is hoping for a response early this week,” he says.
“DERM have been for the most part very responsive to the resources sector’s needs but the QRC has put to them that further leeway is required to deal with this emergency.
“Just as there is an urgent need to pump water out of buildings in the Brisbane CBD so they can get back to business, the state’s mines are facing the same urgent need.”
Roche described the Queensland resource sector’s response to the flood emergency as ‘outstanding’ with cash donations of more than $5 million to the Premier’s flood relief appeal to date complemented by donations to resource communities in central Queensland, and in-kind assistance.
In response to Greens leader Bob Brown blaming the floods on the coal industry due to global warming, Roche says he is ‘sickened’ by the comments.
“To blame the coal industry for floods that have been regular occurrence in Queensland since white settlement simply confirms that despite claims to having mainstream political status, the Greens remain an opportunistic fringe group, out of touch with real Australians,” he says.
“If the coal industry caused the 2010-11 floods, then who we must ask was responsible for the other 16 moderate to major floods in Brisbane since 1840, the 23 in Ipswich and 26 in Rockhampton?”
Treasurer and Acting Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Andrew Fraser says around 40 mines are expected to be affected by the flooding and each mine is being individually case managed.
"Protecting the quality of the water for the communities surrounding flooding catchments is the priority," says Fraser.
"That is why we are working closely with the mines to ensure authorised dewatering activities go ahead while there are high volumes of water to dilute the discharge and minimise the risk of environmental impact.
"When we foresaw that this was going to be one of the worst wet seasons on record, we worked closely with each individual mine to make sure they were well prepared to meet their environmental obligations.
"Any discharges that have occurred outside of licence conditions are being investigated by the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) and appropriate action will be taken where necessary."
Mr Fraser said since 1 December, DERM has issued 11 Transitional Environmental Programs (TEPs) to coal mines to allow them to safely discharge water.
"DERM has ensured that the TEPs are strictly conditioned to protect the environment and has worked fast to assist mines, taking on average, less than 4 days to process the TEPs which provide the environmental oversight for dealing with the extra water," he says.
Mines Minister Stephen Robertson says the state's coal seam gas industry has so far weathered the widespread rain and flooding.
Only one CSG company - Australia Pacific Liquid Natural Gas (APLNG) - has been issued with a TEP for its operation at Spring Gully, north-east of Roma. However, the company advise they have not yet needed to activate any release.
"The minimal impact of the floods on CSG operations and the demonstrated ability of companies to handle these extreme weather conditions are a positive reflection of the rigorous environmental and safety conditions that we have put in place for CSG operations in Queensland," says Robertson.
"The Department is aware of six potential breaches of environmental approvals as a result of the flood waters and heavy rain. All incidents will be investigated, but as with the cases at coal mines, the high volume of water in the systems has greatly reduced any risk of environmental impact.
"DERM is monitoring the situation and will undertake confirmatory testing on the sites as soon as access is possible. When the weather permits, aerial surveys and monitoring through satellite imagery will also occur.
"It's pleasing to see that there have been no spills from brine dams associated with CSG operations. We will continue to closely monitor the effects further heavy rain might have on CSG operations across the state and companies will continue to be required to report any breaches to government."
Coal mines issued with Transitional Environmental Programs since 1 December are:
Fitzroy Catchment: Ensham (Ensham Resources), Poitrel (BHP Mitsui), South Walker (BHP Mitsui), Isaac Plains (Vale), Cook (Cook Resource Mining), Callide (Anglo Coal), Moranbah North (Anglo Coal), Minerva (Yancoal Australia), Kestral (Rio Tinto), Carborough Downs (Vale).
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