Wednesday, June 06, 2007

End Olympic Dam special treatment

June 6, 2007: Greens want to end Olympic Dam's special treatment - The Greens will move in the South Australian Parliament to scrap exemptions to state laws given to BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam mine in outback SA. The $7 billion BHP Billiton Olympic Dam project is planned to become the world’s biggest uranium producer, the third or fourth largest copper mine, and one of Australia’s largest gold mines...

Greens MLC Mark Parnell will introduce a private member's bill to remove the mining company's exemptions from laws on Aboriginal heritage, environment protection and natural resource management. He says the exemptions were granted 25 years ago and times have changed.

Mr Parnell is also concerned that BHP Billiton is not bound by the same water use laws as other companies, giving it an unfair advantage. "I think that there are certainly problems with water resources. This mine does not have to comply with the same regime as everyone else and they're also not bound by the same pollution laws that other companies have to operate under," he said. "If the company is as good as the Government says then there should be no problem in removing these special exemptions.

"I think now that the only fair way is to make sure that all industrial players in this state operate under the same rules. You shouldn't have special rules for your favourite companies and other laws for the rest."

A spokesman for BHP Billiton says the indenture legislation does not allow the company to evade its legal obligations and the Olympic Dam mine is the most intensively regulated operation in SA.

BHP Billiton is considering a further major expansion of Olympic Dam to more than double its current production capacity - proposing to expand its mining and processing from around 200,000 tonnes per year of copper to approximately 500,000 tonnes per year. BHP Billiton would then be the world's biggest spender on an open cut mine. It would be a bigger hole than Kalgoorlie's "Super Pit", with more than a pit 3.6km x 3.65km and 1km deep.

Olympic Dam has long term contracts for the sale of uranium oxide concentrates to customers in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and the United States.

It is expected that at least 160 million tonnes of radioactive waste will be produced over the life-span of Olympic Dam mine. The waste includes radioactive wash water known as tailings which are stored in 75 hectare retention ponds with levees 30 metres high.

The Olympic Dam operations secured exemptions to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988, the Development Act 1993, the Environmental Protection Act 1993, the Freedom of Information Act 1991, the Mining Act 1971, Natural Resources Act 2004 (including the Water Resources Act 1997)

This raft of exemptions embodied in the Roxby Downs Indenture Act effectively places this mine outside the law protecting accepted social, environmental and cultural values, and makes the company’s commitments to complying with strict standards manifestly unbelievable.

Radioactive and highly acidic tailings are a by-product of the milling process at Olympic Dam. Currently these are stored in a Tailings Dam called the Tailings Retention System (TRS). This system is vast, covering more than 500 hectares and standing 10 metres in height. More than 10 million tonnes of tailings per year are added to this massive reservoir.

In 1994 a massive leak from the TRS was reported. Over four years, three million cubic metres of liquid leaked through the aquifer.

Meanwhile, Safework SA is investigating an explosion at the Olympic Dam site in May. Contact was made with explosive during drilling work, causing the explosion. A worker was treated for injuries caused by rock debris.

In July 2005, a worker died while blasting a tunnel at the Olympic Dam mine.

ABC News
Mine Web
ABC News
BHP: olympic dam eis
Wikipedia - Olympic_Dam
Olympic Dam Mine

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