The Guardian • Issue #2095

Oppose toxic plans!

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2095
Map of the Great Artesian Basin.

Map of the Great Artesian Basin. Image: Tentotwo – Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is a massive aquifer that provides a crucial fresh water supply for rural communities and ecosystems across a vast area of Australia. Swiss mining giant Glencore’s subsidiary Carbon Transport and Storage Corporation is one step away from securing approval to pump hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions into it.

University of Queensland modelling shows that upon CO2 injection groundwater acidity will increase 10,000-fold, releasing heavy metals including lead, arsenic, and cadmium among others, to levels unsafe for both human and animal consumption.

This is a toxic proposal from a toxic company.

The emissions would be generated by the Millmerran Power Station in the Darling Downs region of Queensland. Other mining companies are queuing up to follow suit if and when Glencore gets the green light for its toxic plans.

More than 120 towns, hundreds of pastoral stations, rural industries, and visitors to the drought stricken outback rely on the GAB in NSW, Queensland, South Australia, and Northern Territory. There are more than 34,000 water bores drawing on the GAB that support more than $13 billion in annual production.

Not surprisingly, there is strong opposition from farmers, communities, businesses, and environmentalists.

The initial ‘trial’ would involve the pumping of 330,000 tonnes of emissions into the GAB over 3 years in a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

CARBON CAPTURE CON

CCS aims to inject greenhouse gases produced from the processing and burning of fossil fuels and inject those emissions deep underground for ‘permanent’ storage. Promises of CCS are used by resources companies as an excuse to continue mining and burning fossil fuels.

CCS has never achieved the promised rates of sequestration at commercial scale anywhere in the world. For example, Chevron’s Gorgon gas project off the coast of Western Australia near Pilbara was given approval to use CCS on condition that the company stored four million tonnes of CO2 per annum.

Chevron received a taxpayer gift of $60 million towards its $3 billion development of CCS. It has not even reached half that target. It ran into numerous unforeseen difficulties.

Approval of CCS in the GAB amounts to a licence for the expansion of mining and burning of fossil fuels when the science says to stop.

It would amount to an experiment – an extremely risky, irreversible experiment that threatens the livelihoods of communities, farmers, and businesses as well as ecosystems.

The federal government has not examined the project, claiming there was no requirement for it to do so. It is in the hands of the Queensland government to give the go-ahead which is due in May. In terms of being a friend of polluting mining corporations, the Queensland government is up there with Western Australia.

The Queensland government has already made a commitment to partially fund the ‘trial’ operation to the tune of $35 million. This taxpayer handout is to the largest commodity trader in the world that made a gross profit of $34.1 billion in 2023! It is $35 million that could have been spent on schools, hospitals, public transport – almost anything instead of subsidising the pollution of the GAB.

With such a precious and vital resource it would be crazy to take risks that would be irreversible. The precautionary principle must be applied.

TOXIC CORPORATION

Glencore’s track record does little to inspire confidence.

In Peru, Glencore’s copper mine in Espinar (Cusco) has polluted the water of the ancestral territory of the Quechua and K’ana Indigenous peoples. A report by Cooperacción in Peru provides evidence of the environmental and health impacts of the mine where more than 56,000 people are exposed to contamination from heavy metals.

After four decades of constantly breathing the poisonous dust of Glencore’s mine in La Guajira region in Peru, one third of the population of 1 million (nearly 340,000 people), in region suffer respiratory symptoms.

In Colombia, Glencore diverted the river Bruno to accommodate their coal mine in an already water-scarce region. “They polluted what little remains. And not content with this, the mining giant now seeks to strong-arm the Colombian government with a multi-million-dollar arbitrage claim, aiming to expand its coal mine,” a report by Colombian organisations Cinep and Censat notes.

Glencore and its subsidiaries are active in many other resource-rich countries around the world, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Venezuela. Its record in those countries is no better.

According to British non-profit, Spotlight on Corruption, Glencore’s principal objectives were obtaining unfair business advantages, acquiring state-owned operations, and mitigating or outright dismissing legal liabilities.

In 2022 Glencore had to set aside US$1.5 billion for fines to courts in the UK, Brazil, and the US after admitting bribery and market manipulation – not much of a dent in its US$255.98 billion revenue for that year.

Glencore had the highest number of recorded allegations of human rights abuses of all companies tracked by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre’s 2022 Transition Minerals Tracker.

Here’s what the Queensland Farmers Federation thinks about the deal: “The final decision on this proposal will have national ramifications for generations to come. It is essential that the Queensland government makes the right call on this landmark decision – to reject Glencore’s proposal and prevent any further exploration permits for CCS in the GAB and then move to protect the GAB for generations to come.”

The price of doing business with Glencore is too high!

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