Mine rehab issue fires up

Pressure is mounting on the state’s major political parties to make the rehabilitation of Latrobe Valley’s ageing mine network a key issue in their election campaigns.

The increasing calls for an accelerated mine rehabilitation program come as new employment projection figures, released in a report today by Environment Victoria, claims a ramp-up of the earthwork intensive projects could create 439 additional ongoing jobs for at least 20 years.

The ‘mid-range’ scenario, which estimates the complete rehabilitation cost of the Hazelwood, Loy Yang and Yallourn mines to be $421 million, has also put the regional economic impact of $1.21 billion over the same period.

“Exact rehabilitation requirements can vary vastly from site to site, but this analysis confirms that rehabilitation of the Latrobe Valley mines is likely to create significant employment in the local area,” the ‘Preventing the preventable’ report states.

Latrobe Valley mine operators are required to ‘rehabilitate’ disused sections of mine through major excavation works involving the capping of spent coal batters with suitable earth material in accordance with schedules set out within State Government approved ‘work plans’.

Meanwhile the report, penned by EV safe climate campaign manager Dr Nicholas Aberle, has hailed mine rehabilitation as the only surefire coal fire prevention tool, despite being snubbed as a realistic measure by the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry for being “too complex”.

EV’s report has also included low-cost ($243 million) and high cost ($600 million) rehabilitation scenarios, with corresponding job creation estimates at 254 and 626 per annum.

“As part of supporting a just transition for workers in the Latrobe Valley, as many as possible of these jobs should be reserved for local residents, rather than contractors from elsewhere,” Dr Aberle said.

The report draws on data from the United States department of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which put the national 2010 cost of abandoned mine rehabilitation at $411 million (AUD) and created more than 8500 jobs.

This data was then extrapolated to rehabilitation evidence given by representatives of GDF SUEZ Australian Energy at the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry and rehabilitation cost estimates used by the Queensland Government.

However, the report’s findings have been dismissed as “flawed” by Energy and Resources Minister Russell Northe.

“Environment Victoria’s report is lacking in detail on what is possible for advanced rehabilitation and how this can technically be achieved,” Mr Northe said.

“Rehabilitation needs to meet the requirements of mine stability and water management over time to ensure stability at closure. Detailed geotechnical and engineering design work will be required before determining the practical extent of such works and to ensure mine stability is not compromised.”

Meanwhile, shadow spokesperson for Energy and Resources Lily D’Ambrosio said if elected in November, Labor would need to assess mine rehabilitation priorities.

“This report raises some interesting options and Labor will look carefully at how to tackle this problem now, and into a first term of an Andrews Labor Government,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

The report’s release comes after Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union mining and energy district president Luke van der Meulen said an accelerated rehabilitation program would open the “job creation floodgates” in the Latrobe Valley.

However Mr van der Meulen, who had seen a copy of EV’s rehabilitation job projections yesterday, said he believed EV’s mid-range job creation figure of 439 ongoing jobs per year as a bit “light on”.

Mr van der Meulen spoke to The Express after attending a geological conference at Federation University on Tuesday, where he said there was consensus among experts that “not enough was known about rehabilitation”.

“Everyone who is involved in mining was there, and it was clearly pointed out with mining stability such a complex issue, rehabilitation was not well understood and the true costs were not known,” Mr van der Meulen said.

“But that figure on what it’s going to cost shouldn’t be a mystery; it is vitally important that it be known.”

Despite the perceived voter unrest brought about during the Hazelwood mine fire, Mr van der Meulen said he still viewed Morwell as a non-marginal seat (held by Nationals member Russell Northe at the 2010 State Election with a 16.3 per cent margin).

He said he believed this was a strong factor in stopping rehabilitation becoming a key election issue in the Morwell electorate.

The Express has ap p roached numerous industry stakeholders for their perspectives on the job creation potential of rehabilitation, however most have declined to comment due to the topic becoming “highly politicised” and “sensitive” since the Hazelwood mine fire.

A question put to political candidates as to how they would strengthen the Latrobe Valley economy by The Express last week saw Greens candidate Dan Caffrey and independent candidate Tracie Lund flag rehabilitation as viable job creation measures.

The issue has also drawn an interest from readers, with numerous letters on the topic published in today’s edition of The Express on pages 16 and 17.

Meanwhile, EV’s report has called on both sides of government to commit to three key rehabilitation-related policies, and suggest ways a comprehensive rehabilitation program could be fully costed and funded, including an increase to rehabilitation liability bonds paid by mine operators.

However, Mr Northe said Environment Victoria had failed to understand rehabilitation was “not about lack of regulatory will or funds available”.

“The Department has commenced a review of the rehabilitation bonds. I have asked that this review rigorously examine the requirements for best practice rehabilitation and that the bond reflects these high standards,” Mr Northe said.

“I am committed to making sure the current review looks to ensure we have the best outcome for the community.

“The Department will engage with the mine operators as a matter of priority in 2015.”

In response, EV’s Dr Aberle said any commitment to raise rehabilitation bonds to meet best practice rehabilitation “would be very welcome”.

“However, he is yet to spell out how he plans to accelerate rehabilitation and deliver all the benefits that this would bring including reducing mine fire risk. As the Resources Minister this is well within his powers,” Dr Aberle said.

email: lnelson@lvexpress.com.au

Determine scale of rehabilitation task

Act to urgently accelerate rehabilitation of exposed coal faces

Guarantee Victorian taxpayers escape costs of uncompleted rehabilitation

Rehabilitation policy solution suggestions

Increase rehabilitation bond amounts to reflect actual projected cost liability

(Government bonds currently $15 million per mine, while EV predicts minimum cost across three mines $243 million)

Increase mining royalties to fund mine-specific rehabilitation fund 

(Current royalty rate set at approximately $1 per tonne. Combined annual royalty from LV mines $50-60 million per annum)

Source: ‘Preventing the preventable’ report, Environment Victoria