What we learned from Abandoned mines in Queensland: Toxic Time Bomb or Employment Opportunity?
There are, as we speak, a gr...
What we learned from Lock the Gate Alliance's ABANDONED MINES IN QUEENSLAND: Toxic Time Bomb or Employment Opportunity?
There are, as we speak, a grand total of 15,300 abandoned mines in the state of Queensland Australia. Out of those mines, 317 fall under the classification of giant, very large, or simply large and unfortunately present quite the environmental and human health impact to locals.
What’s worrying for some is that that number continues to grow.
So, what are we doing about it?
That’s quite the cost….
It is said that to rehabilitate all of those abandoned mines ranges between $1billion and $10 billion plus, looking at current rehabilitation costs around the world. But fear not, despite the rocketing costs the State Government has been allocating $6 million per year to abandoned mines and has announced that there will be an additional $40 million over the next five years.
As you can see though, the numbers don’t really add up and its someway off that $10billion.
That’s quite a job on your hands…
Estimates have revealed that should a “rolling site rehabilitation program” be put in place, up to 6,000 direct and indirect jobs could be created in Queensland.
The program would focus on remediating a cohort of 30 high risk abandoned mine sites at any one time continuously over 25 years.
If there is ever any reason to invest in something, creating work and jobs which will in turn boost the economy and community is a pretty good one if you ask me.
Sometimes creating a new world means tearing down the old one….
The current legislative program in place, which oversees and assess the abandoned mine sites to reduce public health and safety risks, is the Abandoned Mine Lands Program (AMLP). This is administered by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines.
The major concerns that the report highlights are the failure to address the long-term environmental impacts from abandoned mines, with acid mine drainage, radioactive leakage, heavy metal contamination or salinity.
The other flaw in the AMLP is a common one, serious underfunding which means that it is focused mainly on managing public health and safety risks at only a limited number of sites. In actual fact, the Queensland Government has not taken any systematic reviews of the risks and costs associated with the mines.
Despite the pledge of additional funding this does pose the question, does the abandoned mine problem figure at all in the governmental plans?
A question that needs to be answered…
Rehabilitating abandoned mines is not solely the responsibility of the Government. The mining industry, and Australia has a rich and strong mining industry, has avoided the question of abandoned mines.
The report states that their (abandoned mines) presence undermines public confidence in the ability of the industry to manage its environmental impacts in the long-term, its social licence and ultimately its access to land the industry has repeatedly failed to demonstrate any consistent leadership in regards to abandoned mines, the associated legacies and the impact on the industry’s reputation.”
Issues of abandonment….
Over the last two years, the Texas silver mine, the Collingwood tin mine and the Mount Chalmers gold mines have all been added to the ever-growing list of abandoned mines.
The report has identified four recommendations to address abandoned mines:
- Establish an independent lead agency: Clarification with regards to Governmental legal jurisdiction over abandoned mines in Queensland. Successful rehabilitation can be achieved through a new independent authority which will oversee the program. This should be advices by independent industry professionals.
- Funding and Resources: Funding for the program should come from either a modest mining industry levy or from the interest on a new cash bond system designed to replace the current ineffective mine rehabilitation financial assurance system.
- Regulatory structure: New legislation would need to be passed to create a new statutory authority, operational parameters, governance and funding mechanism, which would replace the current AMLP.
- New operational policy: A risk based policy reflecting the world’s best practice mine site rehabilitation would be set. This would bring a new set of “first order principles” which would guide investment and be the framework for closure plans. These principles would include:
- rehabilitate mined land to a condition capable of supporting the uses prior to mining, or to “higher or better” uses;
- restore the approximate original contour of the land by backfilling, grading, and compacting
- minimize disturbances to ground and surface water systems by preventing acid mine drainage and ensuring the effective management of salts, toxic substances and sediments so that no creeks, rivers or other water bodies are impacted from mining based on pre-mining baselines and establish a permanent vegetative cover in the affected area commensurate with its use prior to mining
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British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.