Gas Week

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UQ starts course on-mined land rehabilitation as part of Masters of Mineral Resources: Alcoa gets a gong

Posted by gasweek on 21 September, 2007

When mining environmental scientist Elise Jeffery looks across a denuded landscape at Alcoa’s brown-coal mine in Anglesea, Victoria, she pictures an expanse of healthy indigenous woodland replete with rare and threatened plants and animals. But since 2000 Alcoa has engaged in restoring mined land to its original ecosystem to complement the surrounding area, listed on the National Estate Register by the Australian Heritage Commission because of its outstanding botanical diversity, wrote Helen Zampetakis in The Australian Financial Review (17/9/2007, p.35).

Bloom boom: “It’s the first time Alcoa has tried to restore the ecosystem that was previously at Anglesea and it’s amazing how the land has responded,” said Jeffery, who recently completed a course on mined land rehabilitation as part of her Masters of Mineral Resources at the University of Queensland. “We had banksias that we had never seen before in rehabilitated land come up all on their own.”

Environmental management plans: Over the past five years, Jeffery had been responsible for restoring about 30 hectares of land in an area responsible for the extraction of 1.1 million tonnes of coal a year. Also new is the scientific detail applied to the process. Best practice now includes putting in place a comprehensive integrated environmental management plan before the first sod is dug up. As a result, coursework covered a range of procedures for managing soil and setting up the ecosystem.

Topsoil management is key: Jeffery cited topsoil management as a key principle covered in the course. “Knowing how critical that is to your landscape, you can manage the topsoil and preserve it so that you don’t stockpile it for too long or return it too deeply to the ground so that plants can start growing again easily.”

New eyes on mines amid eco-awakening, resources frenzy: The shift in environmental consciousness coupled with the resources boom has renewed focus on rehabilitating mined land and safeguarding communities against contaminants, according to David Mulligan, associate professor and director at the Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation at UQ.

Student demand for related courses surges: Demand for expertise in mined land rehabilitation is expected to rise, and indeed, the number of student courses undertaken increased by about 50 per cent between 2003 and 2006 at UQ. The university introduced its first two environmental mining courses in 2000. It now offers a suite of postgraduate courses online, with academics from six schools involved in the development and delivery. The centre offers 11 courses as part of the graduate certificate, graduate diploma or Master of Mineral Resources (Environment) which can be taken as standalone units to advance professional development. With cases such as the Yarloop community’s class action against Alcoa’s Wagerup refinery in WA now in the spotlight, such expertise is likely to become increasingly in demand.

The Australian Financial Review, 17/9/2007, p. 35

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