In conducting mining activities, including those undertaken within a quarry, businesses involved will have had to attain a number of permits and licenses. These differ between quarries and some other mining activities. According to Business Queensland:
“Because the definition of ‘mineral’ in the Mineral Resources Act 1989 excludes most materials used for construction purposes, quarry (or extractive industry) sites are largely approved and administered by local government under the Planning Act 2016.”
It is important to note that while the legislature differs between quarries and mines, most extractive activities will be obliged to meet the standards set by the relevant environmental protection act. After rigorous assessment by the relevant authority, and the appropriate licenses are granted, the legislative hurdles continue. Environmental obligations under the law differ slightly between states, however some general rules apply to maintaining mining activities with environmental concerns in mind. Here, we take a look at several of the most important factors to keep in mind when considering the environmental obligations of quarry operators.
Under each state and territory within Australia, the environmental protections in place involve ensuring that undue harm is not caused to the environment, nor risk posed to the community. Under the NSW Environmental Protection Act for example, the following objectives apply:
-protecting, restoring and enhancing the quality of the environment (in NSW), with regard to maintaining ecologically sustainable development
-providing increased opportunities for public involvement in environmental protection
-reducing the risk to human health and preventing the degradation of the environment by promoting pollution prevention, cleaner production, reduction of harmful discharges, elimination of harmful waste, increase in recycling and re-use of materials, and the making of progressive environmental improvements
Meeting these obligations involves reducing waste within quarry operations, employing environmentally sound practices which ensure the proper disposal of waste materials, and reducing emissions by utilising the appropriate technology and practices.
All business operations have a duty under the relevant environmental protection acts to minimise the likelihood of environmental harm, and to notify the relevant governing body when such harm is likely to occur. Failure to do so may result in legal action against the operator, and substantial penalties may also apply.
Holders of an environmental authority (EA) are obliged to inform the Department of Environmental and Heritage Protection of an incident within 24 hours, in Queensland. Similar obligations apply in each state and territory, and involve reporting emergencies or incidents which have the potential to cause unexpected harm to the environment.
It is important to have policies and procedures in place within a quarry which ensure that potential hazards are planned for, and that employees are aware of the reporting framework. In the unlikely event that an incident does occur, reporting it allows the governing body to assess the situation and assist the operator in meeting their environmental obligations to mitigate the risk and any further harm.
A rehabilitation plan is generally a part of the quarry approval process, and involves a strategy to return the quarried land to its natural state, or a state which is suitable for use for other purposes such as residential land, parks, sporting facilities and more. Replanting trees, replacing topsoil and reproducing waterways are all a part of the rehabilitation of quarried land, according to Cement Concrete & Aggregates Australia. Many former quarries have been rehabilitated to become valuable community assets, such as recreational facilities and even housing estates. You can read more about several of these examples here.
Image: Safety and health on-site activity reporting for metalliferous mines and quarries
(image credit: DNRM Queensland)