(EnergyAsia, October 11 2012, Thursday) — The Australian government has approved a plan by India’s GVK and its local tycoon partner Gina Rinehart to expand an export terminal as part of its proposed US$10 billion development of the Alpha coal project in Queensland state.

With the approval for the expansion of the Port of Abbott Point terminal, the partners will proceed with the project, having earlier been cleared to develop the mining and rail components.

In announcing the latest approval, Australia’s environment minister Tony Burke said the partners would have to meet 60 conditions to protect the environment, in particular the fragile Great Barrier Reef located off the Queensland coast.

The reef’s deteriorating health has become a major source of national concern after the government accepted scientists’ findings that the area which houses one of the world’s largest marine reserves could lose half its coral cover within a decade. Earlier, UNESCO had slammed Australia for failing to protect the reef, which is designated a world heritage site.

In September last year, GVK paid Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd US$12.6 billion for a 79% stake in the Alpha Coal and Alpha West projects, and a 100% stake in the Kevin’s Corner project in Queensland.

According to GVK, Alpha’s first phase will produce more than 30 million tonnes of thermal coal a year, rising to 84 million tonnes when Alpha, Kevin’s Corner and Alpha West are in full operation. The assets are located in the Galilee Basin region, which is one of the world’s largest undeveloped thermal coal basins.

The Alpha mine-rail-port project will be one of the world’s top few integrated coal export operations, feeding the growth economies of Asia with high quality thermal coal.

The Australian government said it gave the final approval after undertaking a “rigorous assessment process including the opportunity for public comment.”

Mr Burke said: “The conditions I have set manage impacts on listed threatened species, as well as impacts on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the marine area.

“These conditions will assist us in maintaining our commitment to sustainable development and ensure the outstanding universal values of the Great Barrier Reef are protected.

“The proponent will need to develop a seagrass offset package consistent with our approach to environmental protection.

“Under this seagrass offsets scheme the proponent must work with the Queensland government to identify opportunities to protect and conserve seagrass, the vital asset that protects threatened species including dolphins, marine turtles and dugongs.

“A heritage management plan will also need to be developed to maximise the ongoing protection and long term conservation of the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage property.

“Further, a management and monitoring framework will be required to demonstrate how all direct, indirect and cumulative impacts to matters of national environmental significance have been considered.”