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Mining Warden Yallourn Mine Batter Failure Inquiry:
Government Response

The government provided the following response to the Mining Warden Report.

Download the PDF version of this document: Government Response

 

Ordered to be printed

VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT PRINTER

No 158 Session 2006–08

Government Response to the Mining Warden Inquiry into Yallourn Mine Batter Failure

The Yallourn Mine Batter Failure Inquiry report was presented to Government in June 2008. The Terms of Reference for the Inquiry were to:

  1. Establish the facts, circumstances and causes surrounding the collapse;
  2. Examine any mine safety issues; and
  3. Make high level recommendations to prevent or minimise the risk of similar future events.

The focus of the Inquiry was broader than occupational health and safety and as such the Mining Warden’s recommendations do not specifically focus upon this issue.

Government has carefully considered and agrees with all the recommendations of the Mining Warden as set out in the Yallourn Mine Batter Failure Inquiry Report.

In developing its response, Government has considered the nature and extent of the problem and the role of Government in addressing the problem.

As identified by the Mining Warden, the fundamental cause of the mine batter failure was a lack of sufficient expertise within the mining industry, both within the mine operator and external to the mine operator, to interpret the available information to TRUenergy.

Insufficient geotechnical and hydrogeological expertise is a symptom of a global skills shortage in these professions. In considering how to best address this problem, Government agrees with the key findings of the Mining Warden to enhance and supplement processes and procedures to respond to the changing environment and address the information gaps resulting from the skills shortage in the mining sector. Such information gaps, if left unremedied, may lead to significant adverse environmental, social or economic outcomes.

While the Mining Warden’s recommendations are specific to the Latrobe Valley, Government is also considering whether there may be merit in considering the application of some actions to the broader Victorian mining sector.

The Government will partly fund the additional cost of implementing the initiatives outlined in this response to the Mining Warden Inquiry and will establish a levy to be applied to industry to recover the remaining costs associated with the delivery of the new initiatives. Industry and the community will benefit from the establishment of these new measures designed to address the level of geotechnical expertise within the mining industry.

The Government plans to introduce legislation in 2009 to establish the new levy.

The Government’s response to each of the Mining Warden’s recommendations is set out below.

Ground and surface water

Recommendation 1

Groundwater control is essential for all coal mines. However this also has large scale and widespread ramifications. There is a need for a more allencompassing approach to all aspects of ground and surface water in the Latrobe Valley.

Government will establish a Latrobe Valley cross-agency water co-ordination group to understand and coordinate regional groundwater and surface water issues associated with mining. The Group will be established early in 2009 to review and refine a groundwater and surface water model to inform regulators and operators of regional risk issues. This work will be undertaken in consultation with the Latrobe Valley Groundwater Monitoring Group.

It is expected that Coal Resources Victoria will play a lead role in understanding and planning for water impacts from current and future mining via the coordination of key stakeholders (including existing groups focused on groundwater and/or surface water management) in the Latrobe Valley region.

Coal Resources Victoria has been established as a Division of the Department of Primary Industries and will be located in the Latrobe Valley. It is expected Coal Resources Victoria will commence its role in early 2009 with the principle functions of strategic planning for coal, regional environmental planning, governance and stakeholder engagement and coal resource data acquisition.

Planning

Recommendation 2

There also needs to be a more all-encompassing approach to planning for all future developments in the Latrobe Valley that recognises the somewhat competing demands for all the various elements.

Regional mine planning, including rehabilitation planning, will be established for the Latrobe Valley coal mining region. Regional planning will ensure a holistic approach is taken to monitoring mine stability in the context of current and planned infrastructure and existing natural assets. A review of existing rehabilitation plans will be necessary to ensure consistency with the regional mine planning framework while still ensuring ongoing sustainability.

This will enhance the formal monitoring of broad offsite impacts of mine geotechnical issues.

It is expected that Coal Resources Victoria will take a lead role in this process.

Management and Control of Mining Risk

Recommendation 3

Given the complexity and scale of the technical issues, effective regulation of current and future mining is difficult. It is recommended that the Government instigate the establishment of a Technical Review Board to undertake annual or bi-annual reviews of all mining operations and their potential impacts.

It is further recommended that DPI review the Mining Licence notification conditions.

Establish a Technical Review Board

Government will establish a Technical Review Board comprised of eminent Australian and international technical experts as soon as possible to review critical geotechnical issues, monitoring of data, monitoring procedures and other risk management functions and to refer findings to DPI for action. DPI can then issue directions which are required to be complied with through graduating powers within the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990.

The Technical Review Board will have an emphasis on lifting the performance of the geotechnical and hydrogeological profession rather than functioning as a regulator. This model has been used elsewhere and has proven to be successful. A similar Technical Review Board was established in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Technical Review Board was established due to a lack of available geotechnical expertise in the Hong Kong market and has had a positive impact on reducing landslides and slope failures.

A key driver for the establishment of the Technical Review Board will be to ensure appropriate peer review of the geotechnical consulting advice received by the mines. While the onus will rest with the mines to ensure they have appropriate geotechnical review procedures in place, the Technical Review Board will provide an additional level of review to satisfy the regulator that monitoring is sufficiently rigorous. It is expected that the mine companies will need to enhance their geotechnical expertise (or ensure consulting expertise is of a high enough standard) to meet the new monitoring and reporting requirements.

The Technical Review Board will meet on a six monthly basis and will be supported by a secretariat provided by DPI.

It is anticipated that members of the Technical Review Board will be appointed by the Minister in accordance with Part 4A of the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990.

Supporting legislative amendments

Government will review and amend if necessary, Part 4A of the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 to ensure it is suitable to enable the appointment and operation of the Technical Review Board.

Government proposes to amend the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 to enable regulations to prescribe mines for the purpose of imposing additional reporting requirements. Mines would be prescribed if there are considered to be significant risks with respect to environment, public safety and infrastructure.

The initial mines to be prescribed are likely to include:

  • TRUenergy Pty Ltd, Yallourn mine;
  • International Power Pty Ltd, Hazelwood mine; and
  • Loy Yang Power Partner 3 Ltd, Loy Yang mine.

Government will further consider whether additional mines should be prescribed through regulations and/or Ministerial Orders.

Prescribing particular mines, rather than applying additional reporting requirements on all mining licensees, aims to ensure the legislative amendments are proportionally targeted and minimise any increase in regulatory burden.

The prescribed mines will be required to provide a risk assessment with respect to mine stability, develop a risk management plan, implement the plan and have appropriate monitoring and review processes. The risk assessment and management plan will be incorporated in the work plan process.

The mine stability elements of the work plan and associated reports, including monitoring, will be subject to six monthly reviews by the Technical Review Board.

Government also proposes to amend the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 to impose a requirement on all mines to notify and report to DPI incidents, symptoms or accidents that have caused, or have the potential to cause, moderate to catastrophic environmental, public safety or infrastructure consequences or interruptions to supply. Regulations will be amended to specify notifiable and reportable incidents and reporting requirements.

Penalties will be prescribed for failure to notify/report notifiable/reportable incidents in accordance with the reporting requirements.

These amendments to the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 and regulations will be based on a similar model currently prescribed in the Commonwealth Petroleum (Submerged Lands)(Management of Safety on Offshore Facilities) Regulations 1996 and the Petroleum (Submerged Lands)(Management of Environment) Regulations 1999.

Technical

Recommendation 4

The issues exposed by the North East Batter failure highlight the need for the mine and their advisers to:

  1. Continue to develop their hydrological models;
  2. Continue to develop their geotechnical models;
  3. Ensure the disciplines of geology, hydrogeology and soil mechanics are fully integrated into a comprehensive geotechnical model of stability;
  4. Ensure that any new or significant changes to mine plans, mine layouts or mining systems are thoroughly evaluated from a geotechnical and hydrogeological perspective before they are adopted; and
  5. The last recommendation is perhaps more nebulous but is probably the most important. It is critical for maintenance of future stability in mining that the historic experience and understanding is not lost but effectively captured in the new and evolving models of understanding.

Technical capability of the mine operators and their advisors will be enhanced with the implementation of the Technical Review Board and the legislative amendments as outlined in the response to Recommendation 3.

Strengthening DPI capacity and capability

As a result of the additional reporting requirements imposed on the new class of prescribed mines, Government will fund new geotechnical and hydrogeological positions and two additional inspectors within DPI. These additional resources will supplement DPI's capacity and capability to review the risk assessments and management plans which will be incorporated in the work plan process and to respond to the reporting of actual or potential catastrophic events. It should not be necessary to amend the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (MRSDA) to ensure DPI regulatory staff are afforded legal protection as section 121 of the MRSDA provides:

“Nothing done or omitted to be done by the Department Head or an employee of the Department or a mining warden in good faith in the exercise or purported exercise of a power or the discharge or purported discharge of a duty under this Act or the regulation subjects him or her personally to any liability”.

All DPI mine inspectors (current and new appointments) will be required to undertake further technical training. This will improve their ability to better understand features of a mine that may be unusual and identify abnormal changes in a mine that may lead to a mine collapse.

A regular, Government supported lecture series will be developed by DPI. The purpose of the lecture series would be to share contemporary academic research results with the broader mining industry including mine operators, consultants and other interested parties. While the lecture series would not be compulsory, it provides an accessible means for mining professionals to access the most current information in relation to mine geotechnical information and provide a forum to encourage debate.

Review of coal mining operations

DPI has commenced preliminary scoping audits of all the coal mines to review existing licence and work plan conditions and to impose reporting and monitoring requirements on work plan conditions in line with the Mining Warden's recommendations and additional proposed legislative requirements.

The audits of the Latrobe Valley coal mines will focus on issues identified by the Mining Warden. Geotechnical experts will be part of the audit team. The audit reports will advise the mines of areas for improvement and if necessary DPI will issue Notices under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990. The audits are expected to be completed by the end of 2008.

The Yallourn Environmental Review Committee will be retained, but its scope altered so that it is consistent with Environmental Review Committees for other mines, which do not consider geotechnical reports. These reports will now be submitted directly to DPI.

Ongoing Education

DPI will improve education and capacity building in the sector through the following initiatives:

  • Conducting “lessons learnt” workshops, in conjunction with the former Mining Warden, Professor Tim Sullivan. Following the completion of his term as a Mining Warden, Professor Sullivan has been engaged as a consultant by DPI to implement the key recommendations;
  • Preparing and disseminating, both locally and nationally, the findings of the “Significant Incident Reports”;
  • Reviewing existing guidance material and, where appropriate, publishing new guidance material to provide advice to industry on geotechnical issues; and
  • Maintaining an ongoing role in education and capability to ensure the minerals sector has the knowledge to properly manage risks.

Enhancing research and development

Victorian brown coal is a unique material, different to other worldwide deposits of lignite. The techniques to mine brown coal are significantly different to those of extracting hard rock and black coal. As such, there is little incentive for academic institutions outside of Victoria to undertake comprehensive research into technical and stability issues in relation to Victorian brown coal. This is reflected in the limited brown coal specific curriculum in relevant university degrees.

To address market failures associated with the provision of geotechnical research and development and insufficient information and expertise available in the mining sector due to the current global skills shortage and the ageing of the coal workforce, Government will require funding for a foundation chair and three PhD students based at the Churchill campus of Monash University to foster research and innovation in coal geotechnical and hydrogeological areas.

It is anticipated the establishment of these positions will build the foundation for the development of brown coal specific curriculum in relevant degrees, thus enhancing the capability of graduates and contributing to the ongoing education of existing mining professionals. The positions will be located in the Latrobe Valley to ensure access to relevant academic and mining resources and to encourage and promote local skill development.