Ensham Mine near Emerald.
Ensham Mine near Emerald.

Claims mine rehab loophole to leave ‘big holes’ near Emerald

AN ANTI-COAL group claim Queensland's new mine rehabilitation laws have failed to stop a multinational company from leaving "damaging" pit voids near Emerald.

The new legislation prevents mining companies from leaving behind final voids on flood plains.

But Lock the Gate Alliance claims the owner of Ensham coal mine near Emerald, Idemitsu, was able to successfully apply to leave "damaging" voids on the Nogoa River flood plain.

The group said the mine owner had also likely avoided hundreds of millions of dollars as part of the clean-up bill.

Idemitsu has denied this, insisting all mining voids would be rehabilitated.

A Environment and Science Department spokesman said Idemitsu made an Environmental Authority amendment application in March 2019, before the new rehabilitation laws were in place.

More stories:

Resource sector injects billions into CQ communities

Miner reports 32% drop in met coal after gas incident

Mining giant's Bowen Basin sites weather COVID storm

The laws are not retrospective and therefore, cannot be applied to existing mines with existing voids or applications made before the new laws came into effect on November 1, 2019.

A raging flood swamped two pits at the Ensham coal mine, filling the open-cut operation with 100,000 megalitres of water in 2008.
A raging flood swamped two pits at the Ensham coal mine, filling the open-cut operation with 100,000 megalitres of water in 2008.

"The approved rehabilitation outcomes for the Ensham coal mine are the result of a rigorous two-year residual void project that included public consultation to identify the most appropriate rehabilitation outcomes for voids on the site," the spokesman said.

"Of the 12 residual voids, seven will be backfilled to above the groundwater level.

"Ensham's previously submitted rehabilitation management plan proposed no backfilling of voids, leaving them as pit lakes.

"This is a reduction in void area from 660 hectares to 200 hectares."

The department also imposed groundwater monitoring conditions for five remaining voids to ensure they acted as permanent groundwater sinks and did not contaminate groundwater or nearby ecosystems, the spokesman said.

"The Nogoa River flood plain will be widened to two kilometres from the current 1.4 kilometres to ensure there is a reduced likelihood of flooding," he said.

"A levee will separate the rehabilitated mining areas from the flood plain and will mitigate against floods up to one in 1000-year events by preventing overtopping of the floodwaters into the rehabilitated areas."

The department confirmed Idemitsu would be responsible for the cost of carrying out rehabilitation at the Ensham site.

But Lock the Gate Alliance spokesman Rick Humphries said Queensland taxpayers would pay the price for the government's concessions to multinational mining companies.

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesman Rick Humphries. Picture: Patrina Malone
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesman Rick Humphries. Picture: Patrina Malone

"Previous analysis suggested that better enforcement of mine rehabilitation regulations could create more than 4000 jobs in Central and North Queensland," he said.

"The only saving grace is that the Palaszczuk Government has created the role of a mining rehabilitation commissioner, which will hopefully mean in the future, companies won't be able to get away with leaving toxic pit voids on flood plains."

Subscriber benefits:

Your daily dose of Harry Bruce cartoons

Five ways to get more from your digital subscription

WATCH: Your guide to reading the Daily Mercury online

A spokesman for Idemitsu Australia Resources said Ensham mine undertook a scientific and environmental assessment of the options to rehabilitate the mine site, as required by State Government legislation.

"All mining voids will be rehabilitated to a safe, stable and nonpolluting state," he said.

"Ensham's amended Environmental Authority incorporating the final rehabilitation outcome was subsequently approved by the Department of Environment and Science in August 2020."