Central Queensland, Australia – Farmers and environmentalists in Australia are waging a fierce battle to stop a new mega coal mine planned for the country’s northeast from going ahead.
Indian energy giant Adani Group has said it will break ground this month on the project which is expected to become one of the largest coal mines in the world.
The company says the Carmichael mine, which has the backing of the Australian government, will bring jobs and deliver royalties that will benefit Australians.
But those opposing the project believe it could wreak havoc on the environment.
“If that Adani mine goes ahead, it’s going to be devastating,” farmer Bruce Currie told Al Jazeera’s 101 East.
The project was due to be launched on Friday, with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce due to attend, but the ceremony was cancelled due to rain, according to an Adani spokesman.
“The ground-breaking event has been postponed to a date to be determined,” the spokesman told news.com.au.
In the drought-prone region of Central Queensland, farmers fear the project could contaminate the groundwater they rely upon for their cattle.
Coal mining is one of the most water-intensive methods of generating electricity. About 200 litres of freshwater is used for each tonne of coal produced. Farmers fear the water levels could drop and bores could run dry.
Adani has stated it will use 12 billion litres of water annually at the mine.
“The only certainty we get is whatever groundwater they destroy in their mining operations is lost for perpetuity,” said Currie, who has fought a long-running legal battle to stop the mine from going ahead.
There are also concerns about the mine’s potential to damage Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
“The decision to go ahead with the Adani mine is just about the most unbelievably negligent decision you can possibly imagine,” said Charlie Veron, a leading marine biologist.
“It’s the worst thing you can possibly do for the Great Barrier Reef.”
He believes the carbon emissions from extracting and burning coal from Adani’s mine will inflict further damage on Australia’s already threatened reef.
“We lost about half the corals in the Great Barrier Reef in the last two years. In 15 years, it is highly probable there’ll be nothing left. It’s that serious,” said Veron.
Last week’s cancellation of the launch came amid growing criticism and opposition to the project.
The mine has been approved by the Australian government, which says it will help boost the country’s export revenues and provide much-needed jobs.
The leader of the Australian Greens party, Richard Di Natale, said “many, many thousands” will physically stop the project if the government does not go back on its decision.
“Make no mistake, people right across the country are so motivated to stop this thing that if we can’t stop it in the parliament, we will stop it by standing in front of those bulldozers,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
“It won’t go ahead. I am very confident of that. This is a disaster no matter which way you look at it, and it won’t go ahead.”
Queensland’s unemployment rate is at about 6.4 percent. Adani and the Australian government said the project will provide 10,000 jobs.
Experts estimate that this figure will be much lower and would come at the expense of mining jobs elsewhere in Australia.
Australian senator Matt Canavan said it took seven years for the Adani project to be approved because of Australia’s “extremely robust environmental approval system”.
“I challenge anyone to claim that this mine has not been subjected to the most stringent environmental controls,” said Canavan.
But opponents point to Adani’s record in India, where four independent reports commissioned by the government and judiciary in the past decade found the company breached environmental laws by destroying mangroves and blocking creeks to reclaim land.
Al Jazeera’s 101 East travelled to the town of Mundra in India’s Gujarat state where fishermen accuse the company of dumping sand in local waterways.
A local fisherman, Rahimtullah, said fish stocks have plummeted since Adani built a coal power plant and port nearby.
“They have taken our livelihood away,” he said.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, the Adani Group denied all claims it had caused environmental damage in India. The company said it is “an absolute and religiously law-abiding organisation and respects the law of the land”.