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Inundated mines drain economy

The official Queensland Treasury number released in late January was that the coal industry was set to lose about 15 million tonnes in coal production as a result of the floods.
The official Queensland Treasury number released in late January was that the coal industry was set to lose about 15 million tonnes in coal production as a result of the floods. Daryl Wright

WITH the sun out and people beginning to put one of the wettest seasons on record behind them, it is hard to imagine that 75% of Queensland mines are still inundated by water.

Speaking at the Surat Basin Coal and Energy conference yesterday, Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche reminded people that the problem of water on Bowen Basin mine sites was far from over.

Mr Roche showed a photo of a flooded pit at one of the mines in the Bowen Basin, which still contained 48 gigalitres (one gigalitre is equivalent to 100,000,000 litres) of water, which had built up over the wet season.

Mr Roche joked, saying he thought the mine would have gotten rid of about one gigalitre by now, only leaving them with 47 gigalitres to worry about.

“Basically what the mines are doing is moving water around on site, from pit to pit,” he said.

“I flew over the mines recently and there was activity, but still pit after pit was filled with water.

“They need to get rid of that water but the challenge is how and when.”

Mr Roche said the problem was serious and must not be overlooked.

“While the commission of inquiry understandably is focusing on the human impacts around Toowoomba, Grantham and Brisbane, we think the commission inquiry needs to take into account the huge economic cost to the state and the coal industry in particular.

The official Queensland Treasury number released in late January was that the coal industry was set to lose about 15 million tonnes in coal production as a result of the floods.

“We thought at the time a minimum 30 million tonnes and it could be as high as 53 million tonnes,” Mr Roche said.

“We think now it will be somewhere between 30 and 53, perhaps around the 40 million mark; that is the equivalent of wiping out all of the economic growth in Queensland for 2009/10.”

“Ironically, government is going to have a large bill out of the disasters, a lot of infrastructure to be restored and rebuilt.

"Yet one of the major sources of potential funding for that effort continues to be hampered.

“We don’t believe the Queensland government believed or wanted to believe the extent of the problem,” he said.

After a 2010/11 wet season that could only be described as disastrous for the coal mining sector, Mr Roche said the industry had to look towards preparing for the 2011/12 season.

“The damage for this financial year has been done. We can’t just hope that next wet season will be more normal, but what we do know is that lots of mines will be carrying a lot of water going into 2011/12.

“What the companies are telling me is the single largest problem they have is that under the new water discharge conditions, which came into force in 2009, they were not able to deal with the build-up of water on their sites in 2008/09, therefore, not able to get ready for the wet season we have just come through.

“Many mines went into this wet season with substantial quantities of water and then this wet season has just played havoc with so many of them.

Mr Roche said the Queensland Resources Council was hoping that next wet season the environmental authorities themselves would be more robust in terms of allowing mines to prepare for the season after.

“We hope we get a bit of relief with a normal dry season, but I do have a concern we are very vulnerable to a repeat of the season we just had.”

Topics:  economy mackay michael roche mines queensland


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