A multinational mining company is trying to use a loophole in Queensland’s recently introduced rehabilitation laws to leave three massive, unfilled mine pit voids on the Nogoa River floodplain and foist a $379m clean-up bill onto taxpayers.
Idemitsu, which owns the Ensham thermal coal mine near Emerald in Central Queensland, is attempting to renege on its original commitment to fully re-fill and rehabilitate 11 mining pit voids, including three voids on the Nogoa River floodplain.
The company’s plans have been revealed in Idemitsu’s revised Residual Voids Plan which was submitted as part of the application to the Department of Environment and Science (DES) to amend its environmental authority (EA), to remove current requirements to re-fill all voids, thus saving Idemitsu $379m in rehabilitation costs.
Rehab weaknesses exposed
If the company is allowed to backflip on its mine rehabilitation promises, it will expose severe weaknesses in the Queensland government’s mine rehabilitation reforms which were supposed to stop unfilled pit voids from being left on floodplains due to the risks they pose to water, farming communities and the environment.
Local grazier Mick Shaw, whose property Yongala contains the mine, said Idemitsu was now “squealing poor”.
“They’re saying it costs too much money to clean up, but if that’s the case they should never have been allowed to mine here in the first place,” he said.
“Idemitsu has been having discussions with the Department of Environment and Science, but at no stage have we been involved in those discussions over how the rehabilitation is going to be conducted when they finish mining here.
“Our concern is that if un-filled pit voids are left you will get ponds of water that will become hypersaline and a risk of polluting adjoining land and downstream areas. On top of that, who will be responsible for the ongoing care and maintenance of the moonscaped area?”
Greens Member for Maiwar, Michael Berkman, has urged the State Government to refuse the EA amendment application. He said giving it the green light could set an alarming precedent for other mining companies to dodge their rehabilitation requirements.
“That’s a massive worry, I think, for the rest of the state that any number of other companies might just follow their lead, jump through this massive loophole the State Government has left for them and again, leave Queenslanders to pick up the tab.”
Berkman also claims DES is now assessing the amendment to the environmental authority without proper public consultation.
It’s not the first time the Ensham mine has been involved in controversy – in 2008 it was inundated with floodwaters from the nearby Nogoa River, which filled two of its six coal pits with more than 100,000 ML of water. The floods shut down the industry for months and the mining company was forced to pump the coal-laden water into the nearby Nogoa River in the Fitzroy catchment.
Following this disaster, in 2013, a final voids study for the mine specified that all final voids would be filled in order to avoid leaving long-term hazards on the floodplain.
Flood events prompted new laws
In 2018, the Queensland government developed its new mine rehabilitation policy and passed new laws specifying that mines would be banned from leaving behind final voids on floodplains. This was in response to the 2008 and 2011 flood events which saw a number of coal mines inundated.
LTGA spokesperson Rick Humphries said the cost and risk of Idemitsu getting away without having to clean up its own mess should be considered as an affront to taxpayers.
“The Palaszcuk Government must stand firm in the face of this challenge to their new mine rehabilitation policy. We’ve already seen the policy ignored once with the decision to allow the Olive Downs mine to leave open pit voids on a floodplain.
“Do the new mining rehabilitation policies have bite or are they simply a toothless tiger, ready to cave in to pressure from the mining industry?
“If the government holds firm, the rehabilitation undertaken at Ensham by the company will also provide significant job opportunities for regional Queenslanders desperate to find work,” Humphries said.
Previous analysis suggests that better mine rehabilitation in Queensland could create more than 4,000 jobs in Central and North Queensland.