australia

McArthur River Mine praised by independent monitor, leaving environmentalists ‘bewildered’

A long-delayed report from an independent monitor has found no significant environmental issues requiring urgent investigation at the McArthur River Mine, but environmentalists have condemned the assessment as a “tick-and-flick exercise.”

The Glencore mine, 700 kilometers southeast of Darwin, is one of the world’s largest zinc and lead mines.

The past decade has been the subject of significant environmental problems, including a massive burning waste dump and lead contamination of fish and livestock.

But independent monitor Advisian found that between 2018 and 2020, the mine achieved a “high level of compliance” with its environmental obligations, including waste rock management.

“This finding is an indicator of a high level of environmental performance achieved by the operator,” he said.

It also found “general good health” of the river system, adding that it was safe for people to eat plenty of fish caught, including barramundi, from the McArthur River.

However, it noted that mussels and rainbowfish in Barney Creek – which is right next to the mine and not open to the public – contain metal concentrations that are above the maximum allowable levels.

Environmental Center questions the report’s findings

As part of the mine’s ongoing operations, a government-appointed independent monitor is expected to assess the mine’s environmental performance each year.

But in 2019 and 2020 there were no reports that the Environmental Center NT (ECNT) described as “unacceptable”.

The Environmental Center said the latest findings contrasted with previous reports from the former independent monitor, Erias Group.

“We are completely stunned by this independent monitoring report, which is so out of step with every other independent monitoring report ever published regarding this mine,” said ECNT co-director Kirsty Howey.

Main photo of Kirsty Howey, wearing glasses, with a park behind her.
NT Environmental Center co-director Kirsty Howey said he was “completely stunned” by the report.(

ABC: Dane Hirst

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Ms. Howey said several significant risks identified in the latest 2018 report were not adequately addressed in the new report.

One of those concerns was the possibility that the river would form a new trench and compromise the integrity of the mine embankment wall.

“We can’t know if those risks were actually addressed by the mine,” Ms Howey said.

The Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade, which oversees the Mining Management Act, said the mine had already allayed previous concerns about the levee wall.

“Reports on the implementation of control measures and the subsequent results of the monitoring have been provided to the department … and also to the [independent monitor] during the performance audit,” it said.

“The findings of the reports indicate that the control measures are effective in reducing the risk of avulsion from catastrophic breaches.”

Ms Howey also wondered if the new report was as rigorous as that of the previous independent monitor.

However, the department disputed that the independent observer was given “free access to the mining site, responsible persons and all relevant documentation” when preparing his report.

Mining Secretary Nicole Manison said the McArthur River Mine is the most explored in the Northern Territory.

“It is assessed more transparently and rigorously than any other mine,” said Ms Manison.

Nicole Manison (2)
Mining Secretary Nicole Manison said the job description for the independent monitor was “appropriate”.(

ABC News: Callan McLaughlinLaugh

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Ms Manison said the delay in the independent monitor’s report was partly due to travel bans caused by the pandemic last year.

She said the job description for the independent monitor was “appropriate”.

McArthur River Mining chief executive Steven Rooney said the independent monitor’s report “confirmed that our environmental management systems are rigorous, robust and capable of protecting the McArthur River and the surrounding environment.”

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