The McArthur River Mine Environmental Report states that the river is in good condition, but the risk of levee failure is not part of the review – Advice Eating

An independent observer’s report on the McArthur River Mine’s environmental performance last year divided opinion, with the mining company’s general manager and the government praising the results, which showed the river was in good condition and that the company had minimized risks , while the NT environmental center called the report a “farce” with glaring holes in the risk assessment process.

The report also noted the NT EPA’s recommendations to develop a plan to assess the risk of catastrophic failure of a mine levee wall, but noted that this was not required by the government or enforceable by the EPA at this time.

The 269-page report, dated March 15 but released in full Tuesday, was prepared by consultants Advisian on behalf of the NT Industry Department, covers the period May 2020 to April 2021 and is based on testing by miner Glencore.

The operation, one of the world’s largest zinc and lead mines, is located approximately 700 km south-east of Darwin. The NT government began looking more closely in 2006 when the underground mine was rehabilitated as an open pit mine, amid concerns that the waste rock facility was polluting the environment.

There have been environmental problems over the past 10 years, including a landfill site fire and lead contamination from cattle and fish.

The mine’s general manager, Adam Hatfield, said the company was pleased that the Independent Monitor had confirmed that the river was healthy and fish safe and it had shown continued improvement in environmental management and performance at the mine.

“The Independent Monitor’s positive results on the mine’s environmental performance and the continued good health of the McArthur River are a testament to the continued progress the mine has made over the past few years and reflect the mine’s ongoing commitment to responsible operations “, he said.

“The IM noted that MRM continues to avoid or minimize potential environmental risks through proactive management and monitoring of a variety of site activities.

“The independent monitor found the mine to have demonstrated a high level of environmental performance without requiring urgent investigation of significant environmental issues during the audit period.”

Opportunity for Improvement – ​​Plan for the risk of catastrophic levee wall failure

A section toward the end of the report, entitled “NT EPA Recommendations Compliance Workbook,” said there was an “opportunity for improvement” for the department to require that the independent panel assess the risk of catastrophic failure of the levee wall Review mine and McArthur River diversion canal for future closure targets.

The report notes that there is no indication of potential catastrophic failure in the NT Government’s permitting of the mine under care and maintenance conditions, and gave the operator a score of three out of four, or partial compliance, which it also rated as high rated.

However, a review of the risk of dike wall failure was suggested in the ‘Recommendations’ section of the workbook. It states that a care and maintenance plan to be developed could address this, but was not an enforceable requirement of the NT EPA nor a specific government requirement under the permit.

It noted that the department said this would be a requirement in the terms of reference for the yet-to-be-established independent mine-closure body.

The risk of a dike breach does not appear to have been assessed in the latest report. No reports were released in 2019 and 2020, but former independent monitor, the Erias Group, said in the 2018 report it had identified a new “catastrophic” risk of the McArthur River rejoining its old channel and leading to mine wall failure and pouring contaminated water into the river.

In this case, the effects on the mine’s dike wall are likely “possibly in the medium term”.

However, in a statement to ABC last June, the department said the mine had addressed previous concerns about the levee wall.

“Reports on the implementation of control measures and the subsequent monitoring results were made available to the department … and also to the … [Independent Monitor] during the performance audit,” it said.

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

Questions about the environmental risk assessment registers

The report looked at the miner’s and department’s performance and implementation of the NT EPA’s recommendations.

The report states that based on the examination of 1,055 conditions, requirements and individual elements in the permit, water discharge permit and recommendations of the NT Environment Protection Authority, no significant environmental issues were found that needed urgent investigation and attention.

Of 524 active requests, there were 39 that the operator or department only partially met. And that overall there was a high level of compliance from both the miner and the department.

The co-director of the Environment Center NT, Dr. Kirsty Howey said the Independent Monitor report was reduced to nothing but a farce.

“This is nothing but an expensive exercise in ticking boxes. The “independence” of the independent monitor was completely jeopardized by the fact that Glencore sat on the selection panel for the adviser’s appointment and the department has veto power over the content of the report,” she said.

“It’s the opposite of independent.

“If you read the fine print of the scant information available in the report, it becomes clear that Glencore’s risk assessment process has glaring gaps.

“The greatest risk of all, that the McArthur River will be diverted and resume its old course, leading to the collapse of the mine wall and the destruction of the McArthur River, is not even mentioned.

“The mine’s risk register has not been disclosed and Glencore has not updated its environmental risk assessment register since January 2020.”

The report concluded that the mine operator had a comprehensive risk management plan in place that included an adequate environmental risk management framework and process.

But then, in apparent contradiction, it states: “The operator has provided examples of measures implemented to manage potential environmental risks, but the expected resulting improvement is not monitored or reported in the current risk management process”.

The Environment Center notes that earlier in the report it states that the environmental risk assessment registers for 2019 and 2020 have different formats with different table column headings and different risk descriptions.

“There is limited correlation between the risk registers as 26 of the 34 risk scenarios in the 2020 register cannot be clearly linked to the key risk summaries presented in the 2019 register,” it states.

“Comparisons between annual environmental risk performance or identifying improvements in the risk profile are not easy to make.

“The 2020 Register does not distinguish between current control and proposed additional controls… The implication of an unclear status of control implementation and the inability to confirm whether the residual risk assessment is based on planned (future) or implemented actions is that it is uncertain whether the inherent environmental risk has been effectively reduced.”

It went on to say that the EMR conducted an annual review of the most recent environmental risk assessment to verify that there had been no increase, but that there had been no revision to capture new or changed risks or controls introduced during the 12-month period could have occurred.

“It does not appear that the effectiveness of the controls has been officially verified,” it said.

In December, ABC reported that the NT government’s eight mining officials’ complaint that management fraud and misconduct had affected their ability to regulate large mines had been dismissed by the Office of the Independent Anti-Corruption Commissioner. According to the media report, they are said to have been pressured into watering down the environmental impact assessments for projects. including the McArthur River mine.

The NT Industry Department dismissed the allegations and denied that the permitting process had been compromised.

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