Mine rehabilitation efforts ‘negligible’

The rehabilitation efforts at the Hazelwood open cut to reduce fire risk has been found negligible in an environment body’s submission to the Hazelwood Mine Inquiry.

While mine operator GDF Suez is required to carry out “progressive rehabilitation as per the rehabilitation plan” under its mining licence, Environment Victoria’s Freedom of Information request on 20 March, suggests that since 2009, “there has been no correspondence between GDF Suez and either the department or the minister relating to mine rehabilitation”.

Environment Victoria safe climate campaign manager Nicholas Aberle said its submission showed the fire was a “disaster waiting to happen” with a “complacent government” that had “fallen asleep at the wheel”.

“The government hasn’t been communicating with the operators of the mine about rehabilitation for the last five years. It’s pretty much negligent,” Dr Aberle said.

“The fact that the fire took hold in areas of the mine that had allegedly been rehabilitated suggests that any rehabilitation work that had been undertaken was not performed adequately.”

Among Environment Victoria’s key recommendations included a request the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office investigate the effectiveness of current mine rehabilitation bonds at all Victorian coal mines and assess the State Government’s potential financial liability.

The submission argued the mine’s $15 million rehabilitation bond, used in the same way a tenant pays a security bond on a rental property, was far too low to create an incentive for progressive rehabilitation.

Using the Queensland Government nominated figure of $136,000 per hectare, the report suggested a rehabilitation cost of the 3544-hectare Hazelwood mine of $483 million.

Dr Aberle said if rehabilitation bonds remained as small as they were, there was no incentive for GDF Suez to carry out progressive rehabilitation of the mine.

“If Hazelwood decided to close-up shop tomorrow, they can walk away and say to the State Government, ‘you’ve got your $15 million deposit and we’re off’,” he said.

“The rest of the $470 odd million to clean up will fall on the taxpayers, and that’s just one mine.”

In response to claims, Energy and Resources Minister Russell Northe said he welcomed all submissions to the independently-led Justice Bernard Teague inquiry to ensure a range of views and information was available to inform the final outcomes of the inquiry.

Submissions to the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry closed on 12 May. The Board is due to submit its final report and recommendations to the State Government by the end of August 2014.