Lead Technical Advisor in the Office of the Queensland Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner (OQMRC)
Best practice mine site rehabilitation in Queensland -technical aspects

Are you eligible for Breaking Barriers Category

SUMMARY

I am the Lead Technical Advisor in the Office of the Queensland Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner (OQMRC). The Queensland Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner is a recently created position in Queensland, created to raise awareness of mine rehabilitation matters, provide guidance on best practice mine rehabilitation and report on rehabilitation performance and trends in Queensland. I lead the technical arm of the team, undertaking research relating to best practice mine rehabilitation in Queensland. Some of our research includes how to best manage post-mining voids, native ecosystem outcomes from mine rehabilitation, addressing topsoil deficits that hinder rehabilitation, and identifying areas for biodiversity corridors from mine rehabilitation. In addition to undertaking research, my role also involves liaising with environmental professionals on mine sites and in government and consultancies to understand mine rehabilitation challenges and opportunities in Queensland.

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

Mining is a significant contributor to Queensland’s economy and the lifeblood of many regions in Queensland. Last year alone, the total economic impact of the Queensland minerals and energy sector was estimated to be $84.3 billion (Lawrence Consulting, 2021). Globally, Queensland is a major producer of coal, bauxite, copper and zinc. Queensland also has significant deposits of lead, gold, silver, tin and silica, and is becoming a key player in the critical minerals industry (those minerals that support technologies such as solar panels, smart phones, batteries etc). Extracting and processing these minerals in a way that is environmentally sustainable is essential for the long-term survival of the mining sector in Queensland and for our global reputation as an environmentally responsible producer of minerals.

Mining is a temporary land use and there is an increasing emphasis on rehabilitation and the delivery of post-mining land uses as an intrinsic part of the mining lifecycle (Keenan & Holcombe, 2021). In Queensland, successful mine rehabilitation means the return of disturbed land to a stable, safe condition that supports a post-mining land use (Environmental Protection Act 1994 s 111A). My work in the Office of the Queensland Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner is a key part of supporting more and better mine rehabilitation in Queensland. I lead the technical arm of the Office of the Queensland Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner, undertaking research on what constitutes best practice mine rehabilitation. Some of the key rehabilitation challenges in Queensland include management of post-mining voids, rehabilitation of mine waste structures that have the potential to cause poor quality drainage, and rehabilitation of open-cut mines with insufficient topsoil. My research involves development of reports on the complex, technical aspects of these challenges, so that the Rehabilitation Commissioner can provide clear advice on best practice rehabilitation in Queensland. The advice and the reports published by the Office of the Queensland Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner support industry and the regulator during development of Progressive Rehabilitation and Closure plans, to ensure that mine rehabilitation in Queensland is world-class.  

Importantly, my work is not only desktop-based research but involves engagement with environmental professionals on mine sites and in the government, to ensure that my research outputs are informed by on-ground realities and can be translated into real-world practice.

References:
Lawrence Consulting (2021) Economic Impact of Minerals and Energy Sector on the Queensland Economy. Queensland Resources Council https://www.qrc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Economic-Impact-of-Resources-Sector-on-Qld-Economy-2020-21.pdf 
Keenan & Holcombe (2021) Mining as a temporary land use: A global stocktake of post-mining transitions and repurposing. The Extractive Industries and Society, vol 8 (3), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exis.2021.100924

ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)

I consider myself an excellent role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM, because my lived experience is that location, gender and/or family history need not matter for a successful and rewarding career in STEM. This is something aspiring female scientists need to hear, because “if you can see it, you can be it”!

I am demonstrating a rewarding career in STEM, in a largely male-dominated industry (mining), not just as a participant, but also as a leader. I’m leading teams, leading individual research projects, and influencing across the mining industry to change the way mine rehabilitation in Queensland is thought about and undertaken. I believe that good role models are those that strive to create positive change for the future, and this is something I am wholeheartedly doing everyday through my work.

My career in STEM, and my leadership opportunities in a male-dominated sector, haven’t come by chance or good luck. The message I communicate during school engagement is that hard work, grit and perseverance are the key factors for an enjoyable and successful career in STEM (noting also, that this applies not only to STEM but to anything meaningful!). Unlike natural intelligence, family status, or the local school system available, the character traits that will allow future female scientists to succeed, can all be developed. Good role models for our future generation are those that inspire positive character traits and leadership qualities, helping the next generation connect with their story to imagine their own pathway forward.

Finally, I believe I am a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM, because I clearly demonstrate that a career in STEM is not boring, rather, it can be fun, exciting and rewarding! It might also involve some non-scientific aspects, like learning foreign languages and international collaborations. My career has taken me from the edge of the Amazon jungle building a pilot scale experiment at an iron ore mine, to midnight collection of ocean sediment cores from a research vessel in the Black Sea. I have worked on samples from the guts of cows in Queensland, wallabies in New South Wales, termites in Western Australia and sheep in France. I have seen some of the largest mining operations in the world through my work. Through these career experiences I have been contributing to help overcome technical barriers relating to environmental sustainability. The biggest challenges facing society today will be solved by the scientists of the next generation and I believe we need to inspire this important work by showing that it can also be fun and rewarding.

ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

Since 2015 I have proactively undertaken science engagement, with a strong focus on rural and regional Queensland. Sometimes this has been self-initiated, for example I have returned to my hometown twice to talk with students at the local school and members of a local community group about my research and careers in science. I have also participated in science outreach through organised programs such as Catch a Rising Star -Women in Science, Flying Scientists, Wonder of Science and CSIRO Scientists in Schools. This has involved visits to rural and regional towns to engage with local students in hands-on experiments, participate in radio interviews, present about my research at community forums, as well as a visit to two Brisbane schools and an online lesson with students from the Capricornia School of Distance Education (who were astonished to learn that I too did a subject by radio/phone when I was at school). While my outreach has not specifically targeted women and girls, I have been very intentional to break the stereotype for women and girls from rural and regional Queensland by connecting my story with their story.
Queensland towns and schools visited for STEM engagement: 
Mundubbera (2015 and 2016)
Longreach (2016)
Mt Isa, Cloncurry, Julia Creek (2017)
Capricornia School of Distance Education (2018)
Dutton Park (2019)
Mackay (2019)
Wavell (2020)
I am passionate about communicating my research to non-scientific audiences and in 2019 prepared a 3-minute video about my research as part of ‘Pitch it Clever’ competition. Between 2018 and 2020 I also co-coordinated the Joint Academic Microbiology Seminars (JAMS) in Brisbane, a monthly after-work networking and science communication event held at a local pub and open to anyone with an interest in microbiology.

VIDEO

Dr Emma Gagen - Women in STEM from Office on Vimeo.