Recent amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act) further reform the mine rehabilitation regime in Queensland.

The reforms:

  • establish a new independent statutory officeholder called the Rehabilitation Commissioner; and
  • seek to enhance the residual risk framework for the management of resource sites after an environmental authority for a resource activity has been surrendered.

Rehabilitation Commissioner

The Rehabilitation Commissioner will provide independent scientific advice to both government and industry for the purpose of evaluating the rehabilitation framework in Queensland.

The statutory functions of the Rehabilitation Commissioner include:

  • providing advice to the Minister on:
    • rehabilitation and management practices, outcomes and policies; and
    • the public interest evaluation processes for “non-use management areas” (which are areas of land that cannot be rehabilitated to a stable condition following the completion of resource activities on the land);
  • developing technical and evidence-based reports on complex aspects related to the rehabilitation of land or best practice management of non-use management areas;
  • monitoring, and providing reports to the Minister on, rehabilitation performance and trends;
  • consulting on, and raising awareness of, rehabilitation and management matters;
  • chairing workshops and forums about technical, scientific or engagement matters.

The Rehabilitation Commissioner has an advisory role rather than a regulatory function.  The administering authority under the EP Act will continue to regulate resource activities through the approval of environmental authorities and the taking of enforcement action.

Amendments to residual risk framework

Over recent years, the EP Act has been amended to include a residual risk framework that seeks to ensure that risks remaining on a resource site following completion of resource activities are identified, costed and managed.

The reforms seek to enhance the existing residual risk framework in an endeavour to improve the management of residual risks on former resource sites.

The reforms to the residual risks framework:

  • require a post-surrender management report to accompany an environmental authority surrender application for a resource activity which (amongst other matters) includes:
  • a risk assessment that complies with the residual risk assessment guidelines to be published by the State Government; and
  • if the risk assessment identifies residual risks, a risk management plan for managing the former resources site following surrender of the environmental authority (and which includes the estimated costs and expenses associated with carrying out ongoing management activities and remedial actions calculated in accordance with the residual risk assessment guidelines).
  • provide that residual risk payments may be collected for both rehabilitated areas and non-use management areas and may only be required after a surrender application has been made;
  • establish a residual risks fund under the Mineral and Energy Resources (Financial Provisioning) Act 2018 (Qld) (MERFP) in which all residual risk payments made under the EP Act will be pooled and financially managed by the Scheme Manager under MERFP; and
  • require residual risks to be noted on the relevant land title where a risk management plan exists.

On 2 October 2020, the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) published an Interim Residual Risk Assessment Guideline for the purpose of describing how to undertake a residual risk assessment and providing information to help determine whether a risk management plan is required to be included with a post-surrender management plan.  DES have stated that the Interim Guideline will be in place until the completion of the final residual risk assessment guideline under the Ministerial Industry Implementation Working Group.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.