An Australian court has fined Abterra Australia A$180,000 for failing to pay a deposit to fund the rehabilitation of the land affected by its Broula magnetite mine in New South Wales.
The mine, which has been operated by the Australian branch of Singapore-listed Abterra since 2011, boasts reserves of around 1.4 million tonnes of magnetite ore, which can be used in the production of steel pellets and magnetite concentrate, a substance used in coal mining.
Abterra completed a review of the mine’s environmental performance in 2014, and found that the operation complied with all environmental regulations. The company reported that water pollution was minimised, disruption caused by blasting and light pollution were within limits set by government regulations, and that there had been no complaints by local residents in the first three years of the mine’s life.
However, the state government increased the mine’s rehabilitation deposit from A$332,600 to A$2.1m in a separate review in 2017, concluding that the mine will have a much more significant environmental impact than Abterra expects.
The company claimed that rehabilitation work could not commence until all of the mine’s waste had been dealt with, but the rate of waste removal at the mine declined significantly over Abterra’s ownership. From 2009-2010, under Somerset Mining, the mine saw 10,000 bank cubic metres (bcm) of topsoil removed, alongside 270,000bcm of overburden, compared with 0bcm and 200,000bcm respectively in 2011-2012.
While Abterra increased the rate of waste removal in subsequent years, disposing of 24,195bcm of topsoil and 120,842 in 2013-14, the court found that the mine’s owners failed to pay all of the increased figure, leaving around A$1.8m in unpaid security deposits. It is unclear whether the court will force the company to pay all of this outstanding figure.
“The court’s decision in this matter sends a strong message that mine operators must comply with the requirements around rehabilitation security deposits, and this will be strictly enforced,” said Anthony Keon, the NSW Resources Regulator’s chief compliance officer. “This aligns with community expectations, where the right to mine is conditional on appropriate rehabilitation.”
Abterra has significantly improved production at the mine since it took over operations, and removed the project from care and maintenance in April 2012, with total ore production reaching 413,518 tonnes from 2011 to 2014. The mine also accounted for 242,857 tonnes of iron ore sales, and 140,000 tonnes of limestone sales in the same period.