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Mines work under pressure

This pit at BMA's Blackwater Mine filled with water after prolonged heavy rain fell throughout the region this summer.
This pit at BMA's Blackwater Mine filled with water after prolonged heavy rain fell throughout the region this summer. Daily Mercury

TO date, no-one has invented a large umbrella for a coal pit; and that has mines under pressure to rid their sites of water before another wet season.

"We don't want a repeat of what we've seen (early this year) with the industry well below capacity," Queensland Resources Council (QRC) chief executive Michael Roche said.

"No-one's invented a big umbrella for an open cut coal pit, but companies are looking at how their mines are laid out and there will be continued investment in water storage facilities."

Mr Roche said the inundation of mines during this year's horrific wet season would hit the economy harder than first thought.

"Previously we had estimated a 30 million tonne loss of coal production ... it's now looking like a 40 million tonne loss of coal production," he said.

"That's a loss of about $7 billion in coal production, and a loss of royalties approaching $600 million for the State Government".

Improved production and throughput was still likely to occur because mines were 'creatively moving' water around their sites, Mr Roche said.

"The companies have managed, through significant investment in temporary pumping equipment, to move the water around their sites to try and free as much coal as possible... most of the water is still there.

"That makes sense (now) but the long-term problem has not gone away."

To that end, a current review of water discharge conditions was vital.

"We've just agreed to (the review's) terms of reference with DERM (Department of Environment and Resource Management).

"What we're hoping to get out of it is the opportunity for mines to discharge more water without risking environmental harm."

Mr Roche said if the quality of the water that mines were allowed to discharge was measured downstream instead of at the point of discharge, it would help the mines release more water.

"Under revisions we are seeking, which we expect will be agreed to, water quality will be measured downstream... where the regulator takes into account the dilution effect from mine water mixing with water in streams.

"By measuring downstream you still get full understanding of the environmental impact but it enables mines to potentially discharge more because of that dilution factor."

About three-quarters of Queensland coal mines had already gone to the environmental regulator and received special approval to discharge more water than usual, he said.

Topics:  blackwater mine bma queensland resources council wet season


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