Achieving the best rehabilitation outcomes for future generations

The legacy of historic mining and quarrying operations are affecting the environment and public safety, and have left state governments with rehabilitation liabilities that run into billions of dollars across Australia.

The big ticket sites are the ones with acid drainage, tailings storage facilities and the mines and quarries with huge voids.

Industry and regulators have to demonstrate to community and other stakeholders that current and future mining and quarry operations will not leave such a legacy for future generations.

Most jurisdictions around Australia require the preparation of a rehabilitation plan as part of works approval, and operators are also required to provide a bank guarantee or a surety prior to commencing operations. I am not sure the current regulatory frameworks provide an incentive for industry to achieve the best rehabilitation outcome.

The lodgement of a rehabilitation bond or a surety, which is calculated on a future liability, based on the rehabilitation plan, encourages industry to come up with the end uses that would generate the lowest rehabilitation liability. Rehabilitation bonds are regressive and require the industry to find the money twice –once to put up the rehabilitation bond and again to undertake the rehabilitation.

We need to revise the regulatory frameworks to better reflect the risk profile of the mining and quarrying sectors, and to encourage industry to come up with a rehabilitation plan that reflects an end use that protects the environment and is safe and stable for the long term.

A quarry or a mine that does not use chemicals for mineral treatment and does not generate waste with potential for acid drainage, nor affect infrastructure, would certainly have a lower risk profile than an operation that has to manage those issues.

Any regulatory framework needs to encourage industry to achieve the best rehabilitation outcomes for the site, with rehabilitation and closure plans that are part of the approvals upfront. Quarry development plans should incorporate progressive rehabilitation as part of operations, and the rehabilitation of the site should be consistent with the surrounding landforms, landowner and community expectations.

The quarry industry has some excellent examples of best practice rehabilitation that need to showcased. To maintain the social licence to operate, the industry needs to be aiming for the best rehabilitation outcome for all quarry operations in the future.

The Penrith Lakes sand and gravel extraction on the flood plain of the Nepean River (which for some time held the title as the largest quarry in the southern hemisphere) is a good example of best practice rehabilitation. The rehabilitation plan, which was developed with input from industry, government and the community, has transformed the quarry into recreational lakes, parklands and urban development.

Another great example where industry, government and the community worked together to achieve a rehabilitation outcome that is providing benefits for the community and the environment is Karkarook Park in Victoria.

The 15ha recreational lake was previously a sand quarry. The site has been revegetated with indigenous plants and the constructed wetland filters stormwater on its way to Port Philip Bay.

The key ingredients for best practice rehabilitation outcomes in our industry are to prepare rehabilitation and closure plans that are developed after consultation with key stakeholders, including the landowner, and to ensure the site is safe and stable for the long term.

Incorporating progressive rehabilitation with annual progress reporting will provide an opportunity for regulators to better understand our industry’s risk profile and come up with a remediation bond system that encourages best environmental practice.

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