A new report on McArthur River Mine says sacred Indigenous sites and an important river system face irreversible damage if operations continue unabated.
It highlights issues including acid build-up in waste rock that was misclassified as harmless and seepage from a tailings dam into groundwater and nearby creeks.
UNSW engineering associate professor Fiona Johnson, one of the report’s contributors, said it was especially disheartening that the NT government recently approved a further expansion of the zinc mine.
But mine operator Glencore says the Mining Management Plan paving the way for that expansion underwent an extensive environmental approval process.
And it says the those behind the paper did not seek input from the company or request access to the mine site to inform their desktop research.
UNSW Sydney’s Global Water Institute and the Environmental Centre of the Northern Territory compiled the report.
It was based on publicly available information on water-related issues related to McArthur River Mine’s operations and expansion over the period 2007-2018.
The authors concluded that problems such as the spontaneous combustion of waste rock at the site paled in comparison to the long-term risks of metallic and acid contamination of the groundwater system and the McArthur River.
Even after such risks were identified by the Independent Monitor, they say there were repeated failures by Glencore and the NT mining regulator to act quickly to mitigate them.
“It’s hard to understand why the McArthur River Mine has been given the green light to expand its operations when it is still yet to prove itself capable in dealing with problems arising from its current mining practices,” Professor Johnson said.
Mine operates under ‘stringent conditions’ – Glencore
A Glencore spokeswoman said that McArthur River Mine was committed to running a safe, responsible and environmentally sustainable mining operation.
“We operate under stringent conditions set down through Northern Territory and Federal legislation as well as conditions of Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority certificates, designed to protect sacred sites,” she said.
“Our operations are further subject to oversight by the Independent Monitor.
“We respond to requests for information in the timeframes agreed with the Independent Monitor and have consistently acted on and addressed recommendations made by the Independent Monitor in a timely manner.
“For the period between April 2018 and May 2020, we have provided all the relevant information to the Independent Monitor and we expect their report for this period to be published shortly.”