MAC: Mines and Communities

Glencore’s Australia mine expansion puts sacred sites at risk

Published by MAC on 2021-03-06
Source: ABC, Reuters

The company has applied to almost double the height of its waste rock dump.

An expansion at a massive lead and zinc mine run by Glencore puts at risk several sacred Aboriginal sites, the head of a Northern Territory oversight authority told an Australian inquiry.

Meanwhile, traditional owners near the Gulf of Carpentaria have launched legal action against the Northern Territory Government over its decision to slash the security bond paid by the mine.

See also:

2020-11-21 Glencore to expand McArthur River despite sacred sites authority veto?

2016-02-16 Australia: The race to avert disaster at the McArthur River Mine

Glencore’s Australia mine expansion threatens sacred sites – authority head

Reuters -

2 March 2021

Expansion at an Australian lead and zinc mine run by miner Glencore puts at risk several sacred Aboriginal sites including a historical quarry, the head of a Northern Territory oversight authority told an Australian inquiry on Tuesday.

Glencore unit McArthur River Mine (MRM) received approval from the territory’s mining minister last year to proceed with expansion at the mine, 670 km (420 miles) southeast of Darwin, including doubling the size of its waste dump.

The approval came despite an objection by an authority responsible for protecting traditional sites, and amid greater scrutiny of miners’ dealings with Indigenous groups after Rio Tinto destroyed ancient rockshelters in Western Australia for an iron ore mine expansion last year.

“The scale of the mine expansion raises some quite serious questions about the maintenance and protection of sacred sites on that lease and also access to those places for custodians into the future,” said Benedict Scambary, chief executive of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA).

Glencore has applied to almost double the height of its waste rock dump to 140 m (150 yards) from 80 m and approval now rests with the Northern Territory mining minister. It is currently mining without exceeding the height restrictions.

Glencore said in a statement to Reuters that it operated under stringent conditions set down by territory and federal legislation, as well as by AAPA conditions.

“We understand our obligation to protect sacred sites on our mining lease and take this obligation very seriously,” Glencore said, adding that it would seek approvals from AAPA for any future mining plans that required them.

Scambary told the parliamentary inquiry into Rio Tinto’s destruction of rockshelters last year that the MRM waste dump expansion could impact adjacent sacred sites, and that Glencore did not have proper authority from appropriate elders to do so.

Sites at risk included one related to creation stories, known as barramundi dreaming, as well as a quarry where stone tools were made, Scambary said.

MRM produced around 600,000 tonnes of zinc in concentrate, and 210,000 of lead in concentrate in 2019, according to Glencore’s most recent annual report.

Legal action launched against NT Government over McArthur River Mine security bond

Sowaibah Hanifie

13 Feb 2021

Traditional owners near the Gulf of Carpentaria have launched legal action against the Northern Territory Government over its decision to slash the security bond paid by a massive lead and zinc mine.

The legal proceedings, brought by the Environmental Defenders Officer (EDO) on behalf of Borroloola residents and the Environment Centre NT, relate to the environmental security bond paid by the McArthur River Mine.

The mine is situated about 45 kilometres from the Aboriginal community and some residents have repeatedly raised health, environmental and cultural concerns about the project — including when waste rock combusted and smouldered for several months from 2013.

Security bonds are risk-based payments held by the NT Government to cover the costs of dealing with mining-related environmental harm.

Late in 2020 — at the same time as it controversially announced approval for a doubling of the size of the project's mine pit and waste rock dump — the NT Government reduced the mine's security bond from $519 million to $400 million.

At the time, environmentalists warned the bond was inadequate and could ultimately see taxpayers foot the clean-up bill, but an NT Government spokeswoman said the reduction was due to improvements in technology and waste rock management.

EDO chief executive David Morris is calling that explanation "manifestly inadequate".

His organisation has now filed proceedings in the NT Supreme Court alleging the decision to reduce the bond was unlawful — and therefore invalid — and is seeking a judicial review of the decision.

"At the heart of this question is: How has the Minister [for Mining and Industry, Nicole Manison] calculated the bond for this site?" Mr Morris said.

"What our clients want is for that bond to reflect the real cost of rehabilitating and closing that site.

In 2017, a report by an independent monitor found the site could require "several hundred years" of monitoring and rehabilitation, and the bond, about half a billion dollars at the time, was "inadequate".

The same report raised concerns that leaching from the waste rock dump and seepage from the tailings dam continued to pose environmental risks.

In a statement announcing the legal action, Gudanji elder and native title holder Josie Davey Green said she feared for the future of her community.

"I am hurting so deeply. I worry for my children, and their children. I am fighting for my country," she wrote.

"My ancestors spent their lives with that river — it is everything to us; we're all connected to it.

"We feel like we can't fish there now, and I can't get there to teach my children about culture and country — I have to go elsewhere."

Some native title holders have already launched separate legal action against the Northern Territory Government seeking compensation for the alleged damage of sacred sites near the mine.

A spokeswoman for Ms Manison said the decision to reduce the security bond was made following a "rigorous independent assessment process".

"The Territory Labor Government is supporting jobs and protecting the environment through strict regulation for the McArthur River Mine and its future operations," she said in a statement.

"To do this we must apply regulation efficiently and in line with the NT EPA — ensuring the safety of the community and the environment."

Glencore, whose subsidiary McArthur River Mining operates the mine, has been contacted for comment.


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