16 February 2011

UQ research is identifying ways Queensland mines can better respond to environmental challenges such as those posed by the recent floods.

The state’s coal mines were particularly hard hit during the disaster, with just 15 percent of sites fully operational following the flooding. Sixteen mines were forced to discharge floodwaters into the Fitzroy River catchment outside of their normal Environmental Authority agreements.

Dr Daniel Franks, a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining within the Sustainable Minerals Institute, said a coordinated effort was needed to minimise environmental impacts.

“Emptying flooded mines can present as big a challenge as having them filled,” Dr Franks said.

“The longer flood waters remain in the mine pit the more time they have to collect natural salts. Moreover as rivers subside they become more sensitive to the discharge as the discharge represents a greater proportion of the river’s volume.”

Dr Franks said mining policy is traditionally geared towards regulation and management of individual mines. SMI research is developing practical approaches to enhance the capacity of the resources sector, civil society and government to improve the management of cumulative impacts in resource regions.

Following flooding in 2008 the Queensland Government undertook reforms to standardise and tighten discharge conditions and helped establish The Fitzroy Partnership for River Health.

Dr Franks said recent events would test these reforms and require the attention of policy makers and companies alike in the coming months.

The SMI will host a three-day workshop, Understanding and Managing Cumulative Impacts in Resource Regions, from March 28–30.

The event follows the recent publication of the SMI's Good Practice Guide on Cumulative Impacts which was launched in November by the Hon Sterling Hinchliffe MP, Queensland Minister for Infrastructure and Planning.

The guide is a practical resource to assist companies and governments assess, manage and monitor the impacts of resource development at a local and regional scale.

Media: Dr Daniel Franks (0401 451 454, d.Franks@uq.edu.au) or Tara Young (tara.young@smi.uq.edu.au, 07 3346 3434)