Media Release

New Roxby method needs a new Roxby EIS

14/11/2012 1:00 pm

Greens Parliamentary Leader Mark Parnell has questioned whether Mining Minister Tom Koutsantonis has the capacity to do his job, and has demanded a new EIS assessment of the proposed brand new processing option of ‘acid heap leaching’ at Olympic Dam be conducted before the project is allowed to commence. 

The call comes in response to Mining Minister Tom Koutsantonis’s false claims on ABC 891 radio this morning that it was always BHP Billiton’s intention to shift to the ‘heap leaching’ process and this had been covered in the EIS: (David Bevan:  But if they’re looking at a new technology, a new way of doing this, won’t you need a new Environmental Impact Statement?) Koutsantonis: Well, no, because BHP has foreseen that in the next, you know, five to six to seven years they may have been switching to this technique. (Abraham:  Was that covered by the Environmental Impact Statement?) It was, yes.

Yet in over 7,000 pages of the original EIS, the Supplementary EIS and the Government’s response to the EIS, the only mention of heap leaching is: ‘The feasibility of heap leaching of the lower-grade ore at Olympic Dam is under investigation.  At this early stage, recoveries of copper and uranium from heap leaching appear too low, but this option continues to be investigated’.

This was included in a section on ‘Optimisation Initiatives’ which expressly states: “No approval is sought to implement these initiatives at this stage”  (ODX EIS 2009, p.87-88)

“Minister Koutsantonis is trashing the integrity of the State’s major project approval process,” said Greens Leader and environmental lawyer Mark Parnell.

“He has given environmental approval for one type of mining process, and has now said he will allow that approval to stand for a completely different processing technique using a novel technology that has yet to be invented, without any further assessment.

“It is simply outrageous that BHP Billiton is not being asked to seek further approvals for this completely different mining method. 

“Minister Koutsantonis is attempting to radically re-write history if he believes the ‘heap leaching’ process was covered in the original EIS.  There were just two sentences in the original EIS, and it was not mentioned once in the Government’s formal Assessment response to the EIS.

“Even more damning is that BHP Billiton expressly stated they weren’t seeking approval for this technique.  It was merely canvassed as a possible future option, with further approvals to be sought if and when it was ever advanced.

“If this is allowed to stand, any developer knows that, with a wink and a nudge, anything they promise in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) can be changed after approval has been given and the public no longer have any rights to ask questions.

“We already have a real life example of similar acid heap leaching in the State’s North at Copley – only a few years ago the dirty leachate spilled into and contaminated the local town’s dam and creek.

“To expand this mining method to an Olympic Dam size operation without even a cursory assessment and revised approval process is deeply concerning. 

“If you stack that alongside his ridiculous comment that there has never been a safety incident at Olympic Dam, you have to ask: is he up to the job of responsibly managing a project of this size and importance?” Mr Parnell asked.

The Greens will move today to disallow the extension of the Olympic Dam Indenture approval until October 2016.   This will come to a vote on the 28th November.

“The Greens will be seeking an urgent briefing from Minister Koutsantonis so he can explain his statements on ABC radio this morning, as well as his justification for extending the Indenture,” said Mr Parnell.

“With any decision on the Olympic Dam expansion by BHP Billiton years, if not decades away, and these latest revelations of a completely different mining method for the project, we should be having a fresh look at the Roxby Indenture, rather than meekly extending it for another 4 years,” he said.

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