Sapa-AFP Sydney

Australia has approved a huge coal mine that could provide fuel for electricity for up to 100 million Indians, angering environmentalists who warned yesterday that it might threaten the Great Barrier Reef.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said approval for Indian firm Adani’s A$16.5 billion (R163bn) Carmichael coal mine and rail project in Queensland was subject to 36 conditions.

“The absolute strictest of conditions have been imposed to ensure the protection of the environment, with a specific focus on the protection of groundwater,” he said.

The development proposes open-cut and underground coal mining in central Queensland, and a 189km rail link. It is forecast to produce 60 million tons of export thermal coal a year.

State officials say the project, which could be the largest coal mine in Australia, will play a major role in opening up Queensland’s resource-rich Galilee Basin. It is also expected to contribute A$2.97bn to the state’s economy each year and generate thousands of jobs.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the project was a welcome foreign investment that demonstrated the potential for the resources sector to drive economic growth. “It will help support the opening of Australia’s first new mineral province in 40 years,” he said.

But conservationists criticised the approval of a project which plans to ship the coal through Abbot Point on the Great Barrier Reef coast.

Ben Pearson of Greenpeace Australia Pacific said: “You can’t ignore that it is a mine which, if it went ahead, would impact on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area because… to get that coal out you have to build a new coal export terminal at Abbot Point.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the approval was “bad news for water resources, wildlife and the effort to tackle climate change”.