The Future of Mine Rehabilitation

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

There’s always a buzz when new mining projects are announced and operations commence but what happens to the land after the resource is extracted is now uppermost in many stakeholders’ minds.

Once the mine winds down, the machinery is switched off and the trucks roll out is the scenario that has been a major focus for WA technology start-up, Decipher.

Born within the Industrial’s Division of Wesfarmers (ASX: WES), Decipher is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company delivering award-winning cloud solutions that help drive sustainability, productivity and improvements across mining, tailings monitoring, waste management and agriculture.

Decipher Chief Executive Officer, Anthony Walker explained there are a significant number of abandoned mines across the country, and with a mining footprint that significantly increased in Western Australia throughout the 2000s, there will be a dramatic increase in mine closures over the next 10 to 20 years.

“Decisions about mine closure in Australia have tended to have little consideration of how the land might be used post-mining. However, this is beginning to change, particularly with increased stakeholder pressure, environmental concerns, and regulatory changes,” he said.

Mr Walker believes the entire industry has a responsibility to start implementing best practices, and says Decipher plays an important role in helping drive progressive mine rehabilitation.

“We saw the opportunity to apply our technology used in the agriculture sector and invested in the development of an innovative mine rehabilitation software solution, DecipherGreen.”

“DecipherGreen could revolutionise the task of mine rehabilitation, closure and ultimately improve the rates of relinquishment of land – either back to Government or to another organisation for use,” Mr Walker said.

Based on strong underlying science, DecipherGreen is backed by regulatory technology; satellite-derived earth observation data; a central repository for historic data; a reporting suite and corresponding environmental evaluation.

“DecipherGreen enables us to provide clients with the data and insights they need to ensure they’re meeting environmental obligations and compliance.

“As, crucially, it provides clients with the information needed to plan for the closure and rehabilitation of their sites in a manner that has a positive impact on their sustainability and social licence to operate, as well as the company’s bottom line,” he said.

Walker explained that it was imperative that the platform be user-friendly – at all times designed with the user in mind.

“We worked with a number of stakeholders and researchers to develop DecipherGreen and are getting excellent reports from the range of clients who are currently trialling the platform.”

Decipher recently welcomed three new clients onboard, two of which are top 50 mining companies, and will be assisting with the clients’ mine rehabilitation and tailings storage facility monitoring.

With increased global scrutiny of tailings dam failures and their drastic impact on the environment, community and stakeholders, companies are looking to technological advancements to mitigate risk and ensure compliance.

In response to the catastrophic tailings dam collapses in 2019, the Church of England spearheaded a global enquiry that called upon 727 extractive mining companies to disclose information in relation to their tailings facilities to form a public database.

Mining companies were presented with the ominous challenge of assembling datasets that were often large, complex and stored over several locations.

Decipher has assisted with the management and audit of mining companies’ tailings storage facilities by providing a platform that acts as a central repository of tailings data, assists with the global enquiry reporting, and enables their clients to identify trends, manage risk and ensure compliance.

“Working with our clients has been a very rewarding process and it’s been incredibly exciting and encouraging to see a cultural shift in the industry in recent years with an increased appetite for collaboration by industry, research bodies and Government in this space,” said Mr Walker.

To leverage that appetite, Decipher has signed on as one of 50 partners supporting a bid for the establishment of a national Cooperative Research Centre for Transformations in Mining Economies (CRC-TiME) in WA, joining the likes of Alcoa, BHP, Rio Tinto, the WA, Queensland and Northern Territory Governments, as well as researchers from eight universities and the CSIRO.

CRC-TiME Chief Executive designate and Associate Professor Guy Boggs is part of the bid team and outlined the potential benefits.

“The CRC-TiME would bring scale and coordinated investment to the world-class research being done in Australia, ultimately delivering transformational change to mine closure," Dr Boggs said.

"Over the next decade, we believe we would see a reduction in mine abandonment, an increase in relinquishment and an increase in the diversity of post-mining land uses. It also presents significant export opportunities for Australian companies."

Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable agrees that mine closure, relinquishment and the transformation of regional economies across the life cycle and post mining are important issues for the industry.

“Significant progress has been made through individual research programs and investment from businesses and we believe there are substantial benefits to be reaped through a coordinated, strategic approach that would be delivered through the CRC-TiME,” Ms Constable said.

“There is no doubt it is a time of great opportunity for the mining industry – where the enhancement and improvement of the end-to-end life cycle of mines is going to advance the future for more successful post mine communities across Australia and around the world.”

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