An Australia Institute report says a scarcity of information about disused mine sites is leaving the public in the dark on the clean-up costs from the mining boom. Photograph: Reuters
For those Pacific nations that have the fortune/misfortune to have large foreign mining activities in their territories, the situation in Australia is a warning of what could happen when whatever is being mined runs out and the mining company then disappears, leaving the people with the rubbish and the costs of clearing up…!
Mining boom clean-up could cost taxpayers billions, says Australia Institute
Report says mine sites may not be able to be successfully rehabilitated and warns of ‘big liabilities’
Christopher Knaus | The Guardian | 15 February 2017
A scarcity of information about disused mine sites is leaving the public in the dark on the clean-up costs from New South Wales’ mining boom, a new report has found.
The report, released by the Australia Institute on Wednesday, attempted to analyse what was happening to operating, suspended, closed, rehabilitated, or abandoned mine sites across the state.
But it found that there were few reliable statistics available, despite the clean-up from NSW’s mining boom potentially costing taxpayers billions.
The NSW auditor general examined the risk posed by disused mine sites in 2011.
The auditor-general’s final report warned that the government’s derelict mine program “may represent the largest category of contamination liability for the New South Wales government”.
Despite this, the Australia Institute said the NSW’s division of resources and energy was only able to show one example of a mine site being successfully rehabilitated, and one site that was potentially in the final stages of closure.
The report’s author, Roderick Campbell, said the paucity of information had shocked him.
He warned that, as the mining boom wound down, big players such as Rio Tinto, which tended to be relatively transparent and responsible, were leaving mine sites in the hands of less reputable, smaller operators, who may be unable to successfully rehabilitate the sites.
“That’s the risk and, in the case of NSW, what the department says is that they’ve assessed the rehabilitation costs and they’ve got a bond for 100% of that amount, so they’re saying taxpayers are at zero per cent chance of paying,” Campbell said.
“But the problem is, what if they’re wrong, or what if community standards change? What if the Hunter decides actually we don’t want 45 large, very saline holes in the ground now?
“We really are on the hook for some pretty big liabilities.”
The institute’s report, titled Dark Side of the Boom, identified between 112 and 410 abandoned mine sites across the state, while between 85 and 109 mines remained active and 123 in suspended operations.
There was no example of an open-cut mine being successfully rehabilitated, the report said, despite the likelihood of at least 45 open-cut voids across NSW.
Campbell said the lack of any concrete example of open-cut rehabilitation cast doubt on the effectiveness of future clean-ups.
“I mean it sends a terrible message, because what the industry says is, ‘Well, none of our big open-cut mines are ready to close,’ so there’s no example of it happening because we’ve just kept expanding and expanding them’,” he said.
“But I don’t think you can simultaneously claim that we’ve got this excellent record of rehabilitation, when they’ve actually never done before what they say they’re going to do 45 times.”
The report was largely compiled through correspondence with the NSW division of resources and energy over six months. It is one of a series of reports focussing on disused mine sites in various states and territories.
A national report, released to the ABC, suggested there were 60,000 abandoned mine sites across the country.
Campbell said the department had largely been well-meaning and that he did not suspect there was an active campaign not to release such data.
But he said he did not believe there was any incentive for government or industry to make such information public.