x
Category
M

Mining and the environment

Mining and the environment

by Les Taylor

The history of the Northern Territory is very closely related to the history of mining. Ever since the early 1870s, with alluvial gold being found in a hole at Yam Creek when the Adelaide to Darwin telegraph was being built, the Northern Territory has had a thriving minerals industry. In the late 1800s, many Chinese prospectors mined in the district, with Europeans following shortly thereafter. Commercial mining began in 1947, when the Noble’sNob mine was taken over, after gold rushes in 1932 and 1933. The history of the Northern Territory is very closely related to the history of mining. Ever since the early 1870s, with alluvial gold being found in a hole at Yam Creek when the Adelaide to Darwin telegraph was being built, the Northern Territory has had a thriving minerals industry. In the late 1800s, many Chinese prospectors mined in the district, with Europeans following shortly thereafter. Commercial mining began in 1947, when the Noble’s Nob mine was taken over, after gold rushes in 1932 and 1933.

Later, manganese, bauxite, uranium, tin, and copper were all discovered. Oil was to be discovered in 1964, and the Amadeus pipeline was constructed in 1986. In the mid to late 1980s, goldfields and oilfields were further developed and major operations had been established at Nhulunbuy, Groote Eylandt, in the Tanami region and at Jabiru.</p><p>The industries referred to above represent the foundation blocks of the economy of the Northern Territory. According to the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries, and Mines, mining operations are responsible for over $2.5 billion in revenue and employment of nearly 5000 people. A major challenge of this department is the balancing the needs of those enterprises who are directly concerned with mining and extractive initiatives with the need to maintain the natural environment as far as possible.

The Minerals Council of the Northern Territory recognises that mineral and mining activity is a temporary usage of land and that the land needs to be preserved, both for present and future inhabitants. In particular, mineral exploration has been proved to be capable of being undertaken without undue interference with other users of the land in the region. As a consequence, it has developed a code of conduct for exploration and mining in the Northern Territory. Major industry participants such as Rio Tinto, Anglogold, and De Beers Australia, have all supported the code and its prescriptions.

Legislative Background

At both Northern Territory level and at the Commonwealth level, a number of prescriptive Acts of Parliament govern exploration and mining activities in the Northern Territory. A great measure of this legislation is directed towards safety and environmental concerns. The Parliament of the Northern Territory has enacted the Mining Act, Mining Management Act, Environmental Assessment Act, the Water Act, and the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act. At the federal level, relevant legislation includes the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act Planning Phase.

It is essential that those proposing mining initiatives be in contact with landowners well in advance of execution of mining leases. A full proposal, detailing what is to be mined and how the resulting environmental impact is to be managed needs to be struck before any work begins on the lease.

Indeed, relevant regulatory authorities need to be briefed regarding any potential impacts on archaeological sites on the Territory Heritage register. The duty of care, at law, requires that mining firms have proactive plans in place so that reasonable care and skill is exercised so as to avoid injuring either employees engaged in extractive activities or the environment itself. These principles are also captured in ISO 14001. If there is to be substantial disturbance to the existing landscape, the proposal needs to detail how the disturbance will be rectified. All plans require the approval of the Department of Business, Industry, and Resource Development’s mining division prior to any exploration taking place. Such a plan must encapsulate the following details Identity of the operator.

Nature of proposed activities

  • Location to be explored
  • Hazards that might be expected
  • Any possible emergencies
  • Remediation work anticipated
  • Any contractors and subcontractors need to be included in this planning process

Exploration and Mining

It is essential that there be good relations between mineral explorers and landowners. Mineral explorers, who are often multinational corporations or connected to multinational corporations, are expected to ensure landowners are properly informed as to the location of the works, details of vehicles and equipment involved, and rights of the landowners. The former CEO of BHP Billition, Chip Goodyear, once opined that a true test of corporate social responsibility can be whether those in the locality in which the business operates value the entity’s presence in such locality.

Environmental Protection

Effective environmental management aims to reduce the negative impact of mining operations at all stages of the operation. Strategies often used include:

  • The replacement of topsoil as near to its original profile and contour
  • Removal of noxious weeds
  • Using existing roads and tracks rather than new ones
  • Discussion of the impact of certain vehicles on land
  • No indiscriminate off road driving
  • Removal of rubbish from the site
  • Effective control of chemicals employed
  • Control over slurries and mud
  • Sealing of holes excavated

Bushfire Control

This is another paramount concern. Combustible material needs to be kept in cleared areas, and appropriate firefighting equipment needs to be close at hand. All assistance to the landowner is also expected.

Conclusion

Mining is a vital activity in the context of both the Northern Territory and the Australian economy. However, in recent times, awareness of how this activity impacts the environment has become heightened. With problems having taken place in the past, large mining initiatives such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have recognised the value of maintaining cordial relations with those from whom they lease land for mineral exploration and mining.

Landowners concerns usually revolve around maintaining the landscape in a condition as closely as possible to what it was prior to the processes of mineral exploration. This in turn has given rise to the need on the part of those in the extractive industries to have regard to maintaining harmonious relationships with the landowners whose properties are leased for the purposes of mining. Rendering any cavities that have been excavated, replanting of vegetation, and only using established roads and paths for vehicular access are important components of maintaining these harmonious relationships.

Comments are closed.