By Kody Cook, Journalist, Mining Magazine

A key focus for the Western Australian mining industry is mine rehabilitation, and there are a variety of practices underway to ensure that closed and abandoned mines don’t pose a risk to Australia’s natural environment or local communities.

The Western Australian Government’s Department of Energy, Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DEMIRS) has released the 2022-23 yearly report for its Mining Rehabilitation Fund (MRF) and Abandoned Mines Program (AMP), and outlined the primary projects and achievements of the partnership over the last year.

Understanding the Mining Rehabilitation Fund

Introduced in 2013, the MRF was the state’s first dedicated and perpetual fund for the rehabilitation and management of historical abandoned mines. Created as a pooled fund, Western Australian mining operators contribute yearly – ensuring that the community doesn’t have to pay for the rehabilitation of abandoned mining operations.

MRF contributions are used in circumstances where efforts to enforce the obligations of tenement holders/operators to rehabilitate mines are unsuccessful. The recovery of costs may still be sought from any former operator that fails to meet their obligations to rehabilitate.

A spokesperson for DEMIRS said that an important part of the annual report is the information about MRF levies assessed and paid, compliance activities and a summary of the data reported.

“As the fund has matured, industry has become more familiar with the reporting process, which has resulted in close to 100 per cent compliance with annual reporting obligations.”

The Department spokesperson said that where levies are payable, there are very few instances of non-payment – which is significant considering the more than 4,000 reports industry lodges each year, with close to 600 levy payments required.

DEMIRS’s annual report provides valuable information on the management of the MRF and enables the Western Australia Government to consider and approve the projected revenue and expenditure for the MRF through the State Budget each year.

As well as monitoring contributions, the Department spokesperson said the report allows the Department to share the progress of AMP project work, which is fully funded through the MRF under the Mining Rehabilitation Fund Act of 2012.

FY23 Donnybrook shaft 8 after work. Image credit: DEMIRS

Informing industry

As a requirement of the MRF, all tenement holders are required to provide DEMIRS with accurate information of the types and areas of ground disturbance for each tenement.

This data is collected to calculate the annual mining rehabilitation levy but it also allows DEMIRS to understand the type and extent of ground disturbance on mining Act tenure across the state.

The released MRF data is available to the public to filter and search by type of disturbance and tenement type. It can be used to gain a detailed picture of mining and exploration activities in a particular area, including the scale of disturbance on tenements that may be the subject of a potential purchase.

“Another key aspect of the MRF yearly report is the outline of the fund’s key activities and achievements, including those undertaken by the AMP.

“The department’s actions are designed to keep industry and the public informed about how the MRF is being managed and how well it is achieving its aims.

“The report includes summary information derived from the assessment data that holders provide in their online MRF reports. DEMIRS collates data for individual tenements for the report, making comparisons with the combined information provided in previous years.”

The spokesperson explained that although the MRF does not absolve tenement holders and mine operators from their legal obligation to conduct rehabilitation works on a tenement, it does include an incentive for mine operators to gradually rehabilitate mining disturbances whenever feasible.

“If an area of disturbance is undergoing rehabilitation and has reached the point where all necessary earthworks are completed, that area – unless it is related to exploration – can typically be classified as ‘land under rehabilitation’ and attract a lower levy calculation.”

The DEMIRS spokesperson said that the industry’s compliance with annual reporting requirements and payment obligations has improved each year and that DEMIRS continues to fine tune its compliance reviews and update guidance to support reporting.

Assessing the results

The report says the AMP achieved significant milestones during the 2022-23 financial year, with the successful completion of the Ellendale Deconstruction project and completion of the rehabilitation works on the Donnybrook Shafts project.

AMP projects funded from MRF interest earnings continued to be closely managed due to the impact of historic low interest rates, with a significant focus on project spend.

While a number of projects remained on hold during this reporting period, recent interest rate rises enabled this area of the program to be re evaluated, with planned progression on prioritised MRF interest-funded projects underway.

The spokesperson said that the 2023 yearly report shows a significant increase in the number of active projects compared to previous years.

“Interest earnings on the MRF have gradually increased over the past year, enabling the re-initiation of several AMP projects that were previously on hold.”

To inform the 2022-23 report, mining rehabilitation levies totalling $42.8 million were assessed, representing a 9.2 per cent increase from the previous year.

The MRF compliance team reviewed 1,665 tenements and found 203 tenements required amendments to their submission. The outcomes of the annual compliance plan resulted in additional levy payments of $376,508.77 and refunds of $13,071.40.

As at 30 June 2023, the net balance of funds was $291.2 million including $3.1 million in net interest.

The principal funds are available for abandoned mines across the state in circumstances where the tenement holder/operator (that contributed levies to the MRF) has failed to meet rehabilitation obligations and efforts to recover funds from the holder/operator have been unsuccessful. The work carried out by the AMP has been prioritised on a risk basis, with consideration to significant risks to the community and environment.

FY23 Ellendale Camp after work. Image credit: DEMIRS

Ellendale Project

The report outlined major progress made on the AMP’s Ellendale project, the largest contract undertaken by the program.

Located in the West Kimberley region of Western Australia, mining at the Ellendale Diamond Mine site commenced in 2002 and continued until Kimberley Diamond Company entered into administration in October 2015. Ellendale was declared an abandoned mine site in December 2015.

The first phase of significant safety works have been completed with the removal and clean-up of all obsolete infrastructure and equipment across the former mining lease.

Notable achievements for the project include zero recordable injuries or incidents, as well as the removal of all waste materials (7,184t) to off-site licensed disposal facilities, where 55 per cent was recycled.

Donnybrook Shafts

The report also explores the AMP’s several key actions to reduce community and environmental risks associated with the Donnybrook Shafts project area completed in collaboration with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA).

In May 2018, DBCA reported old mine workings within a section of Argyle Forest Block to the AMP. The area is located approximately 2km south of Donnybrook and was prospected and mined for gold between 1897 and 1903.

A number of additional shafts adjacent to the project area – presenting an ongoing safety risk to forestry workers and the community – were assessed by geotechnical experts in February 2022, in addition to a previously unknown shaft reported to the AMP and DBCA by members of the public.

Earthworks to rehabilitate shaft features were undertaken in November 2022, with eleven shaft features backfilled with granular material to eliminate safety risks to the community.

MRF undergoing review

In August 2023, the Western Australian Government announced that the MRF would be undergoing a review, as mandated in the Mining Rehabilitation Fund Act.

The Act requires that the fund be reviewed within ten years of its commencement, to ensure that it continues to meet its objectives and has sufficient financial resources available.

A summary of the findings will be released when the review is complete, outlining where the fund is succeeding and where it may need to be adjusted, so that it remains fit for purpose and continues to provide meaningful benefits to Western Australia’s rehabilitation efforts and keeps the mining industry financially responsible for works – not ratepayers.


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