Post-mining rehabilitation

The rehabilitation of Western Australia’s unique flora and vegetation following the closure of large-scale mines in the years ahead looms as a major environmental issue and enduring concern for the EPA.

With WA boasting a vast array of biodiverse flora and vegetation, rehabilitation requires considerable planning, effort and expense. For the past four years, the EPA has raised rehabilitation as a key issue in its Annual Reports, emphasizing that “whole of life” rehabilitation planning is integral in providing better ecological and financial outcomes. With an estimated 76% of proposals assessed in the Pilbara stipulating rehabilitation conditions as a basic obligation of mine closure, proper planning is needed to ensure these projects are able to meet the conditions of approval.

However, recreating suitable conditions for species that have evolved to cope with a wide variety of specialised conditions and skeletal soils is a challenge.  Adding to the complexity of this task is the consideration that the variety of soils and climates throughout our vast State may mean that successful rehabilitation techniques in one region may not be applicable in another region.

The EPA will continue to encourage and recommend conditions for progressive rehabilitation to increase regulator and operator confidence and reduce rehabilitation liability over the life of an operation, however information sharing and collaboration across industry to assist in furthering rehabilitation knowledge is also essential.

The EPA remains concerned that boards of companies may be paying insufficient attention to the potentially substantial financial liability being accrued due to the lack of investment in research, risk and options analysis and commitment to long-term rehabilitation planning. In addition, the lack of long-term research partnering and collaboration across industry affects the sharing of successes and failures and knowledge development.

This is a key focus for the EPA as we head into 2017. Contemporising rehabilitation guidance to provide more information to proponents and industry on the EPA’s expectations for the rehabilitation of flora and vegetation is also a priority.

Despite our concerns, there are a number of positive information-sharing and knowledge-generating initiatives which have been developed and supported by industry, academia and government, including:

  • The Pilbara Restoration Initiative - an industry-led group that fosters information sharing for mining operations in the region.
  • The Restoration Seedbank Initiative – a partnership between the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, University of Western Australia and BHP Billiton Iron Ore, which has produced the Pilbara Seed Atlas and Field Guide, a book on the seeds of the arid North-West.
  • The Western Australian Biodiversity Science Initiative’s Restoration and Ex-Situ Conservation node - works closely with government, community and industry land managers to develop strategies and tools to help restore ecosystems. The node will also ensure investments in scientific research deliver the knowledge required by end-users to help manage WA’s biodiversity.

The EPA is reassured by these initiatives and encourages new ideas and collaborations to ensure rehabilitation following the closure of large-scale mines in the future is successful.