Concerns raised over Olympic Dam expansion

Date of publication: 
24 August 2009

THE South Australian and Northern Territory governments have called for BHP Billiton to address concerns over the massive Olympic Dam expansion.

Submissions to BHP’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) closed earlier this month, with both state governments today releasing their submissions on the proposed expansion.

The South Australian government has outlined several issues, including potential risks of exposure to radiation and the management of radioactive tailings and dust from the proposed expansion.

The government said BHP must provide more information on risks from radiation, including processes for managing possible build-up of radioactive surface contaminants and for assessing the radiation contamination level of wastes.

There were also concerns over the impact of effluent discharge from the proposed Point Lowly desalination plant on marine species in the Upper Spencer Gulf.

The government said BHP must provide more adequate fauna and flora surveys to assess salinity and temperature stress, and implement a monitoring program.

Other issues raised regard potential greenhouse gas emissions, with BHP required to improve transparency and public accountability and introduce international indicators into the greenhouse analysis at the project.

The government has also called for BHP to use renewable energy sources such as a solar thermal plant outlined in BHP’s draft EIS.

Another concern related to the potential pollution and depletion of ground and surface water with BHP expected to investigate further.

Meanwhile, the Northern Territory government has asked for BHP to address emergency procedures in case of a transport accident on the rail line from Olympic Dam to Darwin.

BHP has also been asked to provide dust management measures and to clarify what exposure standards will apply to workers at Darwin port.

The major miner will respond to the issues raised by both governments in its supplementary EIS, to be released in early 2010.

Both state governments will then prepare an assessment report and make a decision on the proposed expansion.

If BHP gets these approvals, a decision to go ahead with work at the mine could come as early as next year.

The news comes after BHP released its 4600-plus page draft EIS in May this year.

BHP envisions the new mine operating simultaneously with the existing underground operations.

This will see the already massive mine grow to even more immense levels —- mining rates will increase to 72 million tonnes per annum, up six times from current mining rates of 12Mt from the underground operations.

Some 2.4Mt of copper concentrate will be produced each year as a result, as well as 750,000t of refined copper, 19,000t of uranium oxide, 800,000 ounces of gold bullion and 2.9Moz of silver bullion.

The mine produces 600,000t of copper concentrate, 235,000t refined copper, 4500t uranium oxide, 100,000oz gold and 2.1Moz silver per annum.

Shares in BHP have gained $1.43 to $38.04 in morning trade.