THE coal industry knows it has to lift its game on rehabilitation, although good progress was being made, an internationally attended conference on the subject in Newcastle heard this week.
The eighth annual “best practice ecological rehabilitation of mined lands” conference, hosted by the Tom Farrell Institute, was held at Wests New Lambton on Thursday, with inspection tours of the Westside and Donaldson mines taking place the day before.
Institute director Tim Roberts said about 270 people attended the conference, meaning it had doubled its size in attendance over the years. Dr Roberts said the conference delegates were a mixture of rehabilitation specialists, mining company representatives, students and community representatives.
“Mining in the Hunter is vast and will continue long past my lifetime with new leases opening up,” Dr Roberts said.
“It is imperative that we plan for remediation of those lands before mining is begun.”
Dr Roberts, who writes a column each Monday for the Newcastle Herald, said that although the coal industry was widely criticised over its environmental record, the rehabilitation projects on display at the conference showed that progress was being made. The conference heard 12 presentations from 13 presenters, with another 29 shorter “poster” presentations.
As the Herald recently reported, a NSW government discussion paper on mine rehabilitation has been roundly criticised in submissions by the coal industry and environmentalists alike, and two Department of Planning and Environment representatives addressed the conference on the process.
Resources policy director Stephen Barry acknowledged the criticism in his presentation, and said it was understandable that the community was concerned about the “final voids” that are part of the closure plans for many NSW open cuts. He confirmed the limits of the new policy, saying it could “only apply to new mining approvals”.
Spanish presenter Jose F. Martin Duque of the University of Madrid talked about “geo-morphic mine rehabilitation”, which he described as embedding “natural” drainage channels into rehabilitated mine sites as a way of minimising erosion and restoring a practical hydrology to land after mining.
Associate Professor Duque said successful rehabilitation landforms imitated nature, using as many as 25 kilometres of branched “fluvial channels” in a 500-hectare site. He said a trial at Mangoola, 20 kilometres west of Muswellbrook, was in its “very early stages”.
BHP’s Stephen White said a similar process had been used at Mount Arthur.