EDO Qld is acting for Lock the Gate Alliance Ltd (LTG) in the Supreme Court to obtain reasons for the Queensland Government’s decision on the amount of financial assurance required for the Blair Athol mine in central Queensland. LTG is concerned the amount required of junior miner Orion Mining is not enough to safeguard against rehabilitation needs on the site left by former operators Rio Tinto.
In early November 2017, EDO Qld filed a court application on behalf of LTG to compel the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to provide a statement of reasons for deciding the amount of financial assurance under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 for the Blair Athol mine.
LTG had made several requests for formal reasons for the decision from the Department. However, they were continually rejected on the basis that LTG’s interests in the decision were inadequate to have standing to be a ‘person aggrieved’.
LTG is seeking transparency in how the Government calculated the amount of financial assurance in light of significant rehabilitation required at the mine site.
Note: This case is in addition to a separate action by Lock the Gate to also obtain reasons for the Queensland Mines Minister’s decision to give indicative approval for transfer of the Blair Athol mining lease under the Mineral Resources Act 1989.
On 22 February 2018, the Supreme Court refused Lock the Gate’s applications to obtain statements of reasons for both Queensland Government decisions relating to transfer of Blair Athol mine.
Justice Bowskill QC essentially found that, despite being involved in numerous activities relating to the mine and rehabilitation law reform, LTG did not have the required interest in either decision that was beyond that of an ordinary member of the public. As such, LTG did not have ‘standing’ to request the reasons.
The Court’s decisions (here and here) are disappointing as it means there is reduced transparency around the Government’s consideration and approval of allowing a small company to take on a mine with existing large rehabilitation requirements.
EDO is assisting LTG in closely reviewing the Court’s reasoning.
After some 30 years, the Blair Athol thermal coal mine, located in Central QLD, was mothballed by a Rio Tinto joint venture in 2012. Significant rehabilitation issues remained on site. In mid-2016 Rio sold the mine for $1 to junior miner Orion Mining Pty Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of TerraCom Ltd. By selling the mine, Rio Tinto shifted its responsibility to rehabilitate the mine to Orion, which may not have sufficient resources to meet rehabilitation requirements – this is despite Rio giving Orion $79.6 million as part of the sale transfer.
Before carrying out operations, often environmental authority holders must lodge financial assurance with government as security for any rehabilitation requirements that otherwise would not be met.
In 2014, a Queensland Audit Office (QAO) report confirmed the general inadequacy of rehabilitation undertaken by mining companies in Queensland to date, and the inadequate regulation of rehabilitation obligations by the Government. QAO has estimated that the State has some estimated 15,000 abandoned mines that could cost up to $1 billion if they all were to be rehabilitated.