The Indian mining company Adani has sought federal approval to expand a dam by 450% and build a pipeline for its Carmichael coalmine, without an assessment under national environment laws.
In an application to the environment and energy department, Adani said it did not believe an environmental impact statement was needed because assessments had been done under previous applications for other parts of the mining project.
The project, which it calls the north Galilee water scheme, would increase an existing 2.2bn-litre dam to 10bn litres and build associated infrastructure, including 61km of pipeline to transport water from the Suttor river and Burdekin basin.
The company has argued its proposal did not require review under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act for impacts on threatened species, or under the water trigger, a component of the act that mandates coalmining and coal seam gas projects that have significant impacts on water resources must undergo national environmental assessment.
In its application, Adani said the water trigger applied only to projects associated with extraction. It said the pipeline was a piece of associated infrastructure and a separate project that therefore did not trigger assessment for impacts on water.
“It’s an incredibly narrow reading of the EPBC act,” said Christian Slattery, an Australian Conservation Foundation Stop Adani campaigner.
“Clearly it’s a project connected with coalmining.
“If this interpretation is accepted by the minister it further demonstrates the weaknesses of the EPBC act and the need for a new generation of environmental laws.”
In its application, Adani said there was also potential for its dam and pipeline to supply water for other coalmining projects in the Galilee basin, such as the China Stone coal project.
A spokeswoman for the environment and energy department said the proposal was open to public comment until 25 June, after which a decision would be made “on whether the proposal requires further detailed assessment under national environment law”.
An Adani spokeswoman said the company already had approvals from the Queensland government for its water licence, water storage and a portion of the water pipeline.
“Adani Australia has now submitted a referral for the construction of a 61km water supply pipeline for the Carmichael mine,” she said.
“This referral relates only to how we protect the environment during construction of the pipeline, in consideration of approvals already received.”
Labor’s environment spokesman, Tony Burke, said the government should ensure a thorough and rigorous environmental assessment was conducted.
“Is Adani arguing that the use of this water is completely unrelated to the fact that they want to dig a mine, or that this particular mine is not large?” he said. “Or are they claiming that they are now engaged in a completely different business?
“Adani cannot evade the scrutiny of the expert independent scientific committee, and the minister for the environment should not be facilitating an opportunity for Adani to avoid scientific scrutiny on its use of water.”