BHP beats climate change challenge

BHP has been granted approval to continue coal mining at Moranbah following a challenge by an environmental group on grounds including climate change.

In the Land Court decision delivered in Brisbane on Tuesday, Acting President Stilgoe conceded the ruling would disappoint many but said the court’s balancing of competing priorities favoured the approval of the mining giant’s draft Environmental Authority (EA) to extend open-cut mining at the site, about 200 kilometres from Mackay.

Environmental Council of Central Queensland (ECCQ) objected to the draft EA, submitting as a general principle that it was no longer appropriate to approve new or expanded coal proposals due to the consequences for climate change.

ECCQ pointed out coal mining produced long-term and irreversible environmental and social harms through increasing global temperatures and climate change; and was contrary to meeting state and national emissions targets. It also pointed out the risk that extreme weather posed to people regionally and globally, and the irreparable damage to flora and fauna.

Acting President Stilgoe said climate change was a factor in her decision but not the only factor, referring to the result in the 2022 case of  Waratah Coal Pty Ltd v Youth Verdict Ltd & Ors (No 6), where the Land Court accepted the existence of anthropomorphic climate change.

“That decision may have led to a public expectation that the Court would reject any application for the extraction of fossil fuel, particularly an application for a coal mine. As this decision shows, that is not necessarily the position,” she said.


BHP and associated businesses (collectively BMA) have mined high-quality metallurgical coal at Caval Ridge, just outside Moranbah, in two pits, since 2014.

BMA applied to amend its existing EA to extend its open-cut mining at one pit, establish a dump and realign infrastructure.

ECCQ argued BMA had “exploited a regulatory loophole” to avoid submitting an Environmental Impact Statement under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act).

Acting President Stilgoe said she was satisfied that by BMA producing 12 technical reports, “the proposal had been subject to rigorous assessment and the public had been given adequate opportunity to comment on it”.

“If BMA exploited a regulatory loophole, and I am not satisfied that it did, it did not disadvantage the public and certainly did not reduce the regulatory requirements for BMA,” she said.

She said BMA had distinguished its project from the Waratah proposal in significant ways, including that it was a mine for metallurgical coal required for steel production rather than a mine for thermal coal, which is used to generate electricity.


BMA had also submitted that Australia and Queensland would not meet their net zero targets without investment in renewable technologies, all of which required steel for manufacture or production.

ECCQ argued the mine extension would have significant impacts on listed threatened species, as well as surface and ground water, and that BMA could not adequately rehabilitate the site.

Acting President Stilgoe said the EA conditions could successfully mitigate and manage the impacts.

She was also required to consider rights which may be affected under the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld), such as property, privacy and cultural heritage rights, as well as those engaged by climate change, such as the right to life and the protection of children.

“As before, I am satisfied that any limitation on human rights is procedurally appropriate and proportional: the EP Act requires a consideration of the public interest, the EA conditions are a balance between the impacts of the proposal and the rights of others,” she said.

Acting President Stilgoe said, however, there was “no doubt that this decision will dismay many who are vitally concerned with GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions and global warming”.


“But, as I have already identified, the court’s task is to balance competing needs and considerations,” she said.

“This proposal is an extension of an existing mine. The proponents are experienced mine operators who have publicly committed to a reduction in GHG emissions. The coal that will be mined in this proposal is high quality metallurgical coal, which is still required for the production of steel, a vital component in any project to transition to renewal energy. The damage to ecological sensitive areas is limited and BMA has secured offsets. The various studies show minimal impact on groundwater and surface water.

“In this particular case, the balance of competing needs and considerations favours a recommendation that the draft EA be granted.”

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