Australia needs to ‘address legacy’ of abandoned mines, says environmental study

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) has released a report detailing the environmental impacts of Australian mining, and its findings suggest the mining sector requires address.

An independent body of scientists and engineers, ATSE has suggested in its report, titled ‘Addressing the environmental impacts of Australian mining’s past and future’, that companies need to update environmental risk management practices, set straight high-risk abandoned sites and be more transparent in its reports to build trust in the community.

The report cites that Australia has up to 50,000 abandoned mines, many of which do not meet modern rehabilitation and tailings standards due to their age. The report suggests that recently implemented funding pools for mine remediation — which is already being used in some jurisdictions — could help provide “significant regional employment” and help to implement effective closure.

In addition, ATSE claims that additional research is required to fill in “critical gaps” regarding ecological and hydrological knowledge. Use of sensors, communications technology and low-cost geographical monitoring systems could aid impact assessment.

The body suggests implementing a national abandoned mine initiative to support states and territories in cataloguing abandoned mines, identifying their environmental hazards, and implement policies to incentivise remediation funding and speed.

To engage communities, which ATSE cites as having low levels of trust in the mining industry while also being aware of its economic value, the mining sector should increase transparency through the release of extensive data collection via open data services, and develop reports that simplify complex reports to provide ease of understanding.

Genuine community engagement is vital to build public support and trust,” says the report. “Robust and ongoing consultation processes are essential to define successful outcomes for environmental management plans and closure planning.”

The full report can be read here.