A report from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has found that the coal industry in New South Wales and Queensland uses as much fresh water each year as the whole population of greater Sydney, New South Wales, or every household in Queensland.
The ‘Water for Coal’ report was prepared by Natural Economy and authored by Dr Ian Overton, adjunct associate professor in water resources at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Global Food and Resources. Among its findings is that the industry uses 383 billion litres of fresh water per year, equivalent to the domestic use of 5.2 million people.
The report also notes that coal power uses 120 times as much water as wind or solar to produce the same amount of electricity. Coal mining and coal-fired power consume around 4.3% of all water used in New South Wales and Queensland, and withdraw 30% as much water as agriculture, the report finds.
Commenting on the report in a statement from ACF, its chief executive officer, Kelly O’Shanassy, said: “Not only do coal mines and coal-fired power stations consume vast quantities of water that could otherwise support people, wetlands and wildlife, but the coal industry also contaminates water, leaving toxic ash dams and leaching poisonous water into creeks and rivers.”
Coal mining has become controversial in Australia. Recent developments have included the Carmichael mine of India’s Adani Enterprises. Last year, Reuters reported Australia as “the world’s largest exporter of coal”.
“Coal mining in Australia already faces a bleak future as the world acknowledges the enormous threats posed by global heating. The coal industry does not always pay a fair amount for the water it uses. Adani’s mine was granted a 60-year licence to take unlimited groundwater, virtually for free,” said O’Shanassy in the statement.