WATER IN MINING
The mining industry is a miserly water user.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports an annual 4% share of national consumption. In Queensland, most state-regulated water is allocated to agriculture. In 2015-16, led by sugar cane and cotton growing, agriculture used 62% of water consumed in Queensland.
Coal mining and other extractive industries often use or encounter groundwater. Groundwater used for production is called non-associated water. Groundwater encountered indirectly through circumstances such as ingress from an exposed coal seam is called associated water.
When mines interfere with or take associated water, they are obliged under the Water Act to:
Complete baseline assessments of local water bores
Prepare baseline assessment plans
Prepare underground water impact reports and
Enter into make good agreements with landholders, where required
Report to the government on the volume of associated water taken.
A mine’s non-associated water usage is regulated by a licence issued and monitored by the state government.
Mining companies in the Bowen Basin maintain detailed water management plans that include on-site storage and the funding of pipelines from major water storages including Eungella and Burdekin Falls dams.
WATER MISER (CASE STUDY)
Oaky Creek is a Glencore coal mine in the Mackenzie River catchment of the Fitzroy Basin. After four years of above average rainfall (2010-13) and with few opportunities to release held water, Oaky Creek revised its water management strategy to reduce mine-affected water storage by up to 40%. To achieve this, Glencore built an $8.5 million reverse osmosis water plant able to treat up to 6 megalitres of water daily. In addition to reducing the volume of water held onsite, treated water is re-used and has reduced Oaky Creek’s annual net usage by 80%. This has freed up stream water for other users and the environment. Other water management initiatives include:
Using evaporative fans to reduce the volume of excess water in storage
Preventing rainwater from entering storage ponds through improved drainage on rehabilitated mine areas and levees
Workforce education to reduce water used during underground operations.
Australian Water Accounts 2015-16 (ABS); Queensland Agricultural Snapshot 2018, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries; Oaky Creek case study, Minerals Council of Australia submission, Senate Environment and Communications References Committee – Water Use by the Extractive Industry, January 2018.
WATER IN THE GALILEE
In April 2017, the Queensland Government announced ‘multi-million dollar financial and regulatory safeguards, and a stringent monitoring regime’ to manage water supply in and around Adani’s Carmichael coal project near Clermont.
Adani must pay the state $20.15 million upfront before drawing any surface (non-associated) water from a special reserve held by the government for significant projects.
The water licences granted to the mine are about 1% what is available to farmers in the Burdekin catchment now
After paying the state more than $20 million for access to high-flow surface water, the mine will be charged at full commercial rates (approx. 3x irrigation)
Adani must have make good agreements in place with landholders whose existing groundwater entitlements might be affected.
There are almost 270 environmental conditions on the Carmichael mine project with more than 100 relating to groundwater.
Removal of (associated) groundwater has been approved so the mine can operate safely and has been estimated at 4550 megalitres annually, about the same as a 450ha cane farm in the lower Burdekin.
Every operational mine in Queensland is authorised to remove groundwater that flows into the mine (associated water) to make the mine safe, and reuse it if they wish.
Carmichael licences safeguard water (06 April 2017); Ministerial Media Release, Hon. Anthony Lynham, Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy
Adani calls out anti-mining activists on false water claims (23 November2018), Media Release.