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Successful Mine Rehabilitation and Sustainability - a Q&A with Nigel Fisher


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Successful Mine Rehabilitation and Sustainability - a Q&A with Nigel Fisher

  1. 1. Q&A with Nigel Fisher, Research Assistant at Centre for Sustainable Ecosystem at the University of Newcastle Mine Rehabilitation and Closure Queensland 2011 IQMine closure today is less of a technical challenge, and more of amanagement one. One part of this evolution is the integration of mineclosure practices to everyday practices. What are the best practices tothis?Nigel FisherMine site rehabilitation and revegetation is just as much a technical issue as it isa management one.Depending on final use criteria, sustainable revegetation will succeed or faildepending upon the interaction of below and above ground components.Leaving to one the side the abiotic factors of soil physicochemical conditions andtheir effects upon plant growth, the soil microbial community is essential forsustainable vegetation communities. The nitrogen and phosphorous cycles aremediated both by symbiotic and saprophytic (free-living) bacteria and fungi. Thesymbiotic microbes may have specificity requirements (that is, will only formassociations with particular plants) that may need to be investigated site by siteand species by species. Their distribution, full function and identity or indeedeven their existence in some cases, remain to be fully understood.Above ground, how the vegetation is able to reproduce and disperse isdependent upon the availability of pollinators and/or suitable dispersalmechanisms, and the herbivory pressures at all stages of the vegetation life-cycle, from seed predating ants to insectivorous and mammalian grazing. All ofwhich requires comprehensive knowledge of the total ecology. Populationgenetics of areas to be mined need to be investigated thoroughly to ascertainwhether seed collections have covered the genetic diversity necessary to ensurethe viability of revegetated areas. 1
  2. 2. Recognizing that these technical issues exist, the difficulties they may or may notpose to successful, sustainable revegetation and then the level of resources thatwill be committed to overcoming any identified obstacles is then the managementissue.Mining IQWhat do you think are the major obstacles to successful minerehabilitation? How can companies overcome these?Nigel FisherApart from the some of the technical issues outlined in the previous question,obstacles to successful rehabilitation include can be divided into three broadcategories:- 1) Technical/Scientific/Environmental, some of which were outlined above 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) 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 2
  3. 3. 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.Mining IQHow do we measure the sustainability of a mine’s environment duringoperations? What do you think are the best tools and strategies here?Nigel FisherSustainability will be dependent upon attainment of adequate vertical structure,and this structure should extend from the canopy to the soil micro-ecology. Thiswill provide niches for pollinators and dispersal agents, as well all organismsinvolved in nutrient cycling, including symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria,mycorrhizal fungi and saprophytic bacteria and fungi. The key to attaining thisvertical structure is biodiversity. The more species that can be incorporated into arehabilitation project, the greater the biodiversity and the greater the niches.Sustainable rehabilitation is dependent on successful completion of all stages ofthe vegetation life cycles. Monitoring for evidence of reproductive structures,viable seed set and then establishment and growth of juveniles, followed forseveral generations can be considered evidence of sustainability for vegetation.Identifying the obstacles or bottlenecks to each key process can then be donethrough monitoring and appropriate remedial action undertaken. Oncesustainability has been achieved, no further remediation will be necessary.Nigel Fisher is speaking at the Mine Rehabilitation and ClosureQueensland, to be held on the 28 - 30 June, 2011, Holiday Inn, Brisbane.For more information about this event, please, email or call 02 92291000.This event sits under the IQPC’s Mining IQ portfolio. Mining IQ is a globalportal for mining professionals, with regularly updated content featuringkey speakers, industry experts, case studies, Q&A and interviews. for more information. You can also follow Mining IQ onTwitter through 3