Construction work began on Carmichael in June 2019 after Adani received its final approvals and confirmed its plan complied with the regulatory conditions set by the state and federal governments.

The company describes Carmichael as a mine that, “in its first stage” will produce 10 million tonnes of coal per annum (Mtpa) and will be comparable in capacity to existing mines across Australia.

Carmichael was initially proposed as a 60Mtpa mine – which would have made it one of the biggest coal mines in the world – before the project was significantly scaled back to 10Mtpa, reducing the financial cost of the project following struggles to secure external investors. The revised plan also meant that Adani Australia would not need Australian taxpayer dollars to get the project off the ground. The scaling back was a welcome move – Carmichael had become something of a battleground for Australia’s pro-coal government and environmental activists.

Except, new documents uncovered by Guardian Australia suggest the plans for a much larger mine at Carmichael were never really scrapped.

Adani maintains it is building a 10Mtpa mine

In 2019, Adani did not commit to the size of its scaled-back Carmichael mine – reportedly continuing to pursue approvals for a 60Mtpa project. The Queensland government at the time confirmed it had received no formal plans for the smaller mine despite Adani’s previous announcement that it had scaled down the plans.

Documents submitted to the Queensland authorities showed an intention for Carmichael to increase its output to 27Mtpa in the second year of operation, eventually rising to 55Mtpa according to Guardian Australia.

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By GlobalData

Mining Technology approached Adani to ask if the company was going ahead with these plans to expand Carmichael’s capacity up to 55Mtpa. A spokesperson from Bravus, formerly Adani Australia, did not answer the question.

Instead, the spokesperson referred to the response sent to Guardian Australia: “Just like other coal producers in Queensland, we are required to provide various planning documents to the State Government to ensure we comply with our regulatory obligations.

“We are in the process of constructing a 10 million tonne per annum mine, in line with financials approvals provided by our Board.”

The spokesperson did not respond to further questions seeking to confirm plans to increase production beyond 10Mtpa.

Environmental opposition

The company has previously stated that Scope 3 emissions – those created by the coal being burned overseas – would contribute less than 0.04% of global emissions. Adani’s argument has also been that the coal mined from Carmichael is a higher quality, and not going forward with the project would only open the market to lower quality coal from other sources, which would increase the emissions caused from burning the fuel.

Despite Adani’s scaling back of the project to 10Mtpa, which would be a marked reduction in emissions from the initial 60Mtpa proposal, environmental opposition has not ceased. The documents suggesting the company does plan to increase production to 55Mtpa have been pounced on by the mine’s opponents.

“After lying publicly for years, secret govt documents show Adani ALWAYS planned to dig Australia’s biggest ever coal mine,” The Stop Adani campaign tweeted. “Adani know the majority of Australians oppose their mega-mine and they reckon they can lie their way out of infamy.”

Adani and pro-Carmichael politicians in Queensland and wider Australia have touted the economic benefits of the coal mine, and Adani has said the construction work will create up to 1,500 direct jobs and support thousands more indirectly, as well as providing a financial benefit to Queensland from the sale of coal. Opposition stems from the environmental track record of coal projects – there is a view that new coal projects are incompatible with taking significant action to address climate change.

“Bravus’ rehabilitation conditions for the Carmichael mine are outlined in detail in both the Environmental Authority (the EA), following on from the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process,” the Bravus spokesperson said.

“Bravus’ Carmichael Mine has outlined its planned approach to rehabilitation of disturbed areas throughout the approval process.  This approach has been approved by both State and Federal regulators in 2014.

“Just like all Queensland coal mines, the Carmichael mine has comprehensive rehabilitation conditions and will be subject to the same rules and conditions that apply to existing coal mines. Bravus is not receiving any special or preferential treatment.”