The approval of three leases for a multi-billion dollar coal mine development near Wandoan in south-west Queensland's Surat Basin has caused an uproar on Tuesday among environmental groups who have labelled the move "an attack on the future of agriculture".
Queensland Natural Resources and Mines Minister Anthony Lynham granted giant coal producer Glencore the three 27-year leases for over 30,000 hectares of land to be developed into a $7 billion mine. Located near the small town of Wandoan (population of just under 7000)-- approximately 167 km east of Roma, the mine is expected to produce up to 22 million tonnes of thermal coal per year and up to 1,300 jobs when operational.
In response, a spokesperson for environmental group Lock The Gate, Carmel Flint said the mine development will directly affect Queensland's farmers and destroy "one of our core agricultural regions".
"The approval of this mine by Minister Anthony Lynham marks a very dark day for farming in Queensland," she said in a statement.
"A large number of farmers have already been displaced by Glencore over this vast area, and now we fear that remaining farmers on and near the lease will be forced out.
"The Queensland Government has completely lost its way – they need to urgently rethink their 'coal at all costs' agenda and instead stand up for agriculture, water security and a safe climate."
The future of the mine being fully operational could still be a while off however, after resources expert and former Chief Executive of the Queensland Resources Council, Michael Roche told 'The Toowoomba Chronicle' the development still relies on the billion-dollar construction of a rail link to Gladstone and positive coal market conditions for Glencore to work in.
"Glencore will be tossing up whether it suits their interests to buy an existing mine or build a new [one]. You won't see sod-turning within the next 12 months," he said.
"Glencore would most likely underwrite the missing element, which is the rail line from Wandoan to Banana and out to the Port of Gladstone.
"The Surat Basin rail cost would be far more competitive than when they were looking at it in the middle of boom"
Australian Conservation Foundation Climate and Clean Energy Campaigner, Jason Lyddieth continued the condemnation of the mine in a statement, saying the grant is "a kick in the teeth for the Australian soldier settlers" capable of dividing Queensland communities.
"There is absolutely no reason to allow a massive multinational coal company to dig another big dirty hole on some of Queensland's best farming land," he said.
"For many years local farmers have been fighting this coal mine and this decision is a kick in the teeth for the Australian soldier settlers who have lived and relied on this land for generations.
"We know that big coal mines like this waste our precious water. We know they divide communities. We know that digging up coal and burning it is polluting our air and fueling climate change."
As a response to the outpouring of anger following the approval, a Glencore spokesperson said the mining giant would only go ahead with planned development actions if market conditions support the move.
"We have been transparent with governments and the community since 2013, when the project was placed on hold, that we will continue to assess the project's timing against the global coal market," the spokesperson said.
"Glencore is taking a responsible approach and will only bring on new large scale production volumes if we are confident that market conditions support such a development.
"Adding significant new tonnes to the market at this time could adversely impact the profitability of existing thermal coal production, potentially putting jobs at risk as the market adjusts downwards as a result of oversupply."