Rehabilitation is an essential part of responsible mining – and when the last excavator leaves a section of Stanwell’s Meandu Mine, it’s just the beginning for that section of land’s future.
Owned by Stanwell, and located 25 kilometres south-east of Kingaroy in the South Burnett, Meandu Mine currently has four working pits. At the moment, Meandu’s purpose is to supply the coal that helps Stanwell keep the lights on for Queensland – up to seven million tonnes of it per year. But it wasn’t always that way, and it certainly won’t be that way forever.
Rio Tinto Coal first received permission to prospect in the Tarong area in 1967, with drilling soon unearthing evidence of enough coal to support on-site power generation. Before that discovery, the area largely consisted of native forest, with a small amount of grazing land.
Work began on the mine in 1978, after the Queensland Government made the decision to go ahead with the construction of the Tarong Power Station. Ownership of Meandu Mine was assumed by Tarong Energy in 2008, and – following a restructure of Queensland Government-owned generators – was transferred to Stanwell in July 2011.
At the time the mine was established, it was estimated there was enough coal in the area to supply Tarong Power Station for up to 25 years. Since then, however, more economic coal was discovered in the area, and the mine now has sufficient coal to fuel Tarong Power Station – and Tarong North Power Station, opened on the same site in 2003 – until at least 2037.
Rehabilitation is, essentially, the process of repairing the environment disturbed by mining activities, and establishing sustainable ecosystems for post-operational land use. The best practice is for rehabilitation to take place progressively, during the life of the mine – this reduces the risk of mining sites being poorly rehabilitated or, worse yet, abandoned when they’re closed.
Stanwell has undertaken progressive rehabilitation of Meandu Mine ever since acquiring the site, minimising the active area of mining operations at any point in time to ensure that the land can be effectively returned to a sustainable post-mining use. In fact, there are areas of rehabilitation at Meandu Mine dating as far back as 1989, preceding Stanwell’s ownership.
In that time, more than 590 hectares (ha) of rehabilitation have been completed, representing approximately 27 per cent of the area currently disturbed by mining activities. In the last financial year alone, Stanwell rehabilitated 21.5 ha, against a target of 19.8 ha.
To put it in perspective – that means a total land area the size of almost 600 rugby fields (think, Suncorp Stadium) has been rehabilitated over the life of the Mine.
External consultants are regularly engaged to monitor the progress of these rehabilitation efforts. Key outcomes have included the growth of a diverse range of native tree and shrub species, as well as the return of native wildlife. Trials into commercial timber plantations have also been successfully completed on the site.
Until recently, the only prescribed post-mining land use for the area was for it to serve as native ecosystem. After extensive consultation with local landholders in community forums and one-on-one meetings, Stanwell has adopted two additional post-mining land uses – grazing and plantation forestry.
These additional uses will provide opportunities for commercial operation of the land after mining. Similarly, feedback from the community has led to the decision to retain the water infrastructure on site, where one of its uses is to support agricultural enterprises after the mine is closed.
In the meantime, of course, Meandu Mine remains essential to the operations of the Tarong power stations, and will continue to support generation and provide local jobs for many years to come. Downer Mining was reappointed as the mine contractor under a new five-year arrangement in 2020, and significant investments in new mining equipment, infrastructure and technology have been made in recent years.
When the time comes, however, there will be life after mining for Meandu – and it will be because of Stanwell’s efforts to rehabilitate the site and create a landscape that supports future uses.