- Australia Institute report finds lack of reliable data on Australia’s mining activity
- Research finds more than 60,000 abandoned mines across Australia
- Only a handful of mines have ever been fully rehabilitated
- Report raises concerns over how land rehabilitation is managed
The Australia Institute research, obtained exclusively by Lateline, said there were few reliable statistics on the state of Australia’s mines and there was evidence that only a handful had ever been fully rehabilitated.
State government agencies were only able to name one example of a mine that had been fully rehabilitated and relinquished in the past 10 years — the New Wallsend coal mine in New South Wales.
Some of the abandoned mines date back to gold-rush days and the 60,000 figure includes thousands of mine “features”, such as tailings dams and old mine shafts.
The Australia Institute said it was difficult to obtain basic statistics on the number of operating mines across the country, putting the figure between 460 and 2,944.
The Institute said it was even harder to get data on mines that had suspended operations or were undergoing rehabilitation.
“What is certain is [mine abandonment] is not a practice limited to distant history,” the report said.
“As the owners of the largest mines come under financial pressure, close attention needs to be paid to the ongoing phenomenon of mine abandonment in Australia.”
The Australia Institute’s findings come a week after the Senate announced an inquiry into how mining companies manage land rehabilitation.
In New South Wales, approval has been granted for 45 massive coal pits, or voids, to be left after mining finishes.
Twelve of those voids are around Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter and the biggest is at BHP Billiton’s Mount Arthur mine.
It is 4.5 kilometres long and 1.5 kilometres wide. BHP would not provide details on its depth.
New approach to mining rehabilitation
BHP Billiton would not allow Lateline to visit its site, but provided photos projecting how some of the area will look after 15 years of rehabilitation. Currently less than one third of the site is under rehabilitation.
Muswellbrook’s Mayor Martin Rush said BHP’s operations stand in stark contrast to what is happening on the other side of town at the Glencore Mangoola mine.
“Best practice is really what is happening at Mangoola,” he said.
“It can be done. It should be done and increasingly the community will be expecting it to be done.”
Glencore’s Mangoola operations manager Tony Israel took Lateline on a tour of their site, where rehabilitation takes place from the outset, alongside active mining.
“What we hope to do is try to relinquish land progressively not just wait until the end of the mine’s life, so with some of our more mature areas we will be looking at trying to relinquish that early,” he said.
Bird boxes, logs with hollows for animals to nest in, and natural water flows are installed on the site.
Mr Israel said the natural lay of the land and the mine’s shallow pits have allowed them to take such an approach.
“We saw an opportunity here to do something different. We are quite blessed here because we are a fairly shallow mine, so our dump profile is fairly low. So, it enabled us to do a little bit more with contouring and developing natural land form at quite a palatable cost,” he said.
Geoffrey Bowditch, a local farmer and earthmoving contractor, follows a GPS plan pushing dirt to re-shape the mounds into hills that will be left behind at Mangoola.
“Once you have done 50 hectares it’s like a natural farm. Rolling hills, gullies, it’s all natural,” he said.