With markets moving increasingly towards renewable energy, we saw a rush developing graphite and lithium projects. Rescology completed an environment, social and mine due diligence on two graphite projects and worked on a lithium project from 2019 through to 2020. The lithium project involved environmental impact assessment, government and community relations, statutory reporting and rehabilitation of areas cleared for the mining and exploration activity.

This article provides insight into some of our achievements and the lessons we learned along the way.

The principal objective was to restore an area of Endangered species habitat, meet statutory compliance and reporting obligations under Commonwealth and State Mining Environmental Law and improve the social licence to operate with particular pressure from community conservation groups.

We conducted a review of all environmental approvals and the gap analysis revealed that since the clearing permits and mining proposals had been issued, one Threatened Ecological Community present in the area had been listed under Commonwealth law and the status of listings for a number of other species had changed. We also established any groundworks were limited to outside of the breeding season and outside of the wet season leaving a short window opportunity for completion of works. The Phytophthora Dieback Management Plan had a clause in it which stated that activity at any other time of year with the exception of summary required a dieback assessment of the area. The baseline fauna assessments had excluded a few key species and hadn’t accurately evaluated the suitability of habitats for foraging or breeding locations for Black Cockatoos and Malleefowl. We found that vegetation mapping excluded mapping of Declared Weed Species which the proponent was expected to manage under the and vegetation community mapping required updating for comparative analysis of restoration performance.

Rescology scoped, managed and delivered the revised environmental impact assessment, helped revised the company’s social and community policy, prepared a stakeholder engagement plan, undertook all stakeholder engagement with government and community for the project, developed a rehabilitation management and implementation plan, and a weed management plan.

With a handpicked team of subcontractors and we successfully completed all the impact assessment studies and investigations, updated the Environmental Impact Assessment, completed all the statutory reporting required and successfully rehabilitated the area to the satisfaction of stakeholders. One the community members said, ‘it the best rehabilitation job we’ve ever seen’.

One of the keys to the success of this project was the trust imparted upon us by our client. We had a great working relationship built on trust. Our experience in environmental impact assessment and community stakeholder engagement, the collaborative approach we took, the strength of networks, being good listeners and keeping stakeholders informed of the progress were also played a role.

Some of the key lessons learned were:

  • Review and assess the suitability of environmental approvals prior to execution in instances where these may be a few years old.
  • Be sure to check the latest species lists, and in Australia, check the latest lists of threatened and priority ecological communities under State and Commonwealth legislation.
  • Evaluate what changes have occurred with any regulatory reform and what this means for your project since the last permits were issued.
  • Ensure your legal obligations are integrated and accounted for.
  • Update your risk registers, plans, procedures, training and induction programs.
  • Avoid suspicion and an increase in reputational risk by engaging with stakeholders to hear their concerns.
  • Don’t assume that baseline studies and the corresponding impact assessment that were suitable for a project five years ago are still suitable for what looks to be a similar project now.