Adani has admitted breaching its environmental conditions for the Carmichael coalmine again – clearing an area surrounded by potential koala habitat without a promised wildlife safeguard.
Guardian Australia has confirmed the federal environment department is investigating an “allegation of non-compliance” related to land-clearing at a quarry being used primarily to provide material for the construction of Adani’s rail line.
When asked about the investigation, Adani said it had “self-reported” the breach in January and that a wildlife spotter should have been present – but was not – while more than a hectare of land was cleared.
Adani said no environmental harm was done and that the clearing itself was allowed under its permits.
A spokesperson for the commonwealth department of agriculture, water and the environment says it routinely monitors compliance with approval conditions but “does not release details of ongoing inquiries”.
Information obtained separately by the Guardian establishes that the department is investigating whether land at “Borrow Pit 7”– about 70km east of the Central Queensland mine site – was cleared “in a manner that was inconsistent with clearing procedures”.
Surveys of land surrounding Borrow Pit 7 sighted an ornamental tree snake (a vulnerable species). They also found “tree scratches” nearby, which were assessed as “potential signs of koala”.
Adani – which now refers to itself as “Bravus”– said in a statement it rejected any allegation that illegal clearing of vegetation occurred on the project.
“In January 2021 Bravus advised the department … of an occasion where an additional environmental officer should have been present for flora and fauna spotting during clearing and grubbing activities. The clearing of the vegetation was allowed under our permits.
“Department representatives were subsequently welcomed onsite for a tour in April where they also used a drone to conduct further investigations.
“There has been no environmental harm as a consequence of not having the additional worker onsite, however, contractors have undertaken retraining and resourcing requirements have been reinforced.”
Sunny Hungerford, the campaigns manager at the Mackay Conservation Group, said the surrounding land has been identified as a potential koala habitat.
“Did Adani expect its bulldozer drivers to see koalas before they fall from the trees and are crushed in the tracks?”
The incident is the miner’s fifth documented instance of non-compliance with environmental conditions and the second time it has breached its species management plan. In December, Adani was fined $25,000 for failing to conduct required surveys prior to clearing.
Further breaches of environmental regulations will also likely invite renewed activist pressure on the project’s contractors, particularly German giant Siemens.
Last year, after reviewing its involvement, Siemens said it would continue to work on the Carmichael project but that it had “secured the right to pull out of the contract if our customer violates the very stringent environmental obligations”.
A spokesperson for the company said it was “unaware of this new allegation” but would “continue to monitor any official government notices issued in respect of the Carmichael rail project”.
Investor activist group Market Forces questioned why Siemens had not already applied its right to withdraw.
“By continuing its work for the Adani Carmichael coal rail network, Siemens is ignoring both the devastating climate impacts of the Carmichael coal project and Adani’s record of regular environmental breaches,” Market Forces campaigner Pablo Brait said.