The Queensland Government on Sunday approved the three leases – 70441 Carmichael, 70505 Carmichael East and 70506 Carmichael North – which make up the project area.
The announcement is a major step forward for the project, which has faced major criticism from farming and environmental groups.
Carmichael also faces financing challenges, with several key international banks announcing they will not support the project.
Nonetheless, Carmichael’s main proponent – Indian energy group Adani – is pleased to have the mining approvals in the bag.
“The granting of a mining lease helps deliver the company certainty with respect to timelines, while moving to the next phase of the project,” the company wrote on its Facebook page.
Adani said the mine’s progression was still subject to the resolution of legal challenges from “politically-motivated activists,” but the company was confident in the future prospects of the project.
“Absent additional legal challenges designed to delay progress on this export-creating mine, the next phase of the project … will see a return to the pre-engineering work that had to be suspended in 2015 with the loss of certainty on approvals timelines that had occurred at that time.”
Adani now hopes to have construction underway on the project in 2017, but said it is wary of the risks presented by the potential of further legal challenges.
“Having previously sought to progress to the construction phase in 2015, Adani is keenly aware of the risks of proceeding on major works in advance of the conclusion of these matters.
“Delivering low ash, low sulphur, lower emitting coal to thermal generators in India, while delivering jobs in regions crying out for them, and taxes and royalties to Queensland, is paramount.
“It is for precisely this reason that the company is progressing these matters calmly and methodically.”
State development and natural resources and mines minister Anthony Lynham said he was confident the people of north and central Queensland would welcome the approval news.
“At the same time, stringent conditions will continue to protect the environment, landholders’ and traditional owners’ interests, and our iconic Great Barrier Reef,” Dr Lynham said.
“Many voices have been heard, and a lot of evidence considered.
“The mine’s environmental authority had about 140 conditions to protect local flora and fauna, groundwater and surface water resources, as well as controls on dust and noise.
“A further 99 stringent and wide-ranging conditions apply to the rail and port elements of the project.”
Should it come to fruition, Carmichael is designed as an open cut and underground operation with an anticipated yield of 60 million tonnes of coal exported per annum.
It will supply coal to the seaborne market via a 388 kilometre standard gauge rail line, to expanded facilities at Abbot Point, on Queensland’s north east coast.
Environmental groups expressed their disappointment with the weekend’s news.
Greenpeace said the mine’s approval by the state government was “indefensible,” with data showing the Great Barrier Reef “suffering its worst bleaching in over a decade”.
“There is no question that the Reef is suffering right now,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s Shani Tager said.
“Coral scientists, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and even the Queensland Government have acknowledged the severity of this latest bleaching.
“The federal and Queensland environment ministers are wringing their hands, despairing over the state of the Great Barrier Reef, yet at the same time they are paving the way for the nation’s biggest coal mine – a development that can only harm the Reef.”