31 July New innovations in mining July 31, 2021 By AMPLA Admin Environment, Mining, Technology 0 New innovations in mining Innovation has long been a hallmark of the mining industry, and in recent months we’ve seen some significant research come to market. Productivity improvements Autonomous vehicles are not new to mining, but there are still several new uses that continue to evolve. In Western Australia, Rio Tinto has been the first in the world to deploy autonomous water trucks at the Gudai-Darri iron ore mine. The trucks automatically detect dry conditions that need to be watered and refill themselves. Rio Tinto believes that this will enable them to improve productivity at the site in their water activities while also reducing water usage. Approximately 53% of organisations are turning to electrification to reduce costs according to State of Play’s Electrification Report 2021. However, the cost benefits need to be weighed against the cost of transitioning to a new energy source, which is something most companies considering the move are grappling with. One of the other benefits of electrification are environmental, thanks to a likely reduction in carbon and diesel particulate emissions meaning this opportunity could see more mines achieving zero carbon emissions. Environmental developments With environmental impact now high on the agenda for most governments and companies, finding new ways to manage, reduce and rehabilitate environmental damage are important. Research in the US has found ways to measure the restoration of river systems impacted by mining. The study reviewed not only the river itself but also the plant species, animals and insects that relied on it. The research found that the river systems took an average of 10.25 years to recover once mining was completed, regardless of the level of pollution found initially. This is positive news and gives hope of reversing some of the negative impacts of mining in the future. Environmental damage through extraction can also be significant. Researchers at Curtin University in Western Australia have found a way to extract invisible gold trapped in pyrite that is environmentally friendly. With the discovery of new gold deposits declining, being able to extract invisible or ‘fool’s’ gold is a welcome discovery. The research found that the gold can be hosted in nanoscale crystal defects, whereas previously it was believed to be found only as nanoparticles or a pyrite-gold alloy. The gold is hosted in nanoscale defects called dislocations, so small that they require a technique called atom probe tomography to see them. To extract it they steered away from pressure techniques that require a significant amount of energy and found that selective leaching was effective. This involves using a fluid to dissolve the gold from the pyrite without impacting the pyrite itself. Research is also being undertaken in France on how gold can be recovered effectively by examining how gold reacts with minerals that contain iron and arsenic to better understand the chemical reactions that occur in gold processing. The research should assist in being able to identify and improve exploration and extraction processes, potentially reducing both risk to workers and environmental damage. Improvements in governance Consumers are increasingly demanding more information about the origin of the products that they use. While this has been common in areas such as food production, it is also likely to become more prevalent in mining. Technology developed by Australian company, Source Certain International, and Cornish Lithium will allow the origin of lithium within a battery to be identified down to a specific mine site. This goes a long way to creating a transparent supply chain for lithium. These developments are just a few examples of how innovative research and technology has the potential to transform the mining industry in the near future. Related Articles COMMUNITY LEGAL RIGHTS IN MINE CLOSURE PLANNING; A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF THREE AUSTRALIAN STATES Professor Alex Gardner, University of Western Australia Law School, and Laura Hamblin, formerly research associate at the UWA Law School, 2021 Why does the Mining Act 1978 (WA) not provide secure legal rights for community consultation in relation to mining lease proposals and mine closure plans? Addressing this question presents an important theme for this comparative review of some core features of the regulatory frameworks for mine closure in three Australian States. It also raises important questions for future legal research. Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria have prominent but vastly different, and thus uniquely significant, mining industries. Western Australia’s mining industry has a long history of large and smaller scale mining of a diverse range of minerals by various methods that pose significant mine rehabilitation challenges.[i] Queensland’s mining industry is similarly large and diverse, dominated by export coal production, and planning future minerals development in a decarbonising world.[ii] Victoria has a smaller mining industry with a large historical legacy dominated by a coal mining industry for domestic electricity generation in the Latrobe Valley, which is closing as the State actively transitions to renewable power sources.[iii] These States also have significant differences in the regulation of their mining industries. What all three States do have in common is the significance of their mining industries to both the State economy and the communities who depend on or live near mining operations. Importantly, all three States are confronting large legal and regulatory challenges in managing mine rehabilitation and closure. The key to addressing these challenges is effective mine closure planning: the closure of a mine site has ripple effects that are not merely environmental and economic, but social and cultural too. The initial approval of a mine closure plan occurs before any mining has begun and, with the life cycle of a mine often spanning decades, regulatory bodies are approving hypothetical closure scenarios, potentially subject to vast changes. Regulatory bodies may then seek to enforce closure requirements enshrined in a plan that may wane in relevance as mining operations progress, the updating of which may depend on the miner. Yet remedying the regulatory system so that it creates adaptable but consistently effective mine closure outcomes for affected communities still begins at planning. Although that planning is an iterative process across the life of the mine, it is very important at the initial stage of approval. Recent legislative reforms in all three States are adding to the regulatory rigour and adaptability of mine closure planning, though there are very different legal requirements for community consultation. This article aims to explain and assess the regulatory reforms by undertaking a comparative analysis of mine closure planning across Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria, with a focus on the initial approval stage and how stakeholders and communities are brought into that process. The facilitation of continuous and comprehensive community engagement is critical to ensuring that mine closure planning accounts for environmental, economic, social, cultural and safety outcomes after mine closure, but it has not been possible to consider here the process of ongoing mine closure planning, especially for amending mine closure plans and determining satisfaction of mine closure plans leading to resource tenure relinquishment.[iv] The article begins by considering core concepts of mine closure planning and the regulatory goals that inform it. It then provides a comparative overview of each State’s mine closure planning requirements under the mineral resources, environmental and land use planning laws and draws out some of the different regulatory structures and processes for mine closure within each State. The third step in our analysis compares the ways in which those laws provide for local communities’ participation in mine closure planning, with specific attention to whether the regulatory provisions create legally enforceable rights for effective community engagement. The article concludes with a summary of the key points from the discussion of three themes in our analysis: (i) the importance of clear definitions of core concepts and key goals, (ii) mine closure planning as an essential part of a mining proposal, and (iii) the legal definition of community engagement and consultation rights. Mine closure planning and implementation is necessarily influenced by many other spheres of law including taxation law, investment law, water law, and the rights of traditional owners, to name a few. A potentially directly relevant Commonwealth law is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), which may require environmental impact assessment of a mining proposal and closure plan and lead to approval conditions supplementing State requirements.[v] Whilst acknowledging the importance of these adjacent spheres of the regulatory frameworks for effective mine closure planning, this article does not attempt to address their impact. In particular, the rights of Traditional Custodians are a crucial part of mine closure planning that are only briefly noted here and that would benefit from future research. WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, Major Commodities Review 2022-23”. Qld Government, Department of Resources, Queensland Resources Industry Development Plan, June 022. Vic Government, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Latrobe Valley Regional Rehabilitation Strategy. See L Hamblin, A Gardner, Y Haigh, Mapping the Regulatory Framework of Mine Closure, May 2022, CRC TiME, for a broader exploration of the full life cycle of mine closure regulation. In Buzzacott v Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities  FCAFC 111; (2013) 214 FCR 301, , -, referring to the range of approval conditions, which included mine closure. In setting conditions under the EPBC Act, the Commonwealth Minister must consider any relevant conditions under State or Territory law: at  citing Lansen v Minister for Environment and Heritage (2008) 174 FCR 14. QUEENSLAND’S MINE REHABILITATION REQUIREMENTS FOR VOIDS: ENSHAM CASE STUDY The State of Queensland reformed its mine rehabilitation legislation, namely the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act), in 2018 through the Mineral and Energy Resources (Financial Provisioning) Act 2018 (Qld) (MERFP Act). A case study of the Ensham open-cut coal mine[i] in central Queensland highlights three issues for the efficacy of this regulatory framework. The first issue concerns an available exclusion of rehabilitation requirements for existing mining voids (the area of excavation created by open cut mining) in flood plains. Under the EP Act, as amended by the MERFP Act, a holder of an environmental authority (EA) may, in its Progressive Rehabilitation and Closure Plan (PRCP) and PRCP Schedule, identify land as a Non-use Management Area (NUMA).[ii] This is land that would not be rehabilitated “to a stable condition” and not have a post-mining land use. This rehabilitation exception as a NUMA is not applicable to mining voids wholly or partly in flood plains – these must be rehabilitated to a “stable condition”,[iii] as defined in the EP Act. This is the “section 126D(3) rehabilitation obligation”.[iv] However, the transitional provisions of the mining rehabilitation reforms differentiate the rehabilitation obligations of pre-existing mines (those existing at the time of the reforms, such as the Ensham Mine) and new site-specific mines.[v] Pre-existing mines with a “land outcome document” that presents an outcome similar to a NUMA can establish criteria for rehabilitation or management of a void in a flood plain that supersede this section 126D(3) rehabilitation obligation.[vi] The MERFP Bill Explanatory Notes for the transitional provisions reveal that this exemption from section 126D(3) “does not retrospectively breach existing rights and provides certainty to industry on the transitional process”.[vii] However, this grandfathering is arguably disconnected from environmental risks of such residual voids, creating two classes of mines based on the timing of a mine’s existence (pre-existing versus new). This Ensham case study provides an example of a pre-existing mine’s use of a “land outcome document” to exempt rehabilitation of residual voids in a flood plain but without clarity around the non-use management status of the area of the residual voids. The second issue discussed in this case study is progressive rehabilitation. The design of a financial assurance system to increase progressive rehabilitation was “a clear objective of the EPA’s work in 2004”, yet the EP Act fell short by failing to clearly outline criteria for certification of final rehabilitation for industry, and a scheme of refunding financial assurances at the termination of mining activity.[viii] These issues remained unaddressed until the 2015 State election when the then Labor Opposition ran on the campaign “[to] investigate the expansion of upfront rehabilitation bonds for resource companies to fully fund long-term rehabilitation activities”.[ix] Thereafter, the Queensland Treasury Corporation published a number of discussion papers advising of the shortcomings of the current financial assurance framework and that, in 2017, there were “220,000 hectares of disturbance, with an estimated rehabilitation cost of $8.7 billion”.[x] Queensland’s 2018 mining regulation amendments concerning progressive rehabilitation were intended to ensure “rigorous” review of NUMA approvals in PRCPs, “through an objective public interest evaluation” for future or newly established mines.[xi] However, the reforms may not effectively address instances in which progressive rehabilitation has been lacking in large, open-cut, mature mines in operation at the time of these legislative changes. As of 2021, approximately 33% of the Ensham Mine’s 4,944.7 ha of scheduled rehabilitation areas had been progressively rehabilitated.[xii] According to Ensham’s PRCP, this level of progressive rehabilitation exceeds that of other open-cut mines in Queensland.[xiii] For established mines, such as Ensham, that are approaching closure and have large voids that have not been substantially progressively rehabilitated across their mine life, the most economical rehabilitation option may be to rehabilitate residual voids to accord with legislated requirements. Under Queensland’s legislation, “rehabilitation” does not necessarily mean these voids will be re-filled. This may be contrary to community understanding of what rehabilitation is. Thirdly, this case study highlights areas in the regulatory framework in which information transparency could be improved – particularly public access to information – which raises issues of accountability, quality of community engagement and, ultimately, social licence on the part of mining companies and government. Information transparency is also relevant to community engagement and expectations for rehabilitation, such as the meaning of “rehabilitation” of residual voids (i.e., refilling to establish a pre-mining state versus the legislated “stable condition” standard). This article is structured as follows. Part 2 presents the legal and operational context of the Ensham Mine. It also describes the operational history of flooding and its relevance to rehabilitation and management of post-mining residual risks, which leads to a discussion of the rehabilitation legal reforms. Part 3 discusses the reform of Queensland’s rehabilitation legislation framework as it concerns residual voids, including the transitional provisions of the EP Act. Part 3 also explores Ensham’s Residual Void Project (RVP) for the development of the rehabilitation criteria for residual voids and considers the community engagement process. Part 4 comments on the transitional regulatory design issues in Queensland’s framework, issues concerning progressive rehabilitation of pre-existing open-cut mines such as Ensham, as well as transparency of information and community consultation. Part 5 concludes and suggests future research. Digital transformation in mining and energy As the global shift to remote work gathers pace, it is more important than ever that the mining and energy sector embraces technology. But a digital transformation offers more than flexible working arrangements. It has the potential to drastically cut down on industrial accidents, optimise operational processes and slash costs. How COVID-19 could change mining for the better The mining industry was deemed an essential service by the Government, which has enabled it to continue to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this hasn’t been without its challenges. New processes and procedures were required to address safety and social distancing and issues of supply and worker mobility have impacted how the industry operates. But with adversity comes opportunity and the mining industry has thrived and realised the potential for new improvements amidst the pandemic. What is concerning mining and metals industry executives today? Recent surveys conducted in the mining and metals industry sector indicate that climate change, price volatility and the risk of a global depression are the top concerns for executives. The KMPG Mining Risk Forecast 2020/21 Report nominates climate change and price risks as top-of-mind for executives while a mid-year survey by White & Case found that the fear of a global recession was the most common concern amongst those surveyed. It’s worth noting that the KMPG survey was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the concerns raised have ongoing relevance both now and into the future. The Jurisdiction of Wardens under the Mining Act 1978 (WA) Showing 0 Comment Comments are closed.