Q&a with Nigel Fisher on Mine Rehabilitation and Closure

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Nigel Fisher is speaking at the Mine Rehabilitation and Closure Conference.

For more information about this event, please visit http://www.minerehabilitation.com.au , call +61 2 9229 1000 or email enquire@iqpc.com.au

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Q&a with Nigel Fisher on Mine Rehabilitation and Closure

  1. 1. Q&A with Nigel Fisher, Research Assistant at Centre for Sustainable Ecosystem at the University of Newcastle<br />Mine Rehabilitation and Closure Queensland 2011<br />www.minerehabilitation.com.au <br />Mining IQ<br />Mine closure today is less of a technical challenge, and more of a management one. One part of this evolution is the integration of mine closure practices to everyday practices. What are the best practices to this?<br />Nigel Fisher<br />Mine site rehabilitation and revegetation is just as much a technical issue as it is a management one. <br />Depending on final use criteria, sustainable revegetation will succeed or fail depending upon the interaction of below and above ground components. <br />Leaving to one the side the abiotic factors of soil physicochemical conditions and their effects upon plant growth, the soil microbial community is essential for sustainable vegetation communities. The nitrogen and phosphorous cycles are mediated both by symbiotic and saprophytic (free-living) bacteria and fungi. The symbiotic microbes may have specificity requirements (that is, will only form associations with particular plants) that may need to be investigated site by site and species by species. Their distribution, full function and identity or indeed even their existence in some cases, remain to be fully understood. <br />Above ground, how the vegetation is able to reproduce and disperse is dependent upon the availability of pollinators and/or suitable dispersal mechanisms, and the herbivory pressures at all stages of the vegetation life-cycle, from seed predating ants to insectivorous and mammalian grazing. All of which requires comprehensive knowledge of the total ecology. Population genetics of areas to be mined need to be investigated thoroughly to ascertain whether seed collections have covered the genetic diversity necessary to ensure the viability of revegetated areas.<br />Recognizing that these technical issues exist, the difficulties they may or may not pose to successful, sustainable revegetation and then the level of resources that will be committed to overcoming any identified obstacles is then the management issue. <br />Mining IQ<br />What do you think are the major obstacles to successful mine rehabilitation? How can companies overcome these?<br />Nigel Fisher<br />Apart from the some of the technical issues outlined in the previous question, obstacles to successful rehabilitation include can be divided into three broad categories:-<br /><ul><li>Technical/Scientific/Environmental, some of which were outlined above
  2. 2. Regulatory. The government acts as both benefactor and regulator of mining. This is an inherent conflict of interest, where for instance, mining consent can be granted in areas that are environmentally deleterious, but are allowed for the collection of revenue. “Shifting goalposts” whereby consent conditions, in response to public attitudes, scientific knowledge and government policy may change over the lead up to, and during the lifetime of the mine itself. This may also lead to different rehabilitation requirements for different mines within a mining precinct, leading to inconsistent rehabilitation across a region with consequent poor public perceptions of the efforts of the industry as a whole.
  3. 3. Attitudes to rehabilitation. While this is not applicable to the sector as whole, there is still a perception in some quarters that rehabilitation is a cost to be reduced, rather than a desired outcome or moral imperative of the mining process. Attitudes of “doing what we can get away with” rather than abiding by the spirit or even, in extreme examples, adhering to consent conditions can still be found within the industry. This would appear to require a combination of solutions that range from further education regarding the benefits of successful rehabilitation to better enforcement of compliance. Rapid turnover of environmental staff results in a lack of knowledge of local conditions and issues. High turnover and inadequate detailed scientific knowledge produces inefficient use of limited funds, with duplication of efforts and inadequate scrutiny of consultancy reports and recommendations. Mine site rehabilitation is itself a fulltime job, but environmental staff must be “jack of all trades” with regards to legislative, administrative and environmental issues (which is not just rehabilitation). Environmental officers are often graduates, without mentoring, equipped with generalist degrees/qualifications that requires a steep on the job, learning curve working in an industry where production is paramount, for obvious reasons. </li></ul>Mining IQ<br />How do we measure the sustainability of a mine’s environment during operations? What do you think are the best tools and strategies here?<br />Nigel Fisher<br />Sustainability will be dependent upon attainment of adequate vertical structure, and this structure should extend from the canopy to the soil micro-ecology. This will provide niches for pollinators and dispersal agents, as well all organisms involved in nutrient cycling, including symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi and saprophytic bacteria and fungi. The key to attaining this vertical structure is biodiversity. The more species that can be incorporated into a rehabilitation project, the greater the biodiversity and the greater the niches. <br />Sustainable rehabilitation is dependent on successful completion of all stages of the vegetation life cycles. Monitoring for evidence of reproductive structures, viable seed set and then establishment and growth of juveniles, followed for several generations can be considered evidence of sustainability for vegetation. Identifying the obstacles or bottlenecks to each key process can then be done through monitoring and appropriate remedial action undertaken. Once sustainability has been achieved, no further remediation will be necessary. <br />Nigel Fisher is speaking at the Mine Rehabilitation and Closure Queensland, to be held on the 28 - 30 June, 2011, Holiday Inn, Brisbane. For more information about this event, please visit www.minerehabilitation.com.au, email enquire@iqpc.com.au or call 02 9229 1000. <br />This event sits under the IQPC’s Mining IQ portfolio. Mining IQ is a global portal for mining professionals, with regularly updated content featuring key speakers, industry experts, case studies, Q&A and interviews. Visit www.MiningIQ.com for more information. You can also follow Mining IQ on Twitter through www.tiwtter.com/MiningIQ <br />

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