Responsible practices

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The Australian Government supports the safe, ethical and environmentally responsible exploration, extraction, processing and supply of resources.

Australia recognises the benefits offered by a prosperous resources sector to the economy and the Australian people. We understand that to maintain and maximise this prosperity we must protect and secure the health and safety of workers in the resources industry.

The government has a role to ensure that all industrial and resources activities are undertaken in a manner that is consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development.

Safety

Australia’s offshore and onshore resources industry is renowned for delivering best practice health and safety solutions that support high levels of productivity.

The health and safety of offshore and onshore workers are protected by a world-leading regulatory and policy framework, with industry, government and other stakeholders. They work together to achieve ‘zero harm’ or reduce risk so that they are ‘as low as reasonably practicable’.

Onshore

Onshore mining is governed by state and territory legislation. It imposes a general duty of care, and requires the operator of a mine to ensure the health and safety of workers and other persons is not at risk as a result of activities at the mine.

All legislation is based on a risk management approach which requires the ongoing identification, mitigation and monitoring of all risks present at a mining operation to ensure hazards are eliminated or controlled.

Some of Australia’s mines use innovative technology to enhance worker safety whilst also improving the site efficiency.

For example, haulage automation at BHP’s Jimblebar operation in the Pilbara has reduced heavy vehicle safety incidents by 80%.24 

There are over 369 autonomous trucks operating in Australia, which operate alongside the world’s largest robot, Rio Tinto’s self-driving train. This automated system, operated from over 1000km away, hauls iron ore from mine to port in the Pilbara, making a safer and more productive journey.

Technologies developed in Australia, such as ‘Life’ by Smart Cap (a portable fatigue monitoring software), help workers manage fatigue and avoid possible fatigue-related accidents.

Offshore

The government manages over 10 million km² of ocean, one of the largest marine jurisdictions in the world.

Consistent with modern safety regimes, Australia’s offshore regulatory regime sets out broad performance objectives for the identification and management of hazards and risks.

Oil and gas activities in Australian Commonwealth waters are regulated under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (OPGGS Act).

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) independently regulates offshore oil and gas health and safety, well integrity, and environmental management.

The safety performance of Australia’s offshore petroleum industry continues to outperform other comparable industries, both domestically and internationally.25 

The International Regulators Forum (IRF) performance measures for offshore activities amongst member countries demonstrate that Australia consistently shows low levels of fatalities, major injuries, gas releases, collisions and loss of well control incidents.26

Environment

Australia is a world leader in sustainable mining and has strong environmental and safety regulations as well as industry-led voluntary codes of practice. This has created a broad framework of ongoing demand for innovative technologies and services in sustainable mining practices. 

Australia has effective regulation to ensure that extraction, transportation and export of natural resources has a controlled and limited impact on the natural environment.

Because of strong environmental regulation at both state and federal levels, the Australian resources sector has developed world-class competencies in ecological restoration, remedial actions and biodiversity offsets.

Improving the efficiency of governments’ collective oversight of environmental approvals can reduce regulatory burden and also improve environmental outcomes.

In 2019, the government initiated two reviews to identify regulatory improvements to the resources sector:

  • the Productivity Commission Study into Resources Sector Regulation
  • the Independent Review into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The Productivity Commission released its final report on Resources Sector Regulation on 10 December 2020. It recommended measures to reduce regulatory burden, increase investor confidence and maintain environmental standards in the resources sector.

The government is currently implementing the first tranche of reforms of the EPBC Act. These reforms focus on reducing duplication in approval processes between the Commonwealth and states and territories and establishing an Environment Assurance Commissioner to oversee bilateral agreements between states and territories.

Mining companies operating in Australia recognise the need to operate in accordance with established environmental and social governance principles. \

The Minerals Council of Australia’s Enduring Value Framework for Sustainable Development, together with the recently adopted Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) accountability framework, provide guidance to mining companies covering all stages of the mining process, from initial exploration to mine rehabilitation and closure.27 

These initiatives are supported by the Leading Practice Sustainable Development Program for sustainable mining, which sets out best-practice procedures encompassing all stages of mining processes and the key issues affecting sustainable mining.28

Case study of a research partnership to support responsible mining practices

Australia is reducing the environmental impacts of mining activities through dedicated research programs.

For example, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in partnership with small gold miner, Clean Mining Ltd., recently poured the first ‘green’ gold that uses a cyanide-free process.

Cyanide is used in 90% of global gold production and can have substantial environmental impacts. The government and mining industry are leading the way to more environmentally sustainable gold production.

The successful trial took place in Western Australia, and led to Clean Mining, now part of the Clean Earth Technologies Group, acquiring the patented technology from CSIRO.

With the rights to produce, distribute and develop the technology worldwide, Clean Mining has now embarked on a global sales and distribution program, recently signing its first 2 contracts in Western Australia. This enables miners around the world to access the solution that will transform their operations.

Climate change mitigation

Australia is committed to the Paris Agreement and is taking practical and ambitious action to reduce emissions.

Australia’s resource sector has an important role to play in positioning Australia to be competitive in a global low emissions economy. This includes in supply chains for new and emerging low emissions technologies, which will contribute to global efforts to cut emissions while driving economic growth.

The Minerals Council of Australia’s Climate Action Plan supports the industry taking action to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.29  

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association supports a national climate change policy that delivers greenhouse gas emissions reductions, consistent with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.30 

Australia’s resources sector is working to reduce carbon emissions by committing to emissions reductions targets and investing in advanced low emissions technologies.

 A number of Australian miners are embedding renewable energy infrastructure to power their operations and investing in low-emissions technology.

  • A BHP and Toyota partnership is trialling light electric vehicles (LEV) at BHP’s Nickel West operations in Western Australia, to trial emissions intensity reduction in its operations.
  • The Mount Cattlin lithium mine in Ravensthorpe Western Australia meets 15% of its annual power needs through solar and wind power, with plans to increase this portion.
  • Shell Australia has announced that it will build its first large-scale solar farm in Queensland. The solar farm is located inside the footprint of, and will help power, Shell’s QGC onshore natural gas project that stretches across Queensland’s Western Downs region.
  • BHP has signed a firm renewable power purchasing agreement to meet half of its electricity needs across its Queensland coal mines from low emissions sources. The agreement will help BHP reduce emissions from electricity use in its Queensland operations by 50% by 2025, based on FY2020 levels.
  • Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has committed upwards of US$700 million to reduce operational emissions. FMG also has announced that it will dedicate 10% of post-tax profits towards green energy projects through newly established subsidiary, Fortescue Future Industries, to invest and fund innovations in renewable energy technologies.

Investment in low emissions technology

In 2020, the government released the Technology Investment Roadmap (the Roadmap) setting out a strategic view to guide future investments in low emissions technology and ensure we remain at the forefront of the global transition to the new energy economy.

The Australian Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap

A cycle diagram of investment in new low emissions technologies with eight stages. Stage one is setting a clear vision. Stage two is surveying new and emerging technologies. Stage three is understanding Australia's technological needs and comparative advantages. Stage four is identifying priority technologies under abatement potential, Australia's comparative advantages, scale of economic benefit, and technology readiness. Stage five is identifying the most effiecient deployment pathways and setting economic targets for key technologies. Stage six is implementing investments. Stage seven is balancing the overall investment portfolio. Stage eight is assessing the impact of technology investments.

View larger image of the Australian Government's Technology Investment Roadmap.

The Roadmap and annual Low Emissions Technology Statements together form the cornerstone of Australia’s technology-led approach to reduce emissions while ensuring reliable, affordable energy and supporting transformation of energy-intensive industries.

The nation’s first Low Emissions Technology Statement, released in September 2020, identifies economic ‘stretch goals’ for five priority low emissions technologies, including hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.

To reach these goals, the government delivered a A$1.9 billion dollar low emissions technologies investment package in 2020.

Building on this investment, in April 2021 the government committed A$1.6 billion to develop low emissions technology deployment such as hydrogen hubs and international low emission technology partnerships.

This significant investment includes:

  • Totalling A$539.2 million for new clean hydrogen and carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) projects in 2021-22 including31:
    • A$275.5 million for additional clean hydrogen hubs, a certification trial and legal reforms to facilitate trade
    • A$263.7 million to establish a new CCUS Hubs and Technologies Program and help develop a National CCUS Technology Emissions Abatement Strategy. This will fund CCUS projects and hubs, including carbon recycling technologies with export potential, and help improve policy frameworks and coordination strategies to deploy CCS hubs
  • a commitment of A$565.8 million to support practical international partnerships to accelerate deployment and export of home grown low emissions technologies, unlock new economic opportunities and push down energy costs.

Example of developing large scale CCS hub infrastructure to help decarbonise multiple emitters within proximity to a central storage site

The CarbonNet Project is investigating the potential for a commercial scale carbon capture and storage network in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

If proved viable, CarbonNet could enable the development of new industries, including a commercial scale clean-hydrogen export industry alongside a commercial scale Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain Project.

CarbonNet is co-funded between the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments and is at Stage 3 of its work program. Appraisal of its preferred storage site, Pelican, indicates a storage capacity of 125 million tonnes.

The government has committed $95 million to the CarbonNet Project through the CCS Flagships Program.

Examples of commercial uptake of and application of CCUS technologies in Australian resources sector

Santos has successfully injected approximately 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide deep underground into depleted gas reservoirs as part of the final field trial for the Moomba Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Project in South Australia. It has the potential to store up to 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum.

The Chevron Australia-Operated Gorgon natural gas facility is also using carbon capture and storage to reduce project emissions.

In August 2019, the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Injection Project, known as the Gorgon Emissions Reduction System, in Western Australia commenced operation.

The project is one of the world’s largest carbon dioxide injection projects, capable of injecting 3.4-4 million tonnes of reservoir CO2 per year.

This is the equivalent of removing 1.25 million cars from the roads each year. It will inject around 100 million tonnes of CO2 over the life of the project.

To date As at Q1 2021, the project has successfully extracted and buried over four and half million tonnes of CO2 under Barrow Island.

Supporting ethical international governance

Australia advocates international standards supporting the responsible and ethical extraction and trade of resources globally. This includes our promotion of:

  • the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains
  • the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme
  • Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

The government promotes human rights and security in the resources industry through the Voluntary Principles Initiative.

The Voluntary Principles provide a practical human rights framework for natural resource and energy industries. Implementing the Voluntary Principles advances human rights while ensuring a positive social licence. This creates certainty for investors, enhancing commercial outcomes, increasing community engagement and maximising the economic return of resource projects to local communities.

Companies operating in Australia and abroad, including BHP, Rio Tinto, MMG, Newcrest Mining Limited, PanAust, and Woodside, are signatories to the Voluntary Principles Initiative.

Australia is also a founding member of the Energy Resource Governance Initiative (ERGI), along with the United States, Canada, Peru and Botswana, which supports sound governance in energy mineral resource mining and resilient energy mineral supply chains.

Footnotes