The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) of Western Australia has greenlighted BHP Billiton’s Orebody 31 iron ore mine in the Pilbara.
According to the EPA announcement, the mine will produce around 30 million tonnes of iron ore annually.
The diversified miner intends to develop its Orebody 31 mine near Newman to replace Orebody 18, which is due to be decommissioned in 2018.
EPA estimated the deposit to be 70% below the water table, which means it will require dewatering of up to 16,2 gigalitres annually for dry mining conditions.
The development will also require the clearing up of 2,500 hectares of native vegetation within a development envelope of 4,075 hectares.
“The assessment of this proposal evaluated several key environmental factors including the clearing of flora and vegetation, the technical aspects and impacts relating to water use including mine dewatering and discharges, and the need to rehabilitate and decommission the site in an environmentally responsible way,” said EPA Chairman Dr Paul Vogel.
“Noted in particular were efforts to change the development envelope boundary and the re-engineering of the location of storage facilities to avoid a Priority 1 flora species – Acacia sp. East Fortescue. The EPA has also recommended several further measures to protect the species including use of protective ‘buffer’ zones, a regional survey, monitoring of the species and, if required, development and implementation of a dedicated conservation and research plan.”
EPA has also set further conditions related to the discharge of water, the monitoring of water quality to manage potential impacts from salinity, and the ecologically sustainable decommissioning of the mine.
“A Mine Closure Plan will be required, as will a contribution to a government-established conservation fund, to offset the significant residual impacts relating to the clearing of vegetation in ‘good to excellent’ condition,” said Dr Vogel.
The report to the Environment Minister is open for a two-week public appeal closing on 21 September, after which the Minister will take a final decision on the development of the mine.