Ensham Mine, near Emerald.
Ensham Mine, near Emerald.

Mining company dodging $379m clean-up bill, group claims

A MULTINATIONAL mining company has denied it is trying to use a loophole in Queensland's new rehabilitation laws to leave three massive mine pit voids and let taxpayers pick up the $379 million clean-up bill.

Lock the Gate Alliance claims the owner of the Ensham thermal coal mine near Emerald, Idemitsu, is attempting to backflip on its original commitment to re-fill and rehabilitate 11 mining pit voids, including three on the Nogoa River floodplain.

The alliance claims Idemitsu's aim to remove its requirement to re-fill all voids has been revealed in its revised residual voids plan, submitted as part of the application to the Department of Environment and Science to amend its environmental authority.

Greens Member for Maiwar Michael Berkman has urged the State Government to refuse the EA amendment application.

Mr Berkman 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."

Mr Berkman also claims DES is now assessing the amendment to the environmental authority without proper public consultation.

This has been echoed by Central Queensland grazier Mick Shaw, whose Yongala property contains the mine.

"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," Mr Shaw said.

Central Queensland grazier Mick Shaw's Yongala property contains the mine.
Central Queensland grazier Mick Shaw's Yongala property contains the mine.

"Our concern is that if unfilled pit voids are left you will get ponds of water that will become hypersaline and (pose) 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?"

In a statement, Ensham said the vast majority of land would be "rehabilitated to cattle grazing standard".

But Ensham said it does not accept that it is submitting a change to existing rehabilitation requirements.

"As part of its environmental authority, Ensham Mine was required by the State Government to undertake a scientific and environmental assessment of the options to rehabilitate residual voids on the mine site," it said.

"The study commenced in May 2017 and was submitted to the Department of Environment and Science in March 2019 for review and approval.

"Ensham has undertaken many scientific studies to develop a rehabilitation option … (and it) has put forward the option which will best protect the environment."

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the State Government was ensuring taxpayers did not have to foot hefty bills for failed mines.

Ensham Mine, near Emerald.
Ensham Mine, near Emerald.

She said DES was assessing an environmental authority amendment application for the Ensham Mine and had sought further information from the proponent.

"Our laws require the mine to prepare a Progressive Rehabilitation and Closure Plan, with time-based milestones, to ensure rehabilitation occurs progressively over the life of the mine," Ms Enoch said.

"The department acknowledges and respects the role of community involvement in decisions of this nature and is considering avenues to seek advice, comment or information about the application."

Lock the Gate Alliance said previous analysis had suggested better mine rehabilitation in Queensland could create more than 4000 jobs in Central and North Queensland.

Last year the government passed legislation that requires miners to rehabilitate land progressively as they mine.

This legislation took effect from November 1, 2019 and ensures the environment is returned to an appropriate state, and that the miner covers the cost of this rehabilitation.