Wollongong Coal’s Russell Vale mine has been named as among those most at risk of failing obligations to rehabilitate the site when mining finishes.
A new report on rehabilitation by the Minerals Policy Institute says the miner’s precarious financial position sheds doubt on the mothballed mine being properly remediated.
Its research found 44 per cent of Australian mine closures were caused by economic factors, increasing the concern about cash remaining for restoration work.
The miner says it has satisfied its obligations, but the MPI report said there was not a clear rehabilitation plan published.
“Perhaps more concerning than the lack of adequate closure planning, is the fnancial state of the company,” it said. “With Russell Vale currently in care and maintenance and Wongawilli also in care and maintenance in 2015, the future of the company is questionable.”
The Minerals Policy Institute is an environment-focused think tank concentrating on the impacts of mining.
Wollongong Coal’s 2015 annual report estimated rehabilitating its Russell Vale and Wongawilli mines would cost $28 million. It said this was covered by bank guarantees to the Department of Primary Industries ($40 million to rehabilitate Wongawilli mine) and the Department of Trade and Investment ($1.9 million to rehabilitate the Russell Vale mine).
A Wollongong Coal spokesman said the company met its requirements.
“As part of the conditions of its mining leases, WCL has rehabilitation bonds in place that are accessible by the government should rehabilitation be required,” he said.
“As part of the conditions of both its mining leases and its major approvals the company has developed rehabilitation plans that have been approved by the relevant government agencies.”
Australian Conservation foundation campaigner Hannah Aulby said if the miner went bankrupt, or sold its assets, the liabilities could get lost in the sale.
“Across the board we’re finding that companies are underestimating the costs of rehabilitating propely,” she said.
Russell Vale resident Kaye Osborn is featured in the report, voicing concerns about polluted runoff into Bellambi Creek beneath the mine.
“It’s not just a matter of planning for another year… this will go for decades,” Ms Osborn said.