It’s no surprise that mining creates a few environmental problems. One of the big ones is the costly exercise of restoring land after mining operations cease.
Across Queensland there are over 15,000 abandoned mines where work has stopped and no person or company can be legally required to restore the site. When that happens, the Queensland government must take action to make the site safe, both to the public and the environment.
At Mount Morgan, acid water leaches from the former gold mine into the Dee River, making the stream unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking for many kilometres. The government is trying to stabilise the Mount Morgan mine but it’s costing a fortune and no end date is in sight.
These days mining companies have to pay bonds in the form of cash and bank guarantees to ensure money is available for the government to carry out rehabilitation if the mining company doesn’t. Those bonds are woefully inadequate.
There are about 9500 smaller mines that have lodged cash payments with the Queensland government, averaging just over $2700 each. That’s not much more than the average Mackay tenant pays in a bond to their landlord. Larger miners lodge a bank guarantee.
The odd thing is that the big mining companies do their own calculations to determine how large the bond should be and how much discount they can receive. Overall the Queensland government holds about $5.4 billion in bonds from mining companies but it has been estimated that the full cost of rehabilitation is between three and ten times that amount.
With coal mining industry looking more and more unstable every day it is important that the level of bonds held by the government match the actual cost of rehabilitation. Otherwise Queensland taxpayers will be paying for the cleanup for decades.
PhotosTop: The Dee River suffers from pollution by acidic water flowing out of the Mt Morgan mineCentre: It is unsafe to swim in the Dee River 20km downstream from the minePhotos by mininglegacies.org