This case involved an objection against the Wandoan Coal Mine, a major open-cut coal mine proposed to operate for 35 years in the Surat Basin of Queensland. It is commonly known as the “Xstrata Case”.
The mine was part of the Wandoan Coal Project proposed in 2007 by Xstrata Coal Queensland Pty Ltd and its joint venturers (taken over by Swiss mining gaint Glencore in 2013). It was proposed to be located west of the township of Wandoan, approximately 350 km northwest of Brisbane and 60 km south of Taroom.
The thermal coal deposits for the mine were estimated to be in excess of 1.2 billion tonnes and are located within three mining lease applications covering approximately 32,000 hectares.
Consultants for the applicants prepared an environmental impact statement that calculated that the mining and use of the coal would produce 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases.
In Queensland, the major approvals required for large mines under State and Federal legislation are:
- a mining lease under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) (MRA);
- an environmental authority under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EPA); and
- approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act).
The Queensland Coordinator-General declared the mine and rail project a “significant project” in 2007 (this designation later changed to being a “coordinated project”) under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (Qld). This legislation provides an environmental impact statement (EIS) process for large projects but does not actually approve the projects occurring. An EIS under it is fed-back into other approval processes.
An EIS was prepared for the mine and rail project in 2007-2010 and the Coordinator-General issued a report in 2010 recommending the mine be approved.
Concurrently with the Queensland assessment of the mine, it was assessed under the EPBC Act using a bilateral agreement and subsequently approved by the Commonwealth Environment Minister in 2011.
Following the Coordinator-General’s report, the mine was publicly advertised for objections under the MRA and EPA.
The Friends of the Earth – Brisbane Co-Op Ltd (FoE), a conservation group, lodged an objection to the mine due to the contribution its emissions will make to climate change and ocean acidification.
Neighbouring landholders also objected to the mine due to noise, dust, groundwater and other issues; however, these objections are not the focus here.
The objection by FoE and other objections by neighbouring farmers was heard by the Land Court of Queensland in Brisbane, from 22 August – 31 August 2011.
In 2012 the Land Court (constituted by President MacDonald) dismissed FoE’s objection and recommended that the mining lease and environmental authority be granted. Some changes were recommended to address concerns raised by the landholders. This decision is commonly known as the “Xstrata Case”.
FoE appealed the decision to the Land Appeal Court but discontinued the appeal before a decision was reached.
The environmental authority for the mine was issued in August 2012, however, the process for the mining lease was put on hold in 2012.
The mine has been subject to separate litigation in the Land Court over compensation of landholders.
Postscript: mine on indefinite hold
In November 2012 the future of the mine was reported to be in doubt due to market conditions. The price of thermal coal decreased substantially and the market outlook was poor due to a range of factors, including global responses to climate change.
In March 2013 the mine was reported to be even less likely to proceed due to the risk of the project and market conditions.
In September 2013 the mine was reported to have been placed on indefinite hold due to market conditions and the business risks involved in proceeding.
The mine has not proceeded since that time.
The Coordinator-General has extended the currency period for the EIS for the mine three times. As at 5 April 2017 it had been extended until November 2017.
Later adoption of reasoning on climate change
The Land Court’s reasoning on climate change in the Xstrata Case – that, if we don’t mine the coal someone else will; therefore, there is no impact on climate change – was adopted by the Land Court in the later cases involving the Alpha Coal Mine and the Carmichael Coal Mine, both of which are separate case studies on this site.
Mining application & EIS documents
- Application for a mining lease and an environmental authority.
- Location map of the mine.
- Mine layout plan and 30-year mining schedule. The proposed mine has 14 pits, several 5km x 5km in area, and is approximately 30km east to west and 20km north to south. The pits will go to around 70m in depth.
- Initial Advice Statement by Xstrata seeking declaration that mine is a significant project.
- Declaration that the mine was a significant project by the Coordinator-General.
- Terms of reference for EIS.
- Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), including calculation of the greenhouse gases to be produced by the mine in Chapter 14 of Volume 1 and an attached technical report available here.
- Supplementary EIS for the mine.
- Coordinator-General’s report (attaching a draft environmental authority (mining lease)).
- Timeline for approval of the mine 2007-2014.
Objection by FOE
- Objection lodged by FoE.
- Directions made by the Land Court setting out the steps leading up to the objections hearing on 22 August – 2 September 2011.
- Request for Further and Better Particulars by Xstratra.
- Response to Request for Further and Better Particulars by FoE.
Xstrata climate change expert reports
- Mr Jonathan Stanford report on policy & economics (Exhibit 77).
- Mr William Simes report on coal supply (Exhibit 75).
- Dr Chris Taylor report on GHG emissions (Exhibit 81).
- Cassandra McCarthy affidavit on research by the Xstrata Group into carbon capture and storage (Exhibit 47).
FOE climate change expert reports
- Professor Ian Lowe report on climate science [without attachments due to file size] (Exhibit 102).
- Dr Malte Meinshausen report on the contribution of the Wandoan Coal Mine to climate change and ocean acidification [without attachments to respect copyright] (Exhibit 103).
- Professor Ove Heogh-Guldberg report on impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on the Great Barrier Reef [without attachments to respect copyright] (Exhibit 104).
- Mr Hans Hoegh-Guldberg report on economic impacts of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef (Exhibit 105).
Xstrata supplementary climate change reports
- Jonathan Stanford supplementary report (Exhibit 78).
- William Simes supplementary report (Exhibit 76).
Submissions & trial decision
- Closing submissions by FoE.
- Decision recommending approval: Xstrata Coal Queensland Pty Ltd & Ors v Friends of the Earth – Brisbane Co-Op Ltd & Ors, and Department of Environment and Resource Management  QLC 013
- Decision refusing application for costs by Xstrata against FoE: Xstrata Coal Queensland Pty Ltd & Ors v. Friends of the Earth – Brisbane Co-Op Ltd (No 2)  QLC 67
Appeal to Land Appeal Court
- Notice of Appeal filed by FoE (later discontinued before a decision was reached, therefore, the appeal ended).