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Managing Environmental Risks Effectively Post-rehabilitation for all Stakeholders: Legal Options for Coal Miners, Landholders and Governments to Manage Post-coal Mining Rehabilitation and Land Use

Open Cut » Environment

Published: April 18Project Number: C26018

Get ReportAuthor: Leanne Bowie and Jonathan Fulcher | The University of Queensland

Mining is a temporary land use; normal mining investment is made on the legal basis that tenements can be relinquished after resource extraction and rehabilitation is complete. If that relinquishment can be effected with a post-mining land use that generates income, risks of relinquishment for the miner and the State are better managed. There have been many examples around the world of successful and innovative post-mining land uses. However, some jurisdictions have struggled more than others with facilitating prompt relinquishment of mining leases and conversion to economically valuable post-mining land uses.

This paper focuses on Queensland as a case study. At the time of this paper, the Queensland Government is currently working through a process of trying to improve its management of mined land rehabilitation, but Queensland is by no means unusual in having some room to improve its system of post-mining land use planning. For example, there have been recent or current reviews about mine rehabilitation issues in every Australian State that has a mature mining industry.  

This report provides a snapshot of the wide variety of successful and imaginative post-mining land uses around the world and analyses some key drivers for that success. Not surprisingly, these drivers tend to have considerable overlap with the drivers for successful redevelopment of former quarries, landfills and manufacturing sites. Another factor that mining has in common with former quarries, landfills and manufacturing sites is that successful post-mining land uses can be and are developed on land that still has some constraints (including residual voids), provided that the constraints are known, managed and outweighed by the economic value of the land use after mining.

Turning to the Queensland case study, this paper will examine some of the key obstacles that have prevented mining leases from being surrendered and the land converted to economically valuable post-mining land uses during the period of 17 years since the environmental administration of mining was transferred from Queensland's Mines Minister to its Environment Minister. There are additional issues to be resolved about lack of certainty and transparency regarding ongoing constraints, which were particularly highlighted by the Queensland Supreme Court in Butler v The State of Queensland, relating to an historic underground colliery at Collingwood Park at Ipswich, where the land had been mistakenly converted to low density residential development and subsequently experienced subsidence. This case was then cited in a landmark report issued by the Queensland Audit Office in 2014, Environmental regulation of the resources and waste industries, which made a series of adverse findings about the regulation and administration of mine rehabilitation in Queensland.

Arising from the recommendations of the Queensland Auditor-General in 2014, a series of discussion papers were published during 2017, followed by the introduction of the Mineral and Energy Resources (Financial Provisioning) Bill to the Queensland Parliament on 25 October 2017, and then re-introduced on 15 February 2018 (having lapsed in the meantime upon a writ having issued for a State election on 29 October 2017). Further papers and legislative amendments have been proposed to follow. In 2017, the Queensland Auditor-General issued a report entitled Follow -up of Report 15: 2013-14 Environmental regulation of the resources and waste industries (Report 1: 2017-18) indicating satisfaction that the departments criticised in the previous report had 'gone to considerable effort and implemented most of our recommendations'.

The key messages to be examined are:

  • In practice, successful and sustainable post-mining land uses around the world have been driven by economics.
  • The return of land to safe, stable, non-polluting landforms with economically productive land uses is in the interests of landowners and local communities.
  • Continuing human presence for economically productive land uses also provides the strongest motivation for post-closure site integrity.
  • From the perspective of the mining industry, key commercial drivers are to reduce (and ultimately remove) liability and ongoing cost, generally the sooner the better, subject to any ongoing operational requirements.
  • Transparency - A convenient searchable system is needed so future landowners and government agencies know about any constraints.
  • Post-relinquishment land use and management are the business of landowners and developers, planners, local governments and State government departments administering planning.

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