Alternative rehabilitation techniques and sustainable outcomes from mining using appropriate environmental management and mine closure planning in an arid region of Western Australia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


School of Natural Sciences


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


The subject of this thesis is the development of alternative approaches to environmental management and mine closure plans using case examples of the Big Bell/Cue Mining District and as a working example, an area of unconfined washout of historical gold-mine process tailings located in this arid inland region of Western Australia. This is considered appropriate in the light of the social and political thrust for industry to develop simultaneously positive economic, social and environmental outcomes from their activities. The Big Bell mining operation ceased mining in June 2003 and the Mine Closure Plan reflected a classical approach of minimization of public liability and strict compliance with legislative requirements. During the life of the modern mine the approach to rehabilitation was similarly classical in its approach It is intended for this document to inform the mining industry using the case example of the now closed Big Bell Mine as to how greater long-term outcomes may have been achieved for the State and the region for the future. This thesis specifically investigates alternative ways to approach rehabilitation in arid areas of Western Australia using the washout area as an example and trial area. This thesis has approached the issue by addressing the quantification of what has occurred through the gathering of baseline data of the case study area and then by the implementation of a series of relevant trials to identify appropriate eco-functional process-sensitive methods for rehabilitation as an alternative to current industry practice. Trials investigating the use of "retention banks" and "clay/seed balls" and the use of ex-mine milling waste carbon were conducted to investigate relevant possible techniques suitable for arid mine-site waste dump rehabilitation. Data analysis indicated that the main reason for the high level of degradation within the case study area is due to the smothering effect of the fine clayey tails cover and due to acidity of the tailings. A detailed examination of 92 soil samples found water infiltration of tails-washed areas as half that of control areas. Acidity of alluvium has declined from pH 5.2 to 3.8. The acidity has penetrated at depth to hardpan. Trials were commenced to rehabilitate the area using a combination of earthworks (retention banks and· scarification), pH- adjustment (using ex-mill carbon and crushed lime), and the use of native seed pelletised into clay-balls. The introduction of ex-mill carbon was shown to be effective in ameliorating pH in the tails wash area and improving its capacity to regenerate. Considering it is a widely available waste product with the gold mining industry it should be seriously considered in its application for rehabilitation purposes, and specifically in areas affected by severe acidification and desertification particularly by mismanaged tailings with pyrite content. The use of clay balls should also be subjected to further investigation. It is at least equal to the traditional use of raw seed and fertilizer with immediate and abundant rainfall. As this almost never occurs, it should prove to be superior, in delivering higher rates of viability for seed used. The thesis then attempts to integrate this study within the context of the wider issues of environmental management, specifically the best practice of mine closure plans and the adoption of sustainable economic, social and environmental outcomes from mining as an integral part of responsible operational environmental management plans. The thesis argues that the environmental management planning and specifically the Mine Closure Plan should not waste the myriad of opportunities that are the by-product of mining for the long-term sustainable benefit of the wider region. It is argued that if mining companies are serious about sustainability, then they cannot continue with short-term cycles of mining and closure. However to be realistic it will take concerted willingness from all stakeholders to pursue these outcomes. While a given mining operation can offer extensive resources and assets to support this approach the commercial and legislative pressures of core mining activities necessarily mean that mines are in fact encouraged to simply return the environment back to as natural state after operations are complete. Invariably this means hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure are levelled and scrapped to avoid all future liability, whilst the potential for sustainable outcomes is essentially ignored. The same Government that enforces the Mining Act and has a State Sustainability Strategy imposes the conditions which create unimaginative classical mine closure plans. Government, industry and the residents of regions must work together to seriously develop sustainable outcomes to mining.

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