NT coal exploration approval ‘unbelievably reckless’

Image: QCoal Group

Approving the largest coal exploration license in Northern Territory history just hours before the government goes into caretaker mode is unbelievably reckless, the Climate Council said.

Reports reveal the Northern Territory Government has sec­retly negotiated a “sweetheart” deal for a US-based company to develop potentially vast coal ­reserves south of Alice Springs that experts think could one day see projects as big as those planned for Queensland’s Galilee Basin established in remotest Australia.

The deal, done across 18 months but never publicly discussed, was officially put into action on the last day before the Giles government went into caretaker mode ahead the August 27 election, at which a renewables-friendly Labor team is likely to take power.

The deal is expected to triple to six years the time US-based TriStar has to explore 15,000sq km of land near the South Australian border, and to cost the company one-20th of what it would otherwise have paid under a more con­ventional five-year title.

A mineral authority is an ­obscure form of title with a maximum six-year term, compared to a two-year renewal allowed for exploration licences. It gives the minister broad powers to waive conditions and bypass opportunities for public comment.

Normally, exploration licences halve in size every two years to force companies to target a particular resource. Because the reserve plan was not announced anywhere other than the Government Gazette and no other companies applied on the same day, no other applications can be accepted, as reported by The Australian.

The Climate Council’s Professor Will Steffen said the decision “flies in the face of climate science and makes a mockery of Australia’s pledges in Paris”.

“Right around the world, countries are rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. Global investors agree that the decline of the coal industry is long-term and irreversible,” he said.

“More than 90 per cent of Australia’s coal has to stay in the ground if we are to effectively tackle climate change and meet our international commitment to doing everything possible to limit global warming to less than 2°C.”

Professor Steffen said the decision, made following the hottest month in the history of the world, demonstrates a “flagrant disregard for the science, for the future wellbeing of Australians”.

“But it also defies economics. There will be no market for Australia’s coal in a world that is rapidly cutting emissions,” he said.

“Northern Territory has some of the best solar resources in the world and is well-placed to seize the opportunities of the global renewable energy boom and yet it has no policies on renewable energy.”

Professor Tim Flannery said Northern Territory residents were among the worst affected by the impacts of climate change.

“The number of heatwave days has doubled in Darwin in the last 50 years,” he said.

“More than 10,000ha of mangroves have died as a result of record low rainfall driven by climate change. Coal mining is directly linked to the climate change that has caused the worst coral bleaching event in the Great Barrier Reef’s history.

“We need governments who can see our future lies in harnessing the wind and the sun not in digging up highly polluting coal.”