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Opinion: AUSTRALIA’S MINING SECTOR MUST STEP UP

Whether we like it or not, Australians rely on mining to keep up their current lifestyle – our phones, cars and even medical equipment use materials pulled from the Earth.

But with more than 50,000 abandoned historic mining sites scattered across Australia potentially posing major environmental, safety, and financial risks, the mining sector needs to step up and take care of its legacy, ATSE says.

In a new Action Statement, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) calls on the Australian Government and mining industries to make our minerals sector a world leader in managing its environmental and socio-economic impacts.

ATSE will launch the Statement, Addressing the Environmental Impacts of Australian Mining’s Past and Future, at a free panellist discussion and networking event in University of Technology Sydney on 22 November 2017.

“When you talk about any industry, there is always a range of performance,” Chair of ATSE’s Mineral Resources Forum and Alternate Futures Managing Director Ms Denise Goldsworthy FTSE says.

“One of the facts of life with the mining of commodities is that profitability of mines swings significantly from year to year, and addressing environmental impacts is often left to the good years or close to the end of life of a mine operation.”

“Better mining practices can be achieved with some of the latest technologies and innovations, but it requires a change in the way mining companies, METS companies (mining equipment, technology and services), researchers and regulators work together to fund these solutions.”

Ms Goldsworthy will chair the panel discussion at the ATSE Statement launch.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Failure to properly regulate the mining industry in the past means thousands of abandoned mine sites have never been rehabilitated and some continue to damage the environment.

One of the major environmental risks is acid mine drainage. Legacy mine sites can spill acid into the local environment, potentially infiltrating and poisoning ground and surface water.

Mining today still poses a variety of environmental risks to water quantity and quality, air quality, biodiversity, landscape stability and climate change.

And a 2014 study by CSIRO suggested the Australian public’s confidence in the mining industry is low, despite understanding the sector’s importance to society.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

ATSE outlines the way forward for the government and mining industries to follow. Broadly, they focus on three key areas:

  • Proactively address Australia’s legacy mine challenge and ensure that current and future mine operators are held accountable for mine site remediation and closure.
  • Improve environmental risk assessment and management for mining operations
  • Earn the public’s trust through transparency in management.

ACTION STATEMENT LAUNCH

ATSE and the Institute of Sustainable Futures will bring together leaders from the mineral resources industry, government and research communities for an engaging panel discussion, followed by drinks and an informal networking session at the University of Technology Sydney on 22 November.

Event and panellist details

More comments from Ms Denise Goldsworthy FTSE:

“The environmental impacts vary with mine type and location, but a common example of a problem is the formation of acid lakes within the old mining voids.”

“The trust impact is a significant factor, as the size of the legacy is regularly used by anti-mining activists as examples of why the current environmental approvals systems for mines cannot be relied upon, and they therefore argue that the only reliable alternative is no mining at all.”

“The declining trust in the industry from communities must be addressed in a way that is sustainable across the commodities pricing cycles and in a way that all companies, irrespective of size, can access economic and reliable practices.”

“Many of the innovative technologies have been developed for other industries, in particular agriculture, where there is a thriving innovation community in Australia. The mining industry and their suppliers can learn a lot from these developments.”

“The aim is therefore to increase awareness across all stakeholders that different outcomes are technically possible where there is a will to do it.”

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