Six months after it was launched, the State Government's Mining Rehabilitation Fund has freed up more than $220 million in environmental bonds held by WA mining and exploration companies - but owners of "high-risk" sites will have to wait for months for clarity about how the system applies to them.
According to figures provided by the Department of Mines and Petroleum $221.4 million in environmental bonds have now been retired, from 1159 companies or "tenement groups" that had collectively paid $5.1 million into the fund by last week.
Introduced as a replacement for the environmental bond system, where miners and tenement holders set aside 25 per cent of the estimated rehabilitation liability for their sites, under the MRF miners pay about one per cent of their estimated liability into an industry-wide fund each year.
The fund will receive an estimated $30 million to $40 million in payments each year, and free between $500 million and $800 million in quarantined bond money on resource company books.
Payments to the fund, launched in the middle of last year, become compulsory from July 1. Until then, companies can voluntarily pay into the fund.
DMP executive director environment Phil Gorey said the fund was on-track. Rules for return of bonds at high-risk sites had not yet been set.
"While we expect the vast majority of companies to have their bonds returned once they're paying into the MRF, for certain high-risk sites, the bond will be retained," Dr Gorey said.
Dr Gorey said the DMP would seek stakeholder comment on a proposed new bond return policy which, when approved by Mines Minister Bill Marmion, would set the rules for the release of environmental bonds when the MRF becomes compulsory.
Dr Gorey said it was not yet clear whether bond monies set aside by companies in administration would be dealt with under the return policy.
However, it was anticipated that the Department would retain some powers to keep environmental bonds in place.
"If the Government retains the current bond return criteria for companies under administration, those companies would be required to pay the MRF and their . . . bonds would continue to be held," he said.
Dr Gorey said administrators of those companies would be required to comply with environmental conditions and laws and closure and care and maintenance plans.
He said the DMP hoped to have the new bond policy in place by the end of March.