New South Wales had the earliest recorded mine in Australia with the Nobby’s Head coal mine from the 1790’s. This first discovery set the tone for a coal dominated mining industry in NSW which is now home to the world’s largest coal export port – Newcastle. Coal mining covers the east coast of NSW, the Illawarra the Lower and Upper Hunter, New England and the Central West. There are also significant gold, lead, zinc and copper deposits that have been mined.
In another world record – in 1885 – Broken Hill in NSW became the birth place of the worlds largest diversified mining company Broken Hill Propriety Limited now BHP Billiton the ‘Big Australian’. Around this time the peak and rise of the Union movement in Australia occurred. It was in Broken Hill, 7 years in to mining that BHP had their first strike – lasting 16 weeks and starting a lifetime of industrial action at BHP mine sites from Illawarra NSW, to Port Headland WA, Bowen Basin Queensland, to Chile, Colombia and South Africa.
The NSW Department of Trade and Investment, Resources and Energy began the Derelict Mines Program in 1974. Despite this program being established relatively early there are sill an estimated 573 legacy mine sites in NSW but we expect that this number is much higher.
There are a number of mines that pose serious environmental and public health risks, in particular the asbestos at Woodsreef and approx 65 abandoned coal mines in the Lower Hunter which have acid mine drainage (AMD).
In 2012 the NSW Auditor Generals report identified that DTIRE had ‘substantially inadequate’ funds to address the ‘contamination liability’ of NSW legacy mines. This has led to new calls for an audit into the total liability of NSW legacy sites and calls for a 2020 deadline to rehabilitate.
In 2011- 2012 there were 27 sites with rehabilitation works done costing $2.1 million. Some of this included Belmont mineral sands, Ardlethan tin open cut mine and the gold mine at Home Rule.
Funds for the Derelict Mines Program have been generated through the acquisition and sale of abandoned mine processing plants, from investing the money within the fund, money from security deposits, and through appropriation of money from the Minerals and Petroleum Administrative Fund by Parliament or approved by the Minister.
There is a 100% mine closure cost bond requirement for all new mines, calculated using a bonds calculator. There are requirements for progressive mine rehabilitation over the life of the mine to avoid future legacy sites.
For more information on mining assessments and the publics rights to engage see the NSW Environmental Defenders Office fact sheet on mining law in NSW.
NSW mining history
BHP Billiton watch – information about BHP’s current activities
Industrial action against mining NSW
Sydney Morning Herald – Glowing red: Creek poisoned by acid from old mines
Sydney Morning Herald – Report exposes huge shortfall in funds to fix mess left behind by miners
Auditor Generals report 2012
NSW derelict mines map
EDO Mining Fact Sheet