Cooper, S 2019, 'Maximising post-mining land use: Queensland Government reforms', in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Mine Closure
, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 969-982.
In 2016 in an atmosphere of increasing concern about potential risks of the resource industry, Queensland Treasury Corporation and the Queensland Government reviewed the State’s financial assurance framework and mining rehabilitation outcomes. The Queensland Government responded to those reviews with a suite of significant reforms, designed to improve rates of progressive rehabilitation and minimise the State’s risk in relation to the resource sector. In 2017, the government released the Mined Land Rehabilitation Policy, containing—for the first time—a clear statement of the expectations on mining companies in Queensland to progressively rehabilitate over the life of the mine and maximise post-mining land use. In 2018 legislation was passed, replacing the current financial assurance requirements with a Financial Provisioning Scheme, designed to minimise the financial burden on low-risk mines while providing full coverage for the State when required. The legislation also introduced requirements for companies with the biggest mines in the State to develop Progressive Rehabilitation and Closure (PRC) Plans. These PRC plans will communicate how resource companies will progressively rehabilitate mine sites and the criteria to which each area will meet in order to maximise post-mining land use. This paper will give an overview of the background and environment in which the reforms were designed, an overview of implementation so far and how the package of measures is supporting Queensland resource industry to increase the quality and quantity of progressive rehabilitation throughout the life of an operation to maximise beneficial post-mining land use.
Keywords: rehabilitation; reform; policy development; life-of-mine; mine planning; progressive rehabilitation; residual risk
The legislative frameworks supporting mining and the requirements and conditions placed on mining have evolved over time, moved between departments and steadily increased in clarity, effectiveness and rigour. The technology and skills available to achieve successful rehabilitation have also improved – the technologies available today enable extremely efficient mining operations. Sophisticated computer modelling and increasing automation allows companies to effectively plan and operate a mine from start to finish – including exploration, operations and rehabilitation activities – completely remotely in some cases. Mining companies have been operating in Australia and overseas now for over a century and many of the biggest have vast resources and skill sets to tap into when designing and operating mines. There is also a wealth of published literature about best practice mine rehabilitation, which is available to inform mine design and practice.
The importance to communities and individual landowners of the long-term impacts of resource extraction has become more prominent over time. While mining companies undertake resource extraction near towns and small communities across Queensland, they typically buy the land where the major disturbance will occur. However, the development of the gas industry in the Bowen and Surat basins significantly increased contact and required co-existence between large-scale resource projects with communities and farming operations. Landowners had to engage more heavily in understanding what the impact of resource activities would be to the form and productivity of their land and considering what would be necessary to return the land or manage the impacts. In order to support ongoing operations, industry has developed new technology to minimise its footprint of disturbance, for example the gas industry’s use of hybrid drill rigs in development drilling activities as they are safer, more compact and drill faster with minimal disturbance, creating less impact to the environment and surrounding communities (Australia Pacific LNG [APLNG] ca. 2016).
The QTC review found in 2016 the State had an estimated rehabilitation cost of $8.7 billion but held around $6.9 billion in financial assurance. The discrepancy related primarily to the ability of companies to have their financial assurance ‘discounted’ by up to 30% through the financial assurance system at the time. These discounts were available for behaviours considered to lower a company’s risk such as waste management, progressive rehabilitation and good financial standing.
The QTC review recommended an alternative financial assurance system and a range of complementary measures to reduce the Queensland community’s exposure to the financial and environmental costs of un-rehabilitated land. The review noted that implementing these complementary measures would improve the outcome for the State through reduced exposure and proactive management of the remaining risk, irrespective of the financial assurance system adopted. The proposed measures aimed to deliver positive environmental outcomes, improve rates of site rehabilitation, and ultimately reduce the amount of rehabilitation required at the end of a resource site’s lifecycle.
The review also considered the rate of surrenders in Queensland. In terms of disturbed sites, surrender applications where significant disturbance has occurred were rare. For the few applications lodged for mineral activities (there have been none for coal mining), there was a lack of evidence relating to environmental performance, meaning applications were not progressed to surrender.
Reflecting the long history of mining in Queensland, there are more than 15,000 ‘abandoned sites’ associated with historical mining activities. In a recent review, the government identified that of these; approximately 120 sites form the Abandoned Mine Priority sites with a combined area of disturbance of just over 10,300 ha. These sites have characteristics consistent with contemporary mines as they are typically defined today (e.g. an open cut pit or a large underground development created by modern, larger scale mechanised mining methods). The remaining 99% of the 15,000 ‘known’ or ‘identified’ sites represent historical mining disturbances where there are generally very small workings associated with historical mining activities (State of Queensland 2018b). While the risk and level of disturbance of these sites varies, they all represent resource sites in Queensland that, for a variety of reasons, have not fully been rehabilitated or brought to closure before the responsible party left the site and, in most cases, have fallen to the government to manage.
These reforms truly are once in a lifetime. The involvement of QTC to undertake a comprehensive, independent review of the entire financial assurance framework was a critical step in increasing the understanding of the problem and the interconnectedness of the issues. Using a project management office staffed by multiple government agencies to oversee delivery of this huge suite of reforms has been integral to ensuring engagement by all relevant departments and timely delivery of the projects.
The Queensland Government’s innovative reform package will, in time, improve rates of progressive rehabilitation and minimise the State’s risk in relation to the resource sector. By supporting companies to achieve good rehabilitation outcomes and maximise the ability of disturbed land to be used for productive post-resource use, the State can enhance community confidence, support the continued social licence of the resources sector to operate in Queensland.
Government of Queensland 2018, Mineral and Energy Resources (Financial Provisioning) Act 2018, Australia.
Government of Queensland 2008, Environmental Protection Regulation 2008, Australia.
Government of Queensland 1994a, Environmental Protection Act 1994, Australia.
Government of Queensland 1994b, National Environmental Protection Council (Queensland) Act 1994, Australia.