Queensland mine rehabilitation should be progressive, not left as one big job
Summary: Environmental groups are urging the Queensland Government not to be "bullied" by the resources industry in a bid to fix a $10-billion legacy of mine rehabilitation.....
Campaigner with Lock the Gate Alliance, Rick Humphries, said the reforms were "long overdue" but the "devil will be in the detail".
"It's long overdue, the cause for reform. We see all the numbers going the wrong way in terms of the amount of progressive rehab," Mr Humphries said.
"The devil will be in the detail and already there are some emerging concerns.
"The major issue though is in the past the mining industry has generally bullied governments of all persuasions in the past to drop any reforms, so the Government has really got to focus on the public interest and protecting the environment and make sure these reforms are solid and get the job done."
Reforms to apply to existing and new operations: Miles
One mine's progressive rehabilitation has Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles interested, who said it was what all mines would be expected to do under the proposed changes.
Hail Creek Coal Mine, in the heart of coal country in Queensland's Bowen Basin, is one of the largest coal reserves in the country.
Rio Tinto exports about 10 million tonnes a year of coking coal from the site.
During a tour of the mine, Hail Creek's Acting General Manager Michael Priestly said about 360 hectares had already been rehabilitated.
"It would be pretty close to what it looked like. Obviously the topography changes a little bit around with the dumps," Mr Priestly said.
"It's really a matter of tipping the dumps, shaping them and then progressively rehabilitating them with topsoil and natural vegetation."
The Minister said the reforms would apply to both existing and new operations, including Adani's proposed $21-billion Carmichael mine in Central Queensland.
"This program of reforms is all about making sure rehabilitation happens progressively so it is not left as one big job for the end of the mine's life, and also ensuring that we have sufficient financial assurance every time one of those mines has been abandoned," Mr Miles said.
Mr Miles said he hoped it would also create jobs for regions currently struggling through the mining downturn.
"It will also create a set of expertise here in Queensland that we can export around the world — expertise in rehabilitation will be in demand right around the world so we want to see Queensland leading in that," he said.
Fears clean-up for Ebenezer Mine will be left to taxpayers
Queensland has more than 15,000 abandoned mines ranging from small infrastructure to mega-sized mines.
Mr Humphries said Ebenezer Mine, on the outskirts of Ipswich, was a classic example of failed regulation in Queensland.
The coal mine has been in care and maintenance since 2002. The former operator, Japanese company Idemitsu, transferred the lease to Zedemar Holdings, who had planned to on-sell the site, but the deal fell through.
Mr Humphries said he feared it would be left to the taxpayer to fund the rehabilitation of the site.
"The horse has bolted and Idemitsu has been let off the hook. It now looks like the taxpayer may have to stump up the cash for what will be a very expensive mine rehabilitation process," he said.
A Department of Environment spokesperson said in the past month the financial assurance for Ebenezer has been increased from $872,000 to $1.23 million for the rehabilitation.
"The operator, Zedemar Holdings, has indicated to the department that all remaining disturbance will be progressively rehabilitated with the intent to fully surrender the site by 2022," the spokesperson said.
The Queensland Resources Council said the sector supported a rehabilitation policy that encouraged progressive work wherever practical, but said financial assurance should only be considered as a final safety net.
The State Government plans to have the reforms in place by mid-2018.