Western Australia has had two significant mining booms, the gold rush of the 1890’s in and around Kalgoorlie and the iron ore boom in the 1960’s after the Commonwealth Government lifted an embargo on iron ore exports. Both these booms have had their busts but are now experiencing what some call a boom and what others in the mining industry call a ‘new plateau’. Iron ore and gold have dominated the industry but there has been a significant number of other mines including lead, nickel, tin, zinc, mineral sands, bauxite, asbestos, manganese and others throughout the 1900’s. WA has had a number of trial uranium mines and exploration projects from the1970’s – 1980’s many of which were only recently rehabilitated after the ban was lifted on uranium mines in 2008. WA has still never had a commercial uranium mine.
In 2003 the Department of Industry and Resources (now Department of Mines and Petroleum) completed a field inventory of legacy mines in WA, filling an information gap created during 1985 – 1999 where there was no methodic reporting. Since the inventory in 2003 there has been very little action to address the challenges of legacy sites and is now outdated. There are roughly 11,411 legacy sites in Western Australia that include a mixture of shafts, tailings, open cuts, dumps, processing plants and other infrastructure.
The field inventory and a more recent Auditors report on compliance in the mining industry has led to some regulatory changes within the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP).
One of these regulatory changes was the establishment of the Mining Rehabilitation Fund (MRF) to raise funds for the actual work of rehabilitating legacy mine sites that already exist as well as future sites. The MRF will raise money through a non refundable mining levy on new mines – calculated based on disturbance area, risk and level of impact. The fund will be used as an investment fund, profits generated through investments will be used to fund rehabilitation of existing legacy mines. This system replaces the bonds system which means there will be no bonds required for future mines unless ordered by the Minister.
There is heavy criticism about the strength of the new regulations. The levy is significantly smaller than bonds and there is no punitive measures for non compliance with mine closure obligations in the mining Act. There is concern that without a bonds system as well as a levy there is no strong incentive for mining companies to rehabilitate.
The MRF began operating in July 2013 for a one year voluntary period, it becomes compulsory from July 2014. Within the first two months of the voluntary MRF scheme the Government paid back $84 million in bonds and recouped $2.2million in non refundable levies. One company – Reed Resources – entered the voluntary period of the MRF and had their bonds released. Just two weeks later GMKE’s Meekatharra mine went into administration leaving WA with it’s first of a new wave of legacy sites without a bond in place.
For more information on mining assessments and the publics rights to engage see the WA Environmental Defenders Office fact sheet on mining law in WA.
State Records Office
Department of Mines and Petroleum – Abandoned mines field inventory
Department of Mines and Petroleum – Mining Rehabilitation Fund
MRF – Problems exposed – Robin Chapple
Reed Resources – Administration announcement
WA EDO mining fact sheet