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Abbot Point coal terminal expansion delayed

Controversial plans for expansion: The Abbot Point coal terminal, near Bowen, Queensland.

Controversial plans for expansion: The Abbot Point coal terminal, near Bowen, Queensland. Photo: Glenn Hunt

The federal government has delayed approval for the construction of the world's biggest coal port in Queensland until after the federal election.

Environment minister Mark Butler said several new reports into the impact of dredging for the expanded coal-loading terminal at Abbot Point, about 25 kilometres north of Bowen on the Queensland coast, would be released to the public before a decision was made.

The planned port expansion would see 3 million tonnes of mud dredged up and dumped in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The development is seen as a keystone for allowing a massive expansion of coal exports from Queensland's Galilee Basin, which could lead to over 100 million tonnes of greenhouse gases being released, seriously damaging efforts to tackle climate change.

"A number of reports have only just been delivered to me, which potentially impact on the Abbot Point assessment," Mr Butler said in a statement.

They include an initial report on findings of the Independent Review of the Port of Gladstone, ship anchorage management in the World Heritage Area, a report into environmental best practice port developments, and a report prepared for his department called Research on Improving Dredge Material Management in the Great Barrier Reef Region.

"Given the significance of the Abbot Point development both in terms of the economic development of the region and the potential environmental impacts on the Great Barrier Reef I have decided to release these reports for public information," Mr Butler said.

"I am conscious of the balance between the economic benefits and environmental concerns associated with any decision on Abbot Point. The various significant environmental imperatives must be considered, as does the potential for jobs growth, which is vital for a range of coastal and inland communities."

Former environment minister Peter Garrett, who is not contesting his federal seat of Kingsford Smith at the election, had entered the debate earlier in the day, using social media to call the dredging plan "dumb and damaging" and urging Mr Butler to block it.

Dumping dredge spill on Great Barrier Reef dumb and damaging. Urge Min Butler to put environment first. #abbotpoint

The proponent, the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, wants six new berths at the port for bulk coal carriers to dock. The decision was originally slated for July 9, but had been pushed back a month.

The Research on Improving Dredge Material Management in the Great Barrier Reef Region report, completed earlier this year, found significant uncertainties around the impacts of dredging, which can spread mud and contaminants over a wide area.

"The modelling, which was based on hypothetical dredging campaigns and a 'maximum credible sediment dispersal' scenario, indicates that dredge material placed at sea has the potential to migrate on a much greater scale than previously thought," said the report, which was prepared for the federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

"The research highlights the need for future dredge and disposal studies to include larger geographical footprints and longer modelling durations to account for the fact that dredge plumes and sedimentation may occur at distances further away from the dredging and disposal sites than originally thought."

The UN body UNESCO wrote to the Australian government on Thursday, seeking more information about the dredging proposed for Abbot Point, and its effect on the reef.

UNESCO has previously cited the prospect of major industrial developments along the reef coast as being one reason that it may review its world heritage status. A UNESCO decision on whether the reef should be listed as a "World Heritage Site In Danger" is expected next year.

14 comments

  • Three million tons of waste to be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. If this extension of the port is so necessary why not ensure that this waste is dumped on a land site somewhere. Yes it will cost more but surely that is part of the cost of doing business. World heritage is world heritage and the Great Barrier Reef is unique in the World and must be protected at all costs.

    Commenter
    Vandal
    Date and time
    August 09, 2013, 5:00PM
    • Unfortunately dredge material dumped on coastal land or tidal wetlands is usually a worse option with dangerous acid sulphate released certain to occur. There are few "wastelands" where this can occur apart from one or two failed aquaculture ventures. The dredge spoil comes from under the ocean and is best returned to the most favorable and least destructive site within coastal waters. Don't dump spoil in the big wetland behind Abbot Pt or the rich dune scrubs and tidal mangroves and salt flats which link to the Reef. . Look at Gladstone where almost 4000 hectares of coastal land has been filled in over 40 years with another 80 hectares of the best sea grasses buried under spoil in the past year.

      Commenter
      Xeromys
      Location
      Capricorn Coast
      Date and time
      August 10, 2013, 1:17AM
  • I agree that should be part of the approval if it must go ahead

    Commenter
    Lucky Star
    Date and time
    August 09, 2013, 5:29PM
    • Reef or Profit , Reef Protection gets my vote any day , I'd like to see the LNP Rose Coloured Glasses Brigade opinion on this one , either agree or disagree ,

      Commenter
      Bob Menzies
      Location
      Beenleigh
      Date and time
      August 09, 2013, 5:50PM
      • You have to love Labor voters. When their own party will not make a decision they run around saying " What will Abbott do though " Sorry to inform you but the ALP is in government, so start making decisions, if you want to know what TA would do pack up, leave the decision to TA and then you will find out.

        Commenter
        abc
        Date and time
        August 10, 2013, 11:51AM
      • Oh and Gonski is not a plan, it is just a way of spending more money. Where is the education plan. Please don't say the better education. Look at it's 3 main policies.
        1. national curriculum- just how will this increase educational standards
        2. teachers talking to parents more- HAHA
        3. better quality of teachers - well nothing has been done about it in the last 6 years, nothing in the last 12 months despite all the talk.

        all talk really and the funding for Gonski is coming out of other educational programmes. That really shows you what Labor thinks of education.

        Commenter
        abc
        Date and time
        August 10, 2013, 11:57AM
      • Does make you wonder why the Federal government is waiting to give approval till after the election though, doesn't it Bob. If they are returned it will be interesting to see the position they take. I think Vandal has a great suggestion on dumping it on dry land, but where? Perhaps land fill in old mining sites?

        Commenter
        Oscar
        Date and time
        August 10, 2013, 3:42PM
    • It's interesting that the decision's been delayed because of recently-delivered reports; that tells us that there'd previously been an intention to make a decision before all the reports were in - or were the reports just sent back for a re-write?

      Commenter
      David Arthur
      Location
      Queensland
      Date and time
      August 09, 2013, 8:25PM
      • Quite an interesting analogy.... what! Abbot Point ....possibly the most likely place in Australia to do the greatest damage to our natural environment. Then we have Tony Abbott ... possibly the most likely person to do the greatest damage to not only our natural environment but also our human environment and the livelihood of all our people. I hope both are kiboshed.

        Commenter
        RTP.
        Location
        Sawtell
        Date and time
        August 09, 2013, 10:57PM
        • What provides more jobs and income in Queensland, the current and future tourism industry, plus the protection the Great Barrier reef given to Queensland's coastline, or the future Abbott Point?

          Why build tourist facilities in that area, when all you will see is sludge, a further blow to construction and the hospitality industry. The better idea would be to remove the sludge inland, yet in the words of the LNP, that is the more expensive option.

          Commenter
          wdawes
          Date and time
          August 10, 2013, 7:34AM

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