Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

The CEO of a small shire in Western Australia says cleared land, open pits and hazardous materials left by abandoned mines are a major concern and has called on the state government to prioritize rehabilitation.

Peter Fitchat of Dundas Shire said abandoned mines were scattered throughout the region, home to the Great Western Woodlands – the largest and healthiest temperate forests in the world.

Fitchat questioned the government’s lack of motivation to use the Mine Rehabilitation Fund (MRF), which was set up in 2012 to rehabilitate future abandoned mines.

An aerial photo of an abandoned mine near Kalgoorlie in WA's Goldfields region.
An abandoned mine near Kalgoorlie in WA’s Goldfields region.(Delivered by: Lynn Webb)

According to WA Secretary Bill Johnston, $ 219,493,000 had been accumulated through mandatory contributions from mining companies and interest.

But in the 2019-20 fiscal year, the government spent only $ 312,000 from the fund and $ 683,000 the following year.

Despite raising $ 12.1 billion in mining royalties last fiscal year, money from MRF was the only financial contribution the state made to rehabilitation.

Sir. Fitchat said that given the number of mines abandoned in his region alone, the money “did not spend” together.

According to DMIRS, there were more than 190,000 abandoned mine functions across WA’s outback, including open pits, landfills and mine shafts.

DMIRS could not provide details on the actual number of mines abandoned in WA, but the latest reported numbers were up to 10,000 with an estimated 60,000 across the country.

A hole in the ground left by a mining company in Norseman
A hole left by a mining company in the Great Western Woodlands near Norseman.(Delivered by: Lynn Webb)

Encouragement to prioritize rehabilitation

Fitchat said the government put forward a proposal at the WA Local Government Association’s (WALGA) recent annual general meeting, in which he called on the Minister of Mines to revise the Mining Act to require companies to develop more sustainable practices.

The proposal also called for a priority action plan for the rehabilitation of abandoned mines.

Fitchat said the shire had not yet received a response.

Despite signing agreements with the state, mining companies have avoided multi-million dollar rehab bills by declaring bankruptcy or selling the mine, often at a low price.

In 2016, Rio Tinto sold its Blair Athol mine near Clermont in central Queensland to TerraCom for only $ 1.

A man sitting near a pond.
Curtin University’s Adam Cross says abandoned mines have long-term effects on the environment and can be harmful to humans.(Delivered: Dr. Adam Cross)

Abandoned mines a ‘big problem’

Johnston said MRF would have to manage abandoned sites while the state looked for another company to take it over or pay for rehab expenses if that did not happen.

“We are using some of the money from the interest earned on the fund to do some work with the most urgent rehabilitation, and we are investigating how we could also use some of the annual contributions for it.”

Johnston said abandoned mines were a “major problem for Western Australians”, but apart from $ 4 million from MRF set aside for priority projects this year, he did not outline any future plans.

Adam Cross of Curtin University’s Center for Mine Site Restoration said abandoned mines were a danger.

Landforms such as waste rocks and tailings can erode over time, and their dust can contain particles and heavy metals and other compounds that can be harmful to plants and animals, even to us.

“We need to consider the cumulative effects of mining, a concept that has been described as ‘death with 1,000 cuts’, where a mine in a region may not have a major impact, but 100 mines in the same area begin to fragment the ecosystem and results can be disastrous. “

A group of people holding woven rugs
The Reclaim the Void project aims to highlight the damage caused to the country by mining.(Delivered by: Nic Duncan Photography)

A scar on culture

Kado Muir is a Ngalia man from Leonora in the northern gold fields and is working on an art project, Reclaim the Void, to raise awareness of the destruction of rural mining.

Sir. Muir said the project involved making rugs from recycled clothing and fabric, which will be sewn together and placed over an abandoned mine pit.

“The idea behind it is to bring that culture and spirituality from the arts back to the country,” he said.

Muir said he had consulted with mining companies on the design of operations, which had resulted in limiting the destruction of the land.


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