Anyone who has their economic wits about them and cares about the environment, can see that the Shenhua coal mine is a dog of a project — but will Greg Hunt?Lachlan Barker reports.
THE CONTROVERSIAL Shenhua coal mine slated to be sited on the Liverpool Plains prime farmland on in north western NSW is approaching its final approval, with federal environment minister Greg Hunt to give his decision in early July.
If there is any justification for this destruction, it would be money and lots of it. However, the finances of the Shenhua project show the reverse. Far from making money, Shenhua will lose money hand over fist.
The most important figure on that table is "value of coal", which is projected to be $8.147 billion.
However, this is predicated upon a price projection done back in the heady days of higher coal prices. The projections are: ‘A$142 a tonne for coking coal and A$99 a tonne for thermal coal’.
Coking coal is used in steel making and thermal is burned in power stations for energy generation. The coking coal from Shenhua is a lower quality version known as semi-soft coking coal, which sells for less.
This is countered by The Australia Institute with an estimate of $541 million in total, $483 million in royalties and $45 million in company tax.
The problem even then though is that the overall figures are based on a 30 year life span for the project. But clearly, if the project is losing money it’s not going to last 30 years. If Shenhua give it up after five years, as an example, then their contribution to Australia is going to be $18 million a year, of a five year total of $90 million, or five per cent of their original rosy forecast.
So it’s clearly a dog of a project, and the frustration here is that anyone with the slightest economic nouse can see that this mine is a financial disaster, yet Hunt is more than likely to approve it, given Tony Abbott's love of coal.
If Shenhua is approved, then 29 Indigenous archeological sites will have been destroyed forever. This is blandly referred to on the project website as ‘directly impacted’, AKA, destroyed utterly forever.
As a result, local Indigenous group, the Gomeroi people, understandably don’t want this mine destroying their ancient lands.
The Gunnedah district is home to the largest inland population of koalas in NSW. The mine is predicted to remove 847ha of preferred koala habitat over its 30 year life, decimating the koala population (see IA's story: 'Koalas for coal').
Which is our most precious asset? Koalas, our national icon, or "past-its-use-by-date-coal"?
Local farms will be adversely affected by the mine. The negative effects of the mine primarily revolve around water. If the mine begins slashing enormous holes in the earth, then the water table will be destroyed, and surrounding farms will, at best, be forced into less productive Dryland, rather than irrigated, cropping.
As a land owner reported in The Australia Institute’s submission said:
‘People need to understand that the impacts of this [Shenhua] project is not just a matter of doing a bit less irrigation and a bit more Dryland farming.
Our whole business model, our allocation of land, labour, capital, debt and equity, is all based around our long-term sustainable access to water of high quality.
While some assets could be sold, many can’t be moved and would become stranded assets.
Any threat to our water resources threatens our ability to pay investors and creditors and affects the long-term viability of our business and those of everyone on the Liverpool Plains.’