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Water in mining

Understanding Australia’s new legislation

Over the past decade, Australia’s mining industry has shifted its approach to environmental concerns, showing that the country is becoming more dedicated to tackling these issues, especially when it comes to water management. These changes didn’t just happen randomly; they came in response to several environmental incidents and disputes in recent years. 

One such incident occurred in the Hunter Valley region last year. Unprecedented rainfall led to severe flooding, which, in turn, caused disruptions in mining operations. Mines in the Hunter Valley found themselves waterlogged, posing operational challenges. The main rail line connecting these mines to the crucial Newcastle port was closed for over a week due to flooding, and the Blue Mountains rail line faced delays due to a landslide. 

 

 

Legal disputes have also played a role in these developments, following ongoing disagreements between mining sites, environmental activists, and local communities.

Mining companies across Australia should take the time to understand how this new legislation will affect their operations and work on strategies to adapt to this evolving regulatory landscape. In this article, we will delve into the details of the new legislation in different regions and explore how Minetek can assist in addressing these challenges. 

 

Understanding The New Legislation 

 

Northern Territory 

 

Earlier this year, in a significant development, the Minister overseeing Environment, Climate Change, and Water Security in the Northern Territory of Australia, Lauren Moss, introduced the first ever strategic plan focused on improving water security. This comprehensive plan represents a significant step in sustainable economic growth, improving the well-being of Northern Territory inhabitants, and preserving the region’s unique environment, culture, and way of life. 

As of now, the proposed bill is still in its early stages, awaiting further review and the possibility of being passed into law. If given the green light, it will bring about significant changes in water regulation within the Northern Territory, especially concerning water extraction and licensing. The key goal is to avoid any adverse impacts on ecosystems and sacred indigenous sites. The recognition of these concerns is crucial to prevent the creation of “legacy mines” – abandoned sites that have left behind severe environmental damage.

Supporters of the bill highlight the critical importance of these reforms. They emphasise that the existing legislation has, in the past, contributed to the creation of such problematic legacy mines, causing environmental damage and requiring costly clean-up efforts. This reform is described as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to establish a more responsible standard for water management in the Northern Territory.

 

Mine site in Northern Territory, Australia.

 

Mining companies in the Northern Territory will need to prepare and adapt to comply with these new regulations. To illustrate how this can be done effectively, consider Minetek and our expertise in addressing issues related to legacy mines and remediation.

Consider the case of the Queensland Government Department of Natural Resources and Mines, responsible for the stewardship of the historically significant Mount Morgan mine. The preservation and management of water in the Mount Morgan pit posed a significant challenge, requiring a system capable of handling a specific daily water volume. Minetek stepped in to design, manufacture, and install a comprehensive three-unit water evaporation system at the disused Mount Morgan pit. The primary objective was to proactively manage water levels and minimise the risk of unplanned discharges into the Dee River, thus mitigating potential environmental impacts. 

 

Minetek's Mechanical Water Evaporators at the Mt Morgan Mine.

 

Prior to the system’s installation, a meticulous approach was taken, involving thorough weather modelling and site assessment. Minetek delivered a complete turnkey solution, including the design and supply of evaporators, transformers, pumps, pipework, electrical control centres, and cables. We also ensured the successful commissioning of the system and provided training to local maintenance teams.

The Mount Morgan system has since become an integral component of the overarching water management plan and has demonstrated its efficiency for over four years.

 

Queensland 

 

On February 26, 2019, the Queensland Parliament introduced the Natural Resources and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. This bill specifically aims to improve administrative efficiency and maintain the effectiveness and responsiveness of regulatory frameworks within the Natural Resources, Mines, and Energy portfolio. It also seeks to implement measures to improve the performance of the resources tenure management system and bolster water compliance frameworks. 

The primary focus of these amendments revolves around emergency action plans (EAPs) for dams. According to the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, it is important to conduct emergency planning for all dams that might pose a risk to life or property due to potential releases resulting from failure or dam operation. The planning process should include the following: 

  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities. 
  • Identification of the requisite resources to manage dam-related emergencies. 
  • Development of strategies for warning and evacuating individuals at risk. 
  • Establishment of procedures for conducting plan audits, testing, and review. 

 

Mine tailings pond.

 

Minetek offers a range of Water solutions that seamlessly complement existing water management strategies and facilitate compliance. One standout solution is the Land-Based Evaporator, uniquely engineered by Minetek to address a broad spectrum of water qualities with exceptional efficiency and sustainability. This innovative system leverages principles grounded in fan engineering and airflow dynamics to provide a versatile and eco-friendly approach to wastewater management. 

 

 

These solutions have proven to be highly effective. For perspective, a pair of Minetek 600/300 Evaporators, operating at an impressive 50% evaporation efficiency, can efficiently evaporate more water in a single day than the entire volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Such capabilities make Minetek’s solutions an ideal choice for assisting mining companies in achieving compliance deadlines while concurrently ensuring responsible and eco-conscious management of their water resources.

 

Western Australia 

 

Western Australia has undergone substantial legislative changes, including the introduction of the Mining Amendment Bill 2023. While the bill is currently in its second reading, its primary objective is to amend the Mining Act 1978, building upon consequential amendments featured in the Land and Public Works Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 (LPWL Bill), which was presented to Parliament on November 23, 2022. A key highlight of the Bill is the establishment of a novel non-exclusive land tenure called the diversification lease over Crown land. The introduction of diversification leases is designed to maximise the economic potential of Crown land assets and create opportunities for additional renewable projects, particularly in the field of hydrogen, within the state.  

Another significant legal development is the Aboriginal Heritage Act, which took effect in July of this year. This act was implemented to curtail excessive land use in order to mitigate cultural impacts, introducing new restrictions on activities such as building dams or evaporation ponds for extensive land utilisation. Minetek’s compact solutions serve as a mitigating alternative, negating the need for expansive footprints or large ponds. This innovative solution not only aids in meeting legal requirements but also contributes to responsible resource management and minimises environmental impact, aligning with the imperative of preserving cultural heritage. 

 

Mine site in Western Australia, Australia.

 

Minetek provides Floating/Pontoon-Based Evaporators, offering the same remarkable capabilities as their land-based counterparts. These adaptable systems are designed to float on the surface of water bodies, making them suitable for various applications, including use in mining operations for tailings ponds and water reservoirs. These systems aim to offer cost-effective solutions, ensure compliance with regulations, and promote environmentally conscious practices, contributing to sustainable resource management and environmental preservation in Western Australia and beyond. 

 

Minetek Floating Water Evaporators in action.

 

Partnering with Minetek for a Sustainable Future 

 

As Australia embraces new legislation aimed at enhancing water management, mining companies must adapt to this evolving regulatory landscape. Minetek Water, a global industrial solutions provider with a proven track record, offers expertise in environmentally sustainable water evaporator systems. By partnering with reliable solutions providers like Minetek, mining, power generation, oil & gas, and other industries can achieve safe, compliant, and profitable operations. 

 

Minetek mechanical water evaporation.

 

Minetek’s range of mechanical water evaporation and water quality management technologies presents practical solutions for reducing risk and ensuring compliance. Our expertise, tested in challenging industrial environments globally, empowers operators to focus on production and profitability. As mining companies across different regions navigate these new legislative changes, collaborating with experienced partners like Minetek is crucial to achieving safe, compliant, and profitable operations. 

 

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