Australia clean-ups seek to reset mining’s tarnished image (Financial Times Next – May 31, 2016)

Drive to heal scarred landscapes to try to win back public support for industry

A wedge-tailed eagle soars above a picturesque hillside blanketed with shrubs and flowers, looking for prey. “The animals are coming back,” says Damien Ryba, environment and community officer for mining group Glencore. “This is a sign that the land is returning to a natural state.”

Five years ago outsized trucks crowded a track thick with coal dust near the company’s Mangoola mine, one of the biggest open-pit developments in Australia’s Hunter Valley. It is now part of a pilot project by the Switzerland-based miner to rehabilitate former mining sites as it attempts to rebuild support in the community.

Alarmed by growing concerns about new mines, some companies are placing more emphasis on rehabilitating existing ones, particularly in the developed world. These initiatives follow centuries of poor practice that have caused environmental disasters, threatened human health and left taxpayers with large clean-up bills.

There are about 50,000 abandoned mines in Australia. The bill for cleaning them up would stretch to tens of billions of dollars, well beyond the level of financial assurances that miners provide to state governments, analysts say.

“In the past, many smaller companies just disappeared and their mines were abandoned with little or no rehabilitation,” says Peter Erskine, research fellow at the University of Queensland.

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