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Make a submission: BHP seek a Toxic Tailings Expansion without a full Safety Risk Assessment

BHP is planning to expand the Olympic Dam Tailings dump to be larger than the CBD of Adelaide AND to be up to 30 metres high at the centre of the tailings pile – around the height of a 10 story building. 

All BHP Olympic Dam radioactive toxic mine tailings waste must be isolated from the environment for over 10,000 years.

Please consider making a submission to the federal government who are inviting comments on the BHP Olympic Dam Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) 6 project – but only up to cob Friday 28th June, with no extensions.

Tell the federal government they must not approve this expansion! 

Key recommendations are provided along with two briefing papers prepared by David Noonan for Friends of the Earth Australia (FoEA) and available on-line:

“BHP seek a Toxic Tailings Expansion without a full Safety Risk Assessment” (DN, June 2019, 3 pages)


“Migratory Birds at Risk of Mortality if BHP continues use of Evaporation Ponds” (DN, June 2019, 3 pages)

A set of key recommendations on these issues to put to the federal government:

1. The Olympic Dam operation be assessed in its entirety with the full range of project impacts subject to public consultation.

Given that uranium mining at Olympic Dam is a controlled “nuclear action” and Matter of National Environmental Significance (NES) under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), the integrity of environmental protection requires that the entire Olympic Dam operation be subject to impact assessment so that regulatory conditions can be applied “to consider impacts on the whole environment”. 

This is consistent with a key Recommendation by the federal Depart of Environment (“Olympic Dam expansion assessment report EPBC 2005/2270”, Sept 2011, 7. Existing operation, p.62):

“… it is recommended that conditions be applied to the existing operation so that the entire Olympic Dam operation (existing and expanded) is regulated by a single approval under the EPBC Act”.

At a minimum, the June 2019 “BHP Olympic Dam EPBC Referral 2019/8465 Tailings Storage Facility 6” must now trigger a public environmental impact assessment with public consultation on impacts of BHP’s proposed TSF 6 on Matters of NES. 

This warranted EPBC Act decision should have a level of public assessment and scope to examine impacts of the entire Olympic Dam operation, including the current associated mine expansion project to increase the scale of production to 350,000 tonnes of copper per year.

2. A comprehensive Safety Risk Assessment of all Olympic Dam mine tailings

In the public interest, the federal government must require a comprehensive Safety Risk Assessment to determine the long-term (in the order of 10,000 years) risk to the public and the environment from all radioactive tailings produced and stored at Olympic Dam. This approach is consistent with federal EPBC Act Approval Condition 32 Mine Closure, Oct 2011.

This comprehensive Safety Risk Assessment of tailings waste must be subject to public consultation in an assessment process under the EPBC Act prior to the approval or advance of any new Tailings Storage Facilities or the proposed expansion of toxic radioactive tailings production. 

Federal standards have been set at the Ranger uranium mine in the NT “to ensure that:

(i) The tailings are physically isolated from the environment for at least 10,000 years;

(ii) Any contaminants arising from the tailings will not result in any detrimental environmental impact for at least 10,000 years.” 

This prudent approach and requirement must be applied at Olympic Dam to the 17 June 2019 BHP EPBC Act Referral Reference Number 2019/8465 for a major new Tailings Storage Facility No.6.

3. BHP must stop the use of Evaporation Ponds in order to reduce mortality in protected Bird Species

The federal government must subject the June 2019 BHP Olympic Dam TSF 6 Referral to a public assessment process and require that BHP: “must not construct Evaporation Ponds for the purpose of the expanded mine”; and to: “phase out the use of Evaporation ponds as soon as practical”.

This is consistent with the federal EPBC Act Assessment and Decision in Fauna Approval Conditions 18-21 (EPBC 2005/2270, Oct 2011) to protect Matters of National Environmental Significance in Listed Bird Species and the 21 Listed Migratory Bird Species found in the area, from mortality at Olympic Dam. These conditions must now be applied uniformly across the entire Olympic Dam operation.

The federal government must require BHP to prevent and limit impacts and mortality on Listed Bird Species protected under both the EPBC Act and the SA National Parks and Wildlife Act.

The BHP doc’s are online at an EPBC Act Referral site – see: 2019/8465 (you’l need to scroll down)

See info on ‘How to make a submission’ here

And scroll down to: Invitations for public comment, Referrals

To submit your comments by cob Friday 28th June:

Please send your comments on this BHP EPBC Act Referral and quote the reference number 2019/8465 and title of the referral:

“BHP BILLITON OLYMPIC DAM CORPORATION PTY LTD/Mining/Volume 5140 Folio 575 (Section 1475 and 1516 Out of Hundreds (Andamooka)/South Australia/Olympic Dam Operations Tailings Storage Facility Six, SA” 

Email: [email protected]

Referrals Gateway
Assessment & Governance Branch
Department of the Environment and Energy

If you require further information contact the federal government Referrals Gateway on 02 6274 2496 or email [email protected]

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