Mining in Australia is still big business. Although sights are now firmly set on net zero emissions by 2050, mining, for the time being at least, still makes up a large proportion of the nation’s economy.

Minerals began to be produced in Australia in large quantities from the early days of European settlement. And ever since, mining has been part of the Australian landscape. In the 1960’s things took a significant leap when the resources boom hit. Mining in Australia has been prolific ever since.

Mine site rehabilitation has never been so important. Although mining has brought wealth and prosperity to many, it can often leave other less favourable legacies in its wake.

Mine operators have rehabilitation responsibilities
When mining operations are complete, the change in topography and stripping of vegetation can lead to significant issues. Eroded soil washes precious nutrients away and clogs up waterways with sediment.  But also, mining operations create unsightly and unusable mounds of dirt.

Some historic mining practices still pose a health risk today. The NSW government’s Legacy Mines Program prioritises the rehabilitation or remediation of legacy mine sites based on a variety of factors including:

  • public safety risk
  • environmental risk
  • end-use of the land

In recognition of the issues caused by historic mines, the program received a $107.7 million dollar injection in mid-2021 to fast-track rehabilitation and remediation works.

Governments now place significant emphasis on a company’s ability to successfully rehabilitate a mine site. Avoiding further cases of poor mine-closure is an integral factor for future mining practices.

What is mine site rehabilitation?
Mine site rehabilitation is the process of repairing the damage done by mining activities. This can sometimes involve making the site safe and stable, however best practice strives to create a landscape that can support future uses of the land.

Gaining access to land for mining increasingly requires companies to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring the best possible options for subsequent land use. Plans for rehabilitation need to be robust and future-driven. Without them, mine companies risk losing approval to operate.

Rehabilitation can be a costly process. Therefore it needs to be carefully planned and implemented. Partnering with experts in the field is the obvious path to fulfilling obligations and responsibilities.

Responsibility for mine rehabilitation
Current regulations place responsibility for rehabilitation on mining companies As temporary custodians of the land, they need to ensure the land is usable in the future.

But this wasn’t always the case. Mines operating decades ago were not subject to the same standards. So the significant cost of rehabilitating the site has been left to the relevant state government in Australia.

Preventing similar situations is a priority. And a mine company’s ability to rehabilitate and restore the landscape they mine is a key determinant in allowing them to function.

Benefits of mine rehabilitation
Rehabilitation of mines is a relatively new practice. And so expectations and requirements for mining companies to undertake quality rehabilitation continue to evolve.

The rehabilitation and closure of mines are more heavily regulated than ever before, with greater levels of accountability and enforcement.

Progressive mine rehabilitation
Responsible environmental management over the life of a mining operation is essential for successful rehabilitation.

Mines who view rehabilitation as an ongoing process during the life cycle of the mine, rather than purely an end of mine life necessity, create better outcomes for future use of the land. Establishing new growth as quickly as possible provides a better chance for the land modified by mining to be usable in the future.

Progressive rehabilitation practices are providing better outcomes. A range of benefits are being realised, including:

  1. More land use options
    Increasing community expectation means rehabilitation needs to be undertaken to a standard that will support active post-mining land uses across large parts of mine sites. Historically passive land uses was deemed, “enough”. But that’s no longer the case. So instead of opting for uses such as agricultural grazing, more recently there’s been a push for land to be rehabilitated to a standard to support recreational or conservation-related uses.
  1. Better flora and fauna outcomes
    Progressive mine rehabilitation minimises end-of-mine rehabilitation challenges at a time when there’s limited scope to change post-mining landforms as well as dealing with reduced cash flow. By making progressive improvements during the mine’s life-cycle the composition and structure of the rehabilitated vegetation are more similar to the surrounding area. And that means better outcomes for local fauna too.
  1. Fewer health and safety risks
    Effective mine rehabilitation will remove any risk to people in the future created by the mine’s operation. Historic abandoned mines have meant ongoing public health and safety concerns, long after the mine ceased operations. But a successful mine closure addresses these concerns and removes risk to the public in the future.
  1. Reduced financial risk and liabilities
    Early planning can reduce future costs by ensuring operations are conducted in a way that facilitates and maximises the efficiency of rehabilitation. Failure to appropriately plan and budget for progressive rehabilitation can result in less than favourable outcomes for the mining organisation.
  2. Reduced costs
    Environmental bonds and security deposits have been the government’s way of having some sort of guarantee that mine operators will meet their rehabilitation obligations. If they don’t, they risk losing their bonds.Poor rehabilitation and mine closure planning can lead to environmental, social and economic legacy issues. If regulatory intervention is needed, it will result in significant financial implications. Although there’s a move toward a pooled rehabilitation fund model (instead of solely secured by bonds) governments still look to mine companies to bear the financial brunt of poor rehabilitation.
  3. Reputation upheld
    Reputational stakes have never been higher for mine operators who fail to meet regulator and community expectations. Rehabilitation standards along with community and regulator expectations in relation to rehabilitation and post-closure land uses are rapidly evolving. Those who don’t keep up put themselves at risk of tainting their reputation, and being deemed unsuitable to undertake further mining operations.

Mine rehabilitation best practice
GeoLINK Consulting are leaders in best-practice mine rehabilitation. They’ve been in the game for 30 years. And they continue to keep ahead of the curve. By keeping up with the ever-changing industry requirements, they’re well placed to provide innovative, sustainable and effective solutions.

GeoLINK are both agile and responsive to the methods and emerging practices used for mine rehabilitation. As industry leaders, motivated to find positive environmental outcomes, they’re respected and trusted in the field.

Talk to one of GeoLINK’s Mine Rehabilitation Specialists to find out more.

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