Information released to the Lock the Gate Alliance reveals a gaping flaw in Queensland's environmental legislation that is allowing mining companies in the state to avoid having to do the progressive rehabilitation of their sites, as required by law.
A government study of the ten coal mines owned by BHP showed that, of the 51,000 hectares disturbed at these sites, rehabilitation had commenced on only 4,800 hectares. This represents less than 10 per cent of land disturbed by mining.
BHP is Australia's largest coal producer and operates such Queensland coal mines as Goonyella Riverside, Broadmeadow, Daunia, Peak Downs, Saraji, Blackwater and Caval Ridge
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson, Drew Hutton, said these figures show BHP is in breach of the environmental authorities for its coal mines which usually stipulate that rehabilitation occur on land that becomes available within two or three years.
However regulators are reluctant to prosecute companies like BHP because of the ambiguity surrounding the word "available".
The financial assurances lodged by BHP for its ten mines come to $1.2bn although this is after the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection estimated the liability at $1.7bn. The short-fall of $0.5bn is the result of discounts given to the company.
"It is disgraceful that BHP, one of the largest companies in the world, can show such appalling disregard for its responsibilities to rehabilitate mine sites” Mr Hutton said.
“BHP is ripping billions of dollars of profit out from Queensland and leaving behind a blighted mess that Queenslanders will have to live with forever.
"These government documents show that BHP has rehabilitated less than 10% of the areas it has disturbed by mining, despite getting a special discount on the assurances it must hold.
“It’s clear that the rules controlling mine rehabilitation are failing dramatically and the world’s biggest miners are spectacularly rorting the system.
“Queensland’s management of mine rehabilitation needs root and branch reform, and it needs it now.
"The alternative is that this scandal continues to be swept under the carpet for future governments and taxpayers to address" he said.
In the period 2016-17 the amount of disturbance is forecast to be 2,500 hectares for all ten BHP sites with only 110 hectares "available" for rehabilitation. This means BHP regards this 100ha as the only area free from mining operations that could be rehabilitated out of the 51,000 ha they have already disturbed.
In other words, BHP will consider doing rehabilitation on only 0.2 per cent of the area requiring this work during the next couple of years.