If you thought Shenhua and Adani had raised hackles with their plans to develop new coal mines in controversial parts of Australia, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
In a move likely to enrage environmental campaigners, BHP Billiton quietly flagged on Wednesday that it would soon start production of coal at the Haju mine in Indonesian Borneo. Haju will initially produce about 1 million tonnes of coal a year, which is pretty small compared to the coal mines BHP already operates in Queensland.
But Haju could be the start of a much larger coal project for BHP in Indonesian Borneo known as IndoMet, which is believed to have potential to produce around 5 million tonnes of coal per year, if it is ever fully developed.
That remains a big “if” given the depressed prices for coal, but Wednesday’s confirmation that first production will begin within 12 months will be a blow to environmental campaigners who have lobbied BHP and its joint venture partner Adaro Energy for the best part of a decade to abandon the project.
“That is devastating news for the climate and for the local people who have been rejecting this project for years,” said Friends of the Earth campaigner Cam Walker on Wednesday.
In the province of Central Kalimantan, the project will see thermal and coking coal barged for hundreds of kilometres down a tropical river to the Java Sea.
The proposal has concerned local communities, whose lifestyle is built on the forests and rivers of this biodiversity-rich region.
Opponents claim that IndoMet is close to a significant orangutan population in the Upper Barito Basin. According to WWF that population has declined by more than 50 per cent over the past 60 years, and its habitat has been halved over the past two decades.
BHP insists that no orangutans have been found on its leases, but the miner has relocated 280 orangutans found nearby to other parts of Kalimantan.
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