Rehabilitation and Relinquishment
Resources companies are committed to rehabilitating land to a state where it can be passed on safely and sustainably for the next land use
During operations, resource developments bring significant benefits to regional communities and Queensland. However, these developments have a limited lifespan and provide one of many alternative land uses over time. As such, resource companies understand the importance of rehabilitation and returning the land to a state where it can be passed on safely and sustainably for the next land use.
The resources sector’s approach to rehabilitation has improved significantly over past decades in line with emerging techniques, evolving corporate values, community expectations and law. These advances in rehabilitation are the first big steps in a modern regulatory framework to an ongoing commitment by the resources sector to refine and develop innovative methods for rehabilitation.
The resources sector does not consider rehabilitation as something that begins towards the end of the operation, but rather a process that begins in the planning phase. To keep the disturbance footprint at minimum, resource companies aim to progressively rehabilitate the land as operations advance to a safe, stable, non-polluting and self-sustaining condition in readiness for the next land user.
Rehabilitation is governed by a set of comprehensive environmental conditions and criteria. Resource companies must fulfil and demonstrate that these requirements have been achieved for a particular area through monitoring data and results relevant to rehabilitation. This information is then analysed, interpreted and provided in a report prepared by a suitably qualified person/s for government review.
In regards to progressive certification, Queensland has a system that allows for government, who must be confident that the conditions and criteria have been complied with and rehabilitation has been completed satisfactorily, to sign off (formally certify) an area prior to relinquishment. However, it is important to note that resource companies continue to remain responsible for the ongoing upkeep of certified areas until relinquishment.
QRC is currently working with member companies and Government to establish a clear, simple and tested process that allows for a streamlined approach to applying for, assessing and certifying areas of progressive rehabilitation. This is integral to encouraging company commitment.
The Queensland Government requires all resource activities to provide a security deposit (i.e. financial assurance) prior to the commencement of an environmentally relevant activity, which generally refers to industrial activities but can also include some agricultural activities. This payment is a guarantee that the State holds adequate funding for rehabilitation of sites in the event that the person / company defaults on its approved closure and decommissioning plans obligations. Ultimately financial assurance is a safety net and a final point of call for government compliance enforcement action; not the driver for rehabilitation.
Financial assurance is calculated by using the approved method provided in the Guideline for Financial Assurance under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 and the amount is only agreed once calculated to the satisfaction of government.
Financial assurance is held and regulated by the government while operations are underway, with a company only able to commence activities once it has paid the required financial assurance amount.
The government has the power to amend the amount of financial assurance under the following circumstances:
- The amount of financial assurance can be increased if there is an increase in the disturbance footprint; or
- The amount of financial assurance can be reduced if government provides sign off that progressive rehabilitation has met all relevant environmental conditions (i.e. progressive rehabilitation certification).
QRC is currently working to ensure the financial assurance framework and associated mechanisms offers government confidence in company performance yet is at a reasonable upfront cost.
Relinquishment and Next Land Use
While activities undertaken by the resources sector generally continue for many years and in some cases decades, they are still temporary in nature. Upon approach and at the time of closure, the priority for resource companies is to minimise long-term significant residual environmental impacts from operations and provide a safe, rehabilitated landform that is available for future economic activity, conservation or community use.
Relinquishment or surrender of an Environmental Authority and related resources tenement is only granted once the government is satisfied that all environmental requirements, in particular rehabilitation, have been achieved. Only at this stage can the ownership and responsibilities of the land be transferred to the next user.
QRC is currently working with member companies and government to establish clear, simple and tested process that allows for a streamlined approach to applying for, assessing and determining relinquishment for a lease and rehabilitated landform.
Abandoned mines are a legacy from historical operators before modern mining practices and environmental management and mine rehabilitation regulations were in place as they are today. The Queensland Government defines a site as an abandoned mine when a mining tenure no longer exists and there are no legal avenues requiring the company or individuals that created the mining disturbance to carry out remediation.
Many reports surfaced in 2015 and 2016 that 15,000 abandoned mines were located in Queensland. However, when discussed, the type, size or scale of such mines are never provided. Whilst the Queensland Government confirms the reported figure, in accordance with its definition, most of these sites are very small.
It is important for it to be recognised that the majority of the abandoned mines in Queensland are associated with old workings carried out over the last century, including mine shafts, tunnels and other features created during the gold rush and exploration drill holes for other commodities. Only a very small portion of the 15,000 total recorded abandoned mines represent large and complex operations of significance that require ongoing remediation and rehabilitation as part of the Abandoned Mine Lands Program.
The Abandoned Mine Lands Program, administered by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines, progressively assesses abandoned mine sites and takes action to reduce significant environmental and public health and safety risks. While there are such initiatives underway and aimed at addressing abandoned mines, QRC and its member companies are focussed on undertaking operations responsibly and delivering on rehabilitation requirements in accordance with strict environmental conditions and regulations.