I find it hard to believe that it is now almost 25 years since I was a fresh University of Newcastle graduate and I secured my first role at the Newcastle office of the NSW EPA.
During my time with the EPA, I visited many sites for inspection – including visits to mine sites in places that I had never heard of!
Looking back, I recall reading the regulations and conditions in place for many mine sites. Even though I had environmental qualifications, I remember thinking the conditions were tough and comprehensive. I was naïve.
The conditions for mines are far more arduous now than they were in the early 90s. Assessment agencies, regulators, shareholder, stakeholders, and the general community now expect (and demand) so much more in environmental compliance and social responsibility. This will only continue.
This expectation (and demand) is further highlighted by the Queensland Government Mineral and Energy Resources (Financial Provisioning) bill, which is primarily designed to create a pool of funds for longer-term rehabilitation. Whilst there is some disagreement between Industry and Government with regard to finer details of the Bill, I am sure it will be passed in some form.
Within the industry, there is still very much a school of thought that environmental regulation and management is just a cost. Yes, compliance is a financial expense, and often a condition of operation. However, it can be also a revenue source.
The vast majority of mines purchase water from a state water agency under a licence arrangement. In Queensland, mine sites purchase water from Sunwater at $4000 per megalitre. This water is used and then discharged, yet another expense.
Recently, several operating mines have investigated options to recycle the purchased water. This enables the operating costs to be lowered. The New H2O Resources is currently working with several mining companies investigating options to dramatically reduce the cost of water through efficient recycling. It is certainly not a “one size fits all” approach, as there is some science to the calculations. However, in many cases, significant funds can be saved.
In many cases, we have found that mines are left with an excess of water after they recycle. This creates an opportunity for mines to sell the recycled water to nearby agricultural enterprises and other businesses. We are currently receiving strong interest from farmers and industry groups for the purchase of recycled water, a much cheaper solution than purchasing directly from Sunwater.
This means that discharging water can become a revenue source for mines, rather than a cost. The New H2O Resources solution is proving to be of interest to CEOs and CFOs of mining enterprises.