Rehabilitation is an integral component in the lifecycle of a mine. The mining industry in NSW takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and works diligently to ensure the land we use is rehabilitated to provide beneficial outcomes or uses after mining is complete.
Prior to the commencement of any mining operations, mining companies work with government authorities to develop comprehensive rehabilitation plans. These plans determine the post-mining use of the land and include objectives developed in consultation with the community and endorsed by the government.
Land disturbed by mining activity is progressively rehabilitated throughout operations with the objective of returning the resulting landform to a safe and stable condition and in a manner consistent with the surrounding landscape.
For example, rehabilitation at Glencore’s Mount Owen mine in the Hunter Valley has been underway for many years while mining continues nearby to minimise the land disturbed at the site and to ensure the land is returned to another productive use after mining is finished.
Areas of land known as biodiversity offset areas are also established by the industry to counterbalance any impacts to land (often at a significantly higher rate than the land disturbed) and partners with community groups on conservation and biodiversity initiatives.
Mining companies are responsible for the full cost and implementation of rehabilitation across NSW. So while there is a lot of public focus on mining operations, there is also much effort and investment quietly undertaken by companies to restore the land alongside mining as operations continue for many years.
Each mine is required to lodge a rehabilitation security deposit with the NSW Government to cover estimated rehabilitation costs in the unlikely event that the company cannot fulfil its financial obligations and to ensure these costs are not borne by the NSW government or taxpayers.
Deposits are only returned to industry when the NSW government is satisfied that those conditions have been met. Over $2.3 billion is currently held in security deposits for this purpose
There are a number of stages in the life cycle of a mining operation over many years. Closure and relinquishment comes after mining is finished and involves the decommissioning of mining equipment and the relinquishment of the mining lease back to the government once the operation has completed rehabilitation and satisfied all of its legal obligations.
These legal obligations include returning the land to the approved land use in line with the rehabilitation plan or development consent which had been set out before mining begins.
Mines may be temporarily placed in care and maintenance, where economic conditions make the mine unviable to continue operations at the time with the potential to recommence mining at a later date when economic conditions improve. Mining companies remain responsible for the site, managing and monitoring the mine throughout this phase, even though production has stopped.
A mine void is a mined area, typically a pit, that remains as a residual depressed landform feature after rehabilitation of a mine is complete. A void may take various forms ranging from a shallow depression in the rehabilitated landscape to a landform feature that is more reflective of the mine pit at the end of mining.
All matters regarding rehabilitation (including the need for a residual mine void) are carefully considered early in the design and planning process, prior to commencing operations, as part of a rigorous and comprehensive assessment process managed by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
The current regulatory and approval process requires that any voids are minimised and incorporated into the local landscape and rehabilitated to a safe and stable condition. The Department’s Integrated Mining Policy contains further information regarding the regulation and assessment of major mining projects.
Our industry is investigating the beneficial use of voids to provide ongoing assets to the community after mining. Various opportunities including recreational facilities, lakes, wildlife conservation, irrigation, water storage, agriculture, aquaculture, and hydro-electric power generation could be explored as potential options for residual mine voids in the future.
Legacy mines (also known as derelict or abandoned mines) are former mine sites that require rehabilitation which operated prior to modern mining practices and did not have the comprehensive environmental management and rehabilitation regulations which current mining operations must adhere to in NSW.
As no individual or organisation can be held responsible for their management, the NSW Government’s Legacy Mines Program assists landholders in conducting rehabilitation and remediation works to improve legacy mines and reduce environmental and safety risks.
The Program receives annual funding through the State Budget, with over $5.9 million made available in 2017-18.
Fact Sheets and Case Studies
Further information regarding voids, rehabilitation, and closure and relinquishment can be found in fact sheets available on our website.