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QLD mine rehab law loophole lets coal company leave big holes on Nogoa floodplain

The Palaszczuk Government’s new mine rehabilitation policy has failed its first test after multinational company Idemitsu was able to successfully apply to leave damaging pit voids on the Nogoa River floodplain at its Ensham coal mine near Emerald.

Lock the Gate Alliance and local graziers previously warned some companies like Idemitsu would seek to exploit a timing loophole in the legislation, introduced in 2018.

The legislation specified mining companies would be banned from leaving behind final voids on floodplains, but by amending its environmental authority (EA) before the November 1 deadline last year, Idemitsu will be able to leave the voids and has likely dodged paying hundreds of millions in rehabilitation costs.

That environmental cost will now be passed on to Queensland taxpayers and the surrounding community.

After the department confirmed Idemitsu’s application was successful late last month (documents avaliable on request), there are now fears a second coal mining project planned for south of Baralaba that has attempted to exploit this same loophole will be given similar concessions.

Paul Stephenson, whose family has farmed in the Baralaba region for several generations, said the Palaszczuk Government should never have considered allowing the Baralaba South project to apply to dig up prime agricultural land, let alone grant it rehabilitation concessions.

“Locals don’t want this mine at all because it will destroy prime agricultural land and threaten precious water resources,” he said.

“The Palaszczuk Government shouldn’t even allow this destructive project to proceed, let alone with concessions that could lead to it leaving open, unrehabilitated pit voids on the floodplain.

“We also renew our calls for Baralaba South owner Liberty Mutual to scrap this terrible coal mine plan, after the company used its own climate change policies to back out of involvement with the Adani Carmichael project.”

Lock the Gate Alliance rehabilitation spokesperson Rick Humphries said Queensland taxpayers would pay the price for the concessions the Palaszczuk Government gave to multinational mining companies.

“Making mining companies rehabilitate mine sites is also not just about saving taxpayer money - it’s also about creating jobs by requiring miners to spend what is required to repair the damage,” Mr Humphries said.

Previous analysis suggested that better enforcement of mine rehabilitation regulations could create more than 4,000 jobs in Central and North Queensland.

“The only saving grace is that the Palaszczuk Government has created the role of a mining rehabilitation commissioner, which will hopefully mean in the future, companies won’t be able to get away with leaving toxic pit voids on flood plains.”

A previous environmental disaster at the Ensham mine involving voids on the floodplain influenced the Palaszczuk Government’s rehabilitation laws being created in the first place -  in 2008 Ensham was inundated with floodwaters from the nearby Nogoa River, which filled two of its six coal pits with more than 100,000 ML of water. 

The floods shut down the industry for months and the mining company was forced to pump the coal-laden water into the Fitzroy catchment, which flows to the ocean and the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

Among the concessions given to Ensham as part of its amended Environmental Authority include:

  • Five pit voids will impact the flood plain

  • There will be permanent levees on the floodplain

  • Only  7 of the 12 pits will be fully back-filled

  • At pit lake equilibrium (decades away) there will be around 200ha of pit lakes

  • Accumulation of salts and contaminants in pit lakes will be permitted

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