- How does ASM manage the impact of its operations?
ASM aims to produce rare metals and rare earths like no other company in the world. Australia already has very stringent environmental regulations for the mining industry. ASM will minimise its environmental footprint and demonstrate that mining and mineral processing can coexist with a surrounding leading practice farming enterprise that also manages the biodiversity offsets for the project.
Renewable energy and cogeneration of power will be integrated with operations. The processing plant and supporting infrastructure has been designed to minimise greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on local water resources and local road users.
- How does ASM manage the impact of its operations?
ASM seeks to minimise the impact of our activities at all times and is committed to keeping our staff and all members of the community safe and minimising our impact on the environment.
To achieve this, we ensure we meet or exceed the requirements of all laws in relation to safe environmental practices and occupational health and safety. These measures and actions are all documented within the Environment Management System (EMS) and supporting Management Plans (EMPs) and Mine Operation Plan (MOP) for each project we undertake.
- If the company went bankrupt, what would happen to site rehabilitation?
As with every mine in NSW, the Department of Regional NSW – Resource Operations of Mining, Exploration and Geoscience (MEG) requires an environmental bond overmining leases, calculated to allow for rehabilitation of the disturbance footprint of the mine. The bond contains sufficient money to cover the complete rehabilitation of the mining lease. Approval to commence mining operations on a mining lease will not be granted without the Resources Regulator agreement on the amount of the environmental bond.
- Who’s responsible for rehabilitation after mining ceases?
ASM is responsible for all site rehabilitation at all its mining sites. Rehabilitation is conducted to the standard detailed in the Mining Operations Plan (for each mining lease) approved by the Resources Regulator before the commencement of mining.
- What checks are in place to account for the effect of climate change/rainfall on recharge of rivers and aquifers?
Water is a finite resource. There is no ‘new’ water available to mining companies. Mining has to compete with other industries and water uses for access to water on the open market. Water has been made by government into a tradable asset.Water sharing plans administered by NSW Office of Water are monitored to ensure that water extraction levels do not tip towards unsustainability. If aquifers and rivers do not get recharged there is presently an ability to reduce all allocations to ensure aquifers are not damaged by over-extraction.
The Dubbo Project
- What is the potential impact of the Dubbo Project (DP) and how will it be managed?
The Environment Impact Statement (EIS) describes the project and lays out the potential environmental impacts of the DP. It also explains how ASM is planning to manage those impacts. In assessing the potential impact of the DP, ASM has taken a conservative approach. The DP emissions will meet or exceed the criteria or standards set by NSW, Australian and international environmental protection authorities. For more detail please read Responses to the Public Submissions to the DZP Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS is a technical document. A series of plain language fact sheets have been developed to assist non-technical audiences in understanding the key issues.
- Dubbo Project: What is the anticipated mine life and what will be done to rehabilitate the land?
The Dubbo Project has approval to operate for 20 years, but there is the capacity to operate for more than 80 years if further approvals are granted. At the end of mining, the land will be rehabilitated as per the rehabilitation plan in the DP Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). There will be limited possibilities for progressive rehabilitation at the DP. All soil stockpiles will be rehabilitated and managed as part of the farming estate owned by ASM.
- What will happen to the land no longer suitable for agriculture (e.g. 157Ha of waste rock and residue at the Dubbo Project)?
The areas no longer suitable for agriculture will be shaped, rehabilitated and managed for their biodiversity conservation value. The 3,500Ha of land and property assets surrounding the DP comprises 1,021Ha of designated biodiversity offsets and 1,995Ha preserved as agricultural land managed by ASM wholly-owned subsidiary, the Toongi Pastoral Company (TPC). The DP mining and processing footprint will be just 520Ha. An Agricultural Impact Statement (Appendix 9 of the EIS) confirms the impact of the DP on local agricultural resources and enterprises will not be significant.
- What biodiversity offsets are planned for the Dubbo Project?
Almost a third of the land associated with the DP has been designated biodiversity offset areas, totalling 1,021Ha. These areas feature grassy white box woodlands, Wiradjuri cultural heritage sites and habitats for the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard, a vulnerable local species for which ASM is taking a leading role in conservation. The biodiversity offset areas will be managed by the Toongi Pastoral Company (a wholly-owned subsidiary of ASM).
- How will the biodiversity around the Dubbo Project be protected/preserved? What guarantee is there?
There are strict government laws to protect biodiversity offset areas. These are incorporated in the development consent, which conditions the approval to secure, manage and fund a biodiversity offset area. The condition requires that the biodiversity offset area is secured to prohibit any activities other than those included in an approved biodiversity offset management plan. A Property Vegetation Plan (PVP) for the purpose of conservation is the methodology of ASM for securing and managing the biodiversity offset area. The PVP will be registered with Local Land Services. This covenant will cover all of the biodiversity offset areas. This covenant is in perpetuity on title so that if the property was ever sold then the new owners would still be bound by the covenant with numerous prescribed management actions to ensure that the land is managed for its conservation value.
It should be noted that the DP ore body is discreet and outside of the biodiversity offset area. There are no other mineable resources contained within the biodiversity offset area. The mine is only a small section of the overall project, which focuses on the high value-add processing of finished products.
- Clearing for the DP open cut mine and associated infrastructure will be impacting on a multitude of animal species. How can that be justified?
This issue has been considered by the NSW Government as part of its approval, and the remaining net impact considered acceptable given the project’s economic benefits. The ecological assessment of the DP by specialist ecological consultants has been exhaustive and reveals the biodiversity offset strategy will also ultimately deliver a net conservation benefit. While there will be a short-term impact on the flora and fauna occupying habitat to be disturbed, the biodiversity offset area will provide significant benefits to local flora and fauna.
- A significant proportion of the biodiversity offset area was previously managed for grazing and cropping, and this is being converted to grassy woodland habitat.
- Through this change in land use and community structure, direct linkages of remnant habitat found on Dowd’s Hill, Wambangalang Creek and Benolong Road will be created.
- A specific focus for conservation efforts at DP will be the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard, with large areas of known and potential habitat for this species included.
These changes to the local setting are delivering benefits to a wide number of species and potentially open opportunities for biodiversity enhanced through additional tree planting and natural recruitment.
- How does ASM source water for the Dubbo project sites?
Water usage in NSW is governed by the distribution of water licences, and in this case, the water will come primarily from the Macquarie River. ASM has acquired High Security and General Security water licences in accordance with the rules of the Water Sharing Plan for the Macquarie and Cudgegong Regulated Rivers Water Source. ASM holds a Water Access Licence for groundwater in the Upper Macquarie Alluvial Aquifer, which is also subject to a water-sharing plan. ASM will only be licenced to extract an amount of groundwater that does not impact adversely on other groundwater users.
Much of the water onsite will be recycled and reused. The use of licence-acquired water will have no impact on the town’s water supply. ASM will continue to improve its water efficiency and reduce, reuse and recycle.
- How much water will the Dubbo Project use each year?
The Dubbo Project will use approximately 2,000 Megalitres of water per year. There are 649,941 Megalitres of water held under water licences in the Macquarie/Cudgegong Rivers. Approximately 40% of the volume of those licences is held by the NSW and Federal Governments as “environmental water”, that is the amount of water determined by the governments required to be released for a “healthy” river system.Over the last 7 years at ANSTO we have been constantly refining the process and trialling new processes for recycling water as clearly any saving of water is of benefit.
Agriculture uses approximately 40% of the water available in High-Security licences. Water used for irrigation-based agriculture in the Macquarie Valley, e.g. cotton farming, use 6-8 ML of water per hectare per year. The water required to process 1 million tonnes of DP ore, if used for cotton farming, would irrigate 500ha to 666ha of cotton.
A detailed report on Water Availability, Purchasing and Potential Impacts are contained in Appendix 7 of the EIS.
- What are the chances that local groundwater or drinking water is affected by contamination?
The chance of water contamination by the DP is negligible. The risk was identified very early in the project assessment and has been mitigated through leading practice engineering design and controls. Leak detection and recovery systems will be in place for the liquid and solid residue storage facilities. The project’s solid and liquid waste storage facilities are designed to accommodate a one in ten thousand-year rain event. A site Water Management Plan, which includes an erosion and sediment control plan, will be implemented as part of the first phase of construction earthworks. The introduction of forced evaporation to remove and recycle water will ensure processing residues are further from Wambangalang Creek than the closest evaporation pond formally in the original design. Processing residues will not be intrinsically affected.
- Is radiation an issue at the Dubbo Project?
In short, no. These rocks have been weathering within the local environment for millions of years (the orebody is 182 million years old) without causing any harm. The ore that will be mined at the DP is weakly radioactive with traces of uranium (100 ppm) and thorium (350 ppm). These radiation levels are extremely low and the expected dose over a whole year at the closest residences to the mine will be 0.03mSv which is less than one chest x-ray or a flight from Sydney to London.
- What happens to the uranium in the waste rock?
The very low amounts of uranium found in the ore will remain on-site as the leftover processed ore (tailings) will be secured in a carefully designed/engineered residue storage facility.
The trace amounts of uranium and thorium (along with other waste products)will be diluted with salts and/or neutralised with limestone, making it even lower in concentration than the original ore and no longer classified as radioactive. Along with other waste materials, it will be stored on-site in double-lined waste facilities. Uranium will not be recovered or stored.
- Will radiation harm employees? How will they be protected?
ASM is committed to the safety of our workers. Radiation will be measured using standard radiation monitors to protect both workers at the mine site and the surrounding environment. Personal dosimeters will be worn by any staff member where there are higher than normal levels of radiation, ensuring that staff are not exposed to greater than the allowable levels set by the radiation regulator.
- What is the risk of radioactive material from the Dubbo Project contaminating areas outside of the mine site?
Negligible. The naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) levels at the DP are extremely low. These rocks have been weathering within the local environment for millions of years without causing any measurable harm. All waste rock will be treated to produce radiation levels below those of the natural environment and stored safely on-site in double-lined long-term storage facilities. No radioactive material will be transported away from the DP site.
Specialist environmental consultants have undertaken a series of modelling projects using data from baseline air quality monitoring collected from 10 locations around the project site. This enabled us to understand how much dust (from mined ore) will be produced by mining and processing and how it will be distributed around the DP site, and confirm that there will be minimal impact.
A detailed review of potential exposure for workers, the general public and local biota is provided in the EIS and Response to Submissions. In summary, on assessment by a radiation expert commissioned by ASM, the risk of adverse impact to those living in the immediate vicinity was determined to be extremely small, given that the maximum likely dose of radiation (generated by the DP) would be <0.03mS/year. In Australia, the average annual dose of radiation received by an adult is approximately 1.5-2mSv/yr (Radiation Health &Safety Advisory Council (2005).
- What is the potential impact of the Dubbo Project (DP) and how will it be managed?
- How does ASM support the local community?
At ASM, we see ourselves as being part of the communities where we operate by providing employment opportunities, shopping locally, engaging with the local population, contributing to local community services, sponsoring local projects and taking a vested interest in local Aboriginal issues. For more information, visit our communities web page.
- What measures are/will be in place to control dust?
The Environment Impact Statement (EIS) considers the predicted impact of dust produced by drilling and blasting on air quality. Water trucks, with dust suppressant, if needed, are planned to be used. ASM also plans to rehabilitate disturbed areas as soon as practical to reduce the footprint that can potentially generate dust.
- What measures are/will be in place to control noise?
The noise levels at the project were modelled for the EIS and upper limits set by the regulator in its approval. These limits are used in the design of the processing facility to ensure sufficient noise control measures will be in place.
- Are you going to transport hazardous material around Dubbo?
Some of the reagents required for the DP will be classified as Dangerous Goods and will be subject to strict rules and regulation for transportation on the state network of roads and storage on site. All goods will be transported by contractually committed, appropriately licensed and experienced operators.
Dangerous goods (petroleum, anhydrous ammonia, explosives, acid etc) already travel through Dubbo daily. This notwithstanding, and responding to issues raised over transport of dangerous goods following exhibition of the EIS, ASM commissioned a Traffic Hazard Assessment which concluded that any hazards associated with the transport of reagents and products could be appropriately managed. It is further noted that as part of the licensing requirements for transport of dangerous goods under the Australian Dangerous Goods Code, a transporter must prepare a detailed route-specific transport risk assessment. This will be undertaken by the transporter for each reagent once supplier agreements are in place.
ASM will upgrade the Obley Road from the Newell Highway intersection to Toongi Road and the mine site. The Obley Road will be widened, straightened, flattened and have new bridges and culverts installed.
- What controls will the company implement to prevent dirty water runoff entering natural watercourses?
Erosion and sediment control structures, bunding, and infrastructure for pumping and recycling water around the company’s sites, are tools ASM uses to prevent dirty water runoff entering natural watercourses.
- What are the socio-economic benefits of mining to the community?
ASM is keen to assist regional communities to flourish and become more resilient. Through employment of both a local and specialist technical workforce at each of our sites, as well as the engagement of local services and industries and investment in local infrastructure, the local economy is boosted by the presence of mining operations.
Once construction of the Dubbo Project gets underway, ASM predicts the construction workforce will be around 400 people (consulting engineers, construction teams, and a relatively small owner’s team) during the two-year construction period – generating significant economic activity within Dubbo and surrounds. Upgrades to local infrastructure – including selected roads, power supply, water supply, gas supply – will also take place.
- creation of 250 permanent jobs, most sourced locally
- approximately $50M pa in salaries/wages, utilities, plus other suppliers into local economy
- additional flow-on effects to other ancillary industries
- future access to substantial power supply and to gas pipeline.
- state royalties of $9.5M pa
- annual payroll to the State $34M pa
- corporate taxation of $70M pa
- How does ASM support the local community?