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11 July | Environment

South32 to pay $2.9m for diverting drinking water to coal mine without licence for five years

Credit: Mandy Creighton via Shutterstock

Australian mining company South32 has agreed to pay $2.9m after an investigation revealed one of its coal mines had been draining drinking water to its facility for the past five years.  

A subsidiary of South32, Illawarra Coal Holdings, which was responsible for the work at the Dendrobium coal mine in Mount Kembla, conceded it did not have a licence to take any surface water through its mining activities.   

The company drained five megalitres or two Olympic swimming pools worth of water from the catchment area each day between 2018 and 2023 without a permit. The water laws enforcement body of the area, the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR), first received a complaint about the activity in 2018 and began its investigation.   

Grant Barnes, NRAR chief regulatory officer, said the monetary settlement was an alternative to court action, and the company would be monitored closely in the wake of a breach.

5 July | Coal

Australian Government approves thermal coal mine

The Australian Government has approved a license extension at a thermal coal mine despite opposition from climate groups and Australia’s Greens Party.   

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who came to power in May 2022, approved the mine on Friday. This is the third coal mine to be approved by Australian ministers in the past two months.  

Japanese company Idemitsu Kosan will have its licence for the Ensham mine in Queensland extended for another nine years. The 4.5 million tonnes a year of coal it produces will be used in power stations. 

Albanese’s government came to power last year with promises of stricter emissions targets and greater renewables investment. Despite this, the government has also backed the expansion of coal and natural gas production.   

The Australian Government seeks to reduce CO₂ emissions to 43% of 2005 levels by 2030.

11 July | Regulation

BHP and Vale in dispute over mining disaster class action

Mining giants BHP and Vale will appear in front of the UK High Court this week amid an ongoing class lawsuit for their role in the 2015 collapse of the Fundão dam in the east of Brazil. The lawsuit could see the companies fined up to $46bn.   

UK and Australia-based BHP is fighting for Brazilian miner Vale to be a co-defendant in the case. BHP claims that any fine should be split between the two companies. Samarco, a joint venture between BHP and Vale, operated the dam.  

More than 700,000 claimants who were affected by the collapse have bought the case forward. The claimants are being represented by the legal firm Pogust Goodheed.  

This is the largest lawsuit of its kind, with 46 Brazilian municipalities and indigenous groups also joining the case. This is the latest in a series of lawsuits filed in Brazil, Australia and the UK resulting from the dam collapse.

21 June | Environment

Mining sediment chokes Australia’s Murray River

A build-up of sand and sediment from former mining and land clearing is choking the Murray River in New South Wales.  

The sand, which reaches up to four metres in depth is blocking a narrow stretch of the river known as the Barmah Choke, or the Barmah-Millewa Reach. The problem, initially caused by gold mining and land clearing in the 1800s, has cast a spotlight on the legacy of mining operations in New South Wales.   

Run-off from flooding that took place between July and August 2022 has accelerated the buildup. The blockage has reduced the flow of water by more than 2,000 megalitres a day compared with flow rates in the 1980s.  

The sand buildup now sits just 30cm below the water’s surface with water levels dropping back to 4.5m beyond it.

26 June | Research

Cave mining expert warns against “copy and paste” approach to deep mines

The cave mining industry must re-evaluate how underground mines at depths of more than 1,000m are designed, according to new research from the University of Queensland.   

“Copy and pasting” mine designs from current shallow mines to deep mass mines could have several knock-on effects, the research found. Construction delays, operational underperformance, cost blow-outs and operation-ending catastrophes could all result from poor design.  

“In the past we have considered various geotechnical risk when mining underground, but as we begin mining at depths beyond 1,000m there are going to be geotechnical and operational risks that trump the traditional suite of geotechnical hazards,” said Professor Andre van As, author of the study conducted at the WH Bryan Mining Geology Research Centre.  

“Companies and stakeholders need to realise that the consequences of not identifying and managing these in design and operational strategies could effectively lead to significant mine underperformance or even premature closure,” he went on.