The good health of the McArthur River and the safety of the fish for eating are among the findings of the latest Independent Monitor’s Annual Environmental Performance Audit Report for Glencore’s McArthur River Mine.
MRM, which is 65 kilometres from the town of Borroloola, is developing one of the largest zinc and lead deposits in the world.
The establishment of an Independent Monitor was part of the NT Government’s approval for the mine’s transition from underground to open-pit operations in the mid-2000s.
The report is focused on providing the local community –- and the wider Territory – transparency in how the mine is managing its environmental performance.
The Territory Government released the latest Annual Environmental Performance Audit in May, for the period 1 May 2020 to 30 April 2021, which provides a snapshot of three key metrics to determine the overall environmental performance of the mine. These include a review of environmental monitoring data, compliance to regulatory conditions, and management of potential environmental risks.
Operational compliance is determined by assessing the mine against the 1055-odd project approval conditions and includes key aspects, such as air and water quality, as well as the management of the mine’s waste rock.
The report concluded the mine achieved a very high level of overall compliance.
Pleasingly, the report outlined the mine also had no environmental issues requiring urgent attention, no “non-compliances” and the mine achieved continuous improvement across all key areas over the previous year’s reports.
“We know how important the McArthur River is to the people in the Gulf region, forming an integral part of their connection to country,” says Acting MRM General Manager Adam Hatfield.
“We are committed to developing this world-class resource and in doing so we want to be a world-class operation. To achieve this means operating responsibly, by making a positive contribution to the region and minimising our environmental impact, and I’m very proud of the achievements we’ve made in improving our environmental performance.
“It’s important to us that the river is in good health and the fish are safe for people to eat, and we welcome the findings in the latest IM report as testament to the commitment and progress we’ve made in recent years.”
Not only are the fish, including barramundi, sooty grunter and cherabin freshwater prawns, safe to eat, but the IM report also found the management of the McArthur River diversion channel, put in place from 2006 to 2008 to facilitate the transition to open-cut mining, has improved the habitat for animals living in the section of the river.
Simon Longhurst, MRM’s Environment Superintendent, is charged with leading the team to ensure MRM complies with its environmental obligations and has the support of the business.
“We are wholly committed to the responsible operations at MRM. We have 20 full-time environmental professionals dedicated to ensuring we comply with our extensive environmental conditions.
“Our diverse environment team is passionate and highly skilled.”
The team includes two Traditional Owners, as well as MRM’s “rising star” Samantha Hovar, who was a 2022 Women in NT Resources Awards finalist for the Exceptional Young Woman in Resources category.
“The team undertakes our comprehensive environmental monitoring programs, oversees our potential environmental risks and, importantly, continues to improve our environmental performance through activities such as the revegetation of the McArthur River diversion channel,” says Simon.
“So, these findings are really positive and are testament to the continuing hard work they do.”
His right-hand man, MRM Senior Environmental Advisor for Rehabilitation, Cameron Machan, is proud of his team’s achievements.
In the past 12 months alone, the team has planted more than 100,000 native trees, plants and shrubs, all of which are sourced from the local area, propagated through an onsite nursery and planted along the banks of the channel.
“This brings our total efforts to over three-quarters of a million plants, trees and shrubs since we started the rehabilitation,” Cameron says.
This rehabilitation of the channel, as well as innovative practices such as the installation of large woody debris, is a key factor in improving the river’s health while providing important habitat for wildlife.
Overall, MRM has more than 527 environmental monitoring sites where data is collected and analysed to assess whether the operation is meeting its regulatory requirements for aspects such as air quality, including dust and sulphur dioxide, and groundwater, as well as surface water quality and quantity.
The monitoring sites span across the region, in and outside of the mining lease, ensuring any impacts of operations are appropriately monitored.
An Air Quality Monitoring Station at the north of the mineral lease collects real-time sulphur dioxide (SO2). Data collected is independently reviewed and analysed by an external air quality specialist and determines the risk of exposure at the nearest communities of Goolminyini (Devil Springs) and Borroloola.
Air quality monitoring showed very low SO2 exposure risk to surrounding communities from McArthur River Mine operations.
This is important, considering the complexities of the mine’s operations and how they manage their waste rock and Tailings Storage Facility.
The facility and the Northern Overburden Emplacement Facility, where the mine stores its waste rock – or by-product – has the highest number of operational regulations, reflecting the potential environmental risk if not managed properly.
A risk certainly not lost on Adam and the MRM team.
“Some of our waste rock is rich in pyrite, which means under certain conditions it has the potential to oxidise when exposed to air and water, creating heat and sulphur dioxide,” says Adam.
“The operation has certainly had its challenges over the years with the management of the waste rock, but over time we’ve learnt and understood the geochemistry better and worked really hard to identify how to best manage the different waste rock types.
“As a result of this increased understanding, we updated our methodology of how we manage and emplace each waste rock type, which was then subsequently approved by the NT EPA.
“We are proud to report this updated methodology is working – our environmental data is showing an improvement and the Independent Monitor has verified this performance through analysis of the data.”
“It’s very pleasing to see the report highlighting our robust risk management processes while also confirming that we’re responsibly managing both our tailings and overburden emplacement facilities to international standards.”
While the operations at the mine may be complex, MRM is steadfast in its commitment to the Territory and region where it operates.
“We will continue ensuring our operations are safe through our robust governance processes and our potential environmental risks are managed.
“We are committed to continuing our open and transparent communication with the community about our environmental and operational performance. We have an office in town where anyone is welcome to drop in and discuss any concerns they may have.
“MRM is a source of opportunity – helping build the long-term social and economic prosperity of local Indigenous communities. We will continue working to increase our Indigenous employment, which is at 24 percent, as well as working closely with Traditional Owners towards an Indigenous Land Use Agreement to ensure the benefits of our operations are shared with the local communities.”
To read Glencore MRM’s statement on the IM AEPAR and its fact sheet, visit glencore.com.au. To read the IM report, visit industry.nt.gov.au.