NEW SOUTH WALES
In July, Shenhua Australia welcomed Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s approval of the $1 billion Watermark Project, subject to stringent controls under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999.
The $1.2 billion Shenhua Watermark coal mine won federal government approval despite claims by the peak NSW farm group that the open-cut project would blow “a 35-square-kilometre hole” in some of Australia’s most productive farmland.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he approved the project with “18 of the strictest conditions in Australian history which fully incorporate all advice” from an independent scientific committee.
The mine, to be located 25 kilometres south-east of the northern NSW town of Gunnedah, is owned by China’s state-controlled Shenhua Group and is expected to produce as much as 268 million tonnes of coal during its 30-year life.
The company’s chairman Liu Xiang said the approval was the culmination of more than five years of unprecedented scientific scrutiny during the New South Wales and Commonwealth Government assessment processes.
Glencore confirmed in July that production at its New South Wales West Wallsend underground coal mine was halted due to “geological issues experienced on the current longwall operation last week”.
A spokesperson for the mining company said they are investigating a number of options to resume operations as quickly as possible.
“However, it is expected that production could be affected for some time,” the spokesperson said.
Glencore announced in May that mining at West Wallsend would be completed next year, consistent with the life-of-mine planning.
The NSW Government released a proposed amendment to the Mining State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) in July, which would remove a provision making the significance of the resource the principle consideration under the Mining SEPP when determining mining projects.
Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the draft amendment reflects the legislative requirement for decision makers to consider the likely environmental, social and economic impacts of a mining development.
“The protection of the environment and the promotion of the social and economic welfare of the community have always been objects of planning legislation,” Mr Stokes said.
“The careful deliberation of environmental, economic and social issues is fundamental to good planning.
“This proposed amendment reflects the importance of balance in assessing the likely impacts of mining developments.”
The amendment has caused some outrage in the mining industry, while giving hope to campaigners fighting contentious projects, such as a controversial Rio Tinto coal mine expansion in the Hunter Valley.
The Mount Thorley Warkworth mine expansion, proposed near the village of Bulga, could also be affected by the change.
A complete review of the Mining SEPP is currently underway and will be subject to public consultation later this year.
A proposal to turn the abandoned Mount Todd mine site into one of Australia’s largest gold operations was up in the air in April.
The site, near Katherine in the Northern Territory, stopped operating at the turn of the century after it went into voluntary administration.
In 2006, Canadian company Vista Gold purchased the site, which is estimated at holding about $15 billion worth of gold, and made it operational, spending $90 million on it, but the company is yet to win environmental approval.
After a toxic water leak in 2013, Vista Gold was criticised by the NT Environment Protection Authority for poor water management.
Challenges that the company face in order to their goal achieved are not limited to obtaining permits – they also have to pump gigalitres of water from the abandoned mining pit, which can only be done during the wet season, which can be temperamental.
Vista Gold general manager Brent Murdoch told the ABC that 2015 is the first year they’ve been able to reduce water inventory on the site.
“We’ve had a number of controlled releases this year,” he said.
“We’ve been able to release 1.3GL. The wet season hasn’t quite delivered for us.”
Mr Murdoch said the company also needed the gold price to rise before the company would go into production.
“Getting the water out of the Batman mine is one of the tasks but really we need the gold market to change and be a bit higher before we go into production,” he said.
With the approval of the NLC, the permits were granted to Imperial Oil and Gas and Exploration, Minerals Australia and Jacaranda Minerals for leases in the McArthur Basin.
Northern Territory Director of the APPEA Steven Gerhardy welcomed the historic agreement saying it could lead to significant benefits for local communities.
“This is a very positive development for an industry that has the potential to deliver much-needed jobs, investment and infrastructure in remote and regional communities throughout the Northern Territory,” Mr Gerhardy said.
“Imperial Oil and Gas, for example, has already been working with government agencies and a Darwin-based Indigenous training organisation to provide accredited on-site training programs for people living in remote Indigenous communities.
“Benefits like these will only be realised if companies have access to land to carry out the exploration needed to develop new projects.”
Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles said he hoped granting the permits would one day result in increased job opportunities in the region.
“The resources industry is one key to that process and the granting of these permits is an important step in creating private sector employment opportunities,” Mr Giles said.
According to the NT government, the three exploration companies plan to invest $28m in geophysical studies and test drilling to assess the viability of commercial oil and gas extraction.
A disused gold mine in northern Queensland is set to be converted into Australia’s third largest hydroelectric power plant.
In an Australian first, the old Kidston gold mine, 270km north-west of Townsville, will undergo a dramatic change of use and become the third-largest hydroelectric energy storage project in
Australia, once operational.
The innovative plan is being developed by Genex Energy who bought the old mine from Barrick Gold last year.
Genex Managing Director Michael Addison said the proposed power project was a big win for Queensland.
“This hydroelectric plant will create much needed peaking power for the state, up to 200 construction jobs in north Queensland, and a new use for an idle mine with existing infrastructure which can be reused,” Mr Addison said.
Etheridge Shire Mayor Will Attwood said the project was very important for the region as it would bring many jobs during both the construction and operation phase and would help support local business in the area.
“We believe the approval process will be straightforward and we are working with Genex to assist them in their application to ensure that the next phase of their project can proceed efficiently,” he said.
Hydro power is an innovative, clean energy generation alternative that offers a large-scale, low cost solution to Queensland’s looming peaking power problems.
The Kidston site has the ideal characteristics for a hydro generation plant, as Pumped Storage Hydro Power needs two large water reservoirs in close proximity and with a significant water height differential.
“The mine site has two deep pits side by side and is already connected to the electricity grid through an existing transmission line,” Mr Addison said.
The project is unique, as there has never been an old mine converted into a power plant in Australia before.
Genex Power listed on the ASX in July with the feasibility study for its flagship Queensland Hydro Electricity Project underway.
Indian coal mining company Adani temporarily stopped engineering work on its proposed $16.5bn Carmichael coal mine.
In July, four major engineering contractors were requested by Adani to halt work on projects that are around the Carmichael mine in central Queensland.
“For the past six to 12 months, Adani has maintained a level of investment, jobs and subcontractor engagement for its mine, rail and port projects in anticipation of finalising approvals and decisions. The project budget was based, understandably, on these anticipated approvals timelines and milestones,” a statement from the company said.
“As a result of changes to a range of approvals over that time, it’s necessary to synchronise our budget, project timelines and spending to meet those changes.”
Following media reports, Adani spokeswoman Kate Haddan was quoted by Reuters as saying: “This is only temporary.” Adding that the company looks to start mining in 2017.
The projects also include a joint venture rail line as well as the expansion of Abbot Point port.
According to sources, Adani suspended the work by WorleyParsons and Aecon, Aurecon and SMEC.
The company is said to be facing legal challenges from indigenous landholders, as well as conservation groups regarding the project due to its potential impact upon the Great Barrier Reef, groundwater at its site in addition to its carbon emissions.
In March, environmental group Coast and Country objected to the company’s project and claimed that it would endanger biodiversity in the region.
Queensland’s newly elected Labor party indicated in March they will ban uranium mining in the state, causing consternation in the resources sector.
The ban comes just three years after the decades-long prohibition was overturned by the Newman Government.
The news will disappoint several companies in the north west who have invested large sums of money in uranium exploration and feasibility studies over the past three years.
Those companies will still be permitted to conduct mineral exploration, however any development applications would be rejected under Minister Lynham’s reported new policy.
Head of the Queensland Resources Council Michael Roche said the decision comes as a blow to the state’s struggling mining sector.
“Before rushing to a decision, we would ask the government to consult the QRC and companies with uranium interests on its intentions concerning uranium,” Mr Roche said.
“Rather than a blanket ban, the better option would be to judge each project on its merits and against the regulatory framework for uranium.”
Mr Roche said the ban would particularly affect future job growth in the north west of the state.
Uranium mining was banned in Queensland in the late 1980s with the closure of the controversial Mary Kathleen mine near Cloncurry. The ban was then overturned in 2012 by the newly elected Newman Government.
GDF Suez refused to pay the $18 million bill for fire fighting efforts to extinguish a fire that burned for 45 days at their Hazelwood mine in Victoria, blanketing nearby towns in smokes and ash for weeks in 2014.
A spokesperson from GDF Suez said it was a surprise to receive the invoice from the Country Fire Authority (CFA) because they understood the cost of the service was covered by the millions of dollars the company had paid in its fire service levy over many years.
“We believe the fire services levy – which is in effect an insurance policy – is designed specifically to cover fire suppression activities, whether they be large or small,” GDF Suez said in a statement.
Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett has called on them to rethink their opposition to paying the bill, considering the size of the emergency response effort that went into fighting the mine fire.
“More than 7000 firefighters worked tirelessly over 45 days under extremely challenging conditions to battle the mine fire,” Ms Garrett said.
An official inquiry into the mine fire, chaired by Bernard Teague, was reopened in May and is expected to report on health related effects by December.
A 20-year-old man was charged last week with arson and recklessly causing a bushfire over the blaze in the Latrobe Valley that spread to the Hazelwood mine.
The decision to ban fracking in Tasmania for at least another five years in March could adversely affect the state’s ability to attract investment in resources projects, according to the Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council.
Chief Executive Officer of the Council, Wayne Bould said while he accepts the State Government’s decision, he held reservations as to what it could mean for the state’s future economic prospects.
“New companies attracted to the State would add value by paying royalties to the Government, employing workers and contractors to do the work, and purchase goods and services from local suppliers – all of this has a positive economic flow on into the local economy as the money circulates,” Mr Bould said.
Last week Tasmanian Primary Industries Minister Jeremy Rockliff announced the five year ban after his department received 155 submissions in relation to the issue.
On making the announcement the Minister said the ban extension would, “…protect Tasmania’s reputation for producing fresh, premium and safe produce”.
However Mr Bould said the Minister was failing to take a number of aspects into consideration.
“I appreciate and fully endorse the clean, green image the state needs to present to the world, but the type of fracking which is being proposed in Tasmania isn’t coal seam gas fracking, and involves a different approach in order to extract a different range of products from petrochemicals to chemicals to rare earth products,” he said.
“There is some pretty empirical science to suggest that any incumbent risk is minimal, and if appropriate risk mitigation controls and operating standards are applied and enforced the likelihood of a failure is very very unlikely.
“It is only fair and reasonable to remember that there are currently risks and potential impacts from all human activities including agriculture, mining and urbanisation.
“And the potential for impacts from these industries, including the extraction of shale gas, can be minimised through adequate regulatory controls and the supervision and use of best practice environmental and safety standards.”
One of the biggest planned mines in Tasmania was granted a mining lease in June.
Resources minister Paul Harriss announced he had issued the lease to Forward Mining for its proposed iron ore mine at Rogetta, south of Hampshire.
Mr Harriss said the project had the potential to create hundreds of jobs, and boost the economy.
“As with all mining projects, the mining lease is just one part of the approval process and all proposals must comply with the relevant legislation and regulations before mining can commence,” he said.
“It’s hoped Forward Mining can start construction next year with operations commencing in early 2017.
“Up to 200 direct jobs are expected to be created during construction and 100 through the life of the project and we know that, with the mining multiplier effect, this could lead to even more indirect jobs in the local economy.
“The mine is expected to produce one million tonnes per annum over the life of the mine with the ore being trucked to the Burnie Port for export.”
Mr Harriss said the project would increase Tasmania’s net commodity export volume of iron ore from about 2.8 million tonne to 3.8 million tonne.
“This is a vote of confidence in Tasmania’s mining industry and shows that mining companies continue to want to invest in our state,” he said.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced in July $20.9 million support for a 10.6 MW solar PV installation with storage at the DeGrussa Copper Mine in Western Australia.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the $40 million project is set to bolster the mining industry’s confidence in renewable energy.
“Once completed, this will be one of the world’s largest integrated solar installations providing peak power load to a mining operation,” Mr Frischknecht said.
“Single axis tracking and storage are planned to allow more renewables to be used. Solar will provide the majority of Sandfire’s daytime electricity requirements, offsetting approximately five million litres of diesel per annum, which is more than 20 per cent of total diesel consumption.”
Solar engineering company juwi will construct and operate the project, which is owned by global renewable energy firm Neoen.
Mr Frischknecht said the project joins a small but growing number of renewable powered mines globally and would be a world leading example that drives further advancements.
“Remote industries in Australia currently rely on 1.2 GW of power from diesel fuel that is prone to price volatility and supply interruptions,” Mr Frischknecht said.
“Renewables are already competitive with fossil fuels in many off-grid applications, offering a strong, secure and reliable alternative to trucked-in diesel.”
A Code of Practice was recommended to address issues surrounding mental health and FIFO work arrangements.
The Education and Health Standing Committee handed down its report – The impact of FIFO work practices on mental health – in June after 10 months investigating the factors that lead to suicide among FIFO workers.
The parliamentary inquiry was launched after nine FIFO workers took their lives in a 12-month period, and has been handed down in the same week a Pilbara FIFO worker committed suicide.
Chairman Dr Graham Jacobs said in the report that the “typical” FIFO worker come form the highest risk demographic (male 18-44) for mental illness and suicide.
“FIFO takes suck an individual regularly away from home, puts him in isolation from his family and other social supports, subjects him to fatigue and then controls his life within the camp environment,” he wrote in the report.
“Understandably, this can have a significant impact on his emotional health and wellbeing.
“Due to the high risk demographic profile and the higher incidence of mental distress amongst the FIFO group, the Committee has recommended the development of a Code of Practice to address FIFO work arrangements and their impact on workers’ mental health.
“This Code of Practice should provide guidance of best practice to promote improved mental and emotional health and wellbeing amongst the workforce.”
Dr Jacobs said the current legislation “lacks a clearly defined responsibility for workers’ health and safety once they are off-shift and residing in the accommodation facility”.
The inquiry, which received 130 formal submissions, lead to 30 key recommendations.
The death of a 46-year-old worker at Aditya Birla Minerals underground copper mine, near Port Hedland on May 11, marked the beginning of a horror week in the resources industry.
The Department of Mines and Petroleum released a Significant Incident Report regarding the death of the bogger, which revealed the operator was killed when he was struck by a rock weighing about 700kg that rolled from an open stope.
Four days later on May 15, 28-year-old Josh Martin was killed at Newcrest Telfer mine while operating an EWP basket during charging operations at the mine, located just 70km from Nifty.
The man, named as Josh Martin, was killed while operating an EWP basket during charging operations at the mine, located just 70km from Nifty.
A third death occurred on May 17, when a 36-year-old man was trapped by a hydraulic arm at the Sun Metals zinc refinery in Queensland.
The deaths caught the attention of the parliament and companies were strongly advised not to be complacent on issues related to safety.
The South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy (SACOME) announced nominations for the inaugural South Australian Women in Resources State Awards were open in April.
The awards will recognise the important role women play in the resources sector through five key categories; including Exceptional woman, Gender Diversity Champion, Excellence in Diversity Programs and Performance , Outstanding South Australian tradeswomen, operator or technician and Exceptional young woman in South Australian resources.
As part of SACOME’s gender diversity strategy to increase the participation of women in the exploration, mineral, petroleum and energy sectors and associated service industries, these state-based awards are designed to recognise individuals and organisations playing a lead role in the advancement of women in the resources sector.
Chief executive Jason Kuchel said the the awards help to further women’s role in the sector by recognising a cohort of ambassadors, mentors and role models who are instrumental in encouraging and promoting, attracting and retaining women in the sector.
Nominations for the awards closed on May 29, with winners announced at SACOME’s Corporate Lunch Series event on July 31.
BHP Billiton announced in June they will axe 140 jobs from their Olympic Dam operation, with the majority of those roles coming from its Adelaide office.
A spokesperson said redeployment opportunities may be taken up by some employees, which will reduce the total impact.
“Our goal is to become a safe, high-performance organisation with a culture of respect, simplicity and collaboration,” the spokesperson said.
“All areas of the operation, including labour productivity, are being examined and we expect there will be some workforce reductions.
“When these are known, we will communicate with our employees who are affected quickly and respectfully.”
The spokesperson told ABC the affected employees were being consulted about proposed redundancies.
The job losses are in addition to the 90 positions cute by BHP Billiton in February.