Conservationists call for Environmental Protection Agency to block South32’s Worsley mine expansion

Sean Smith and Isabel Vieira Narrogin Observer
Worsley Alumina
Camera IconWorsley Alumina Credit: South32/South32

South32’s planned expansion of its Worsley mining project has hit resistance, with conservationists calling on the Environmental Protection Authority to reject the proposal that would clear more than 4000ha of native vegetation.

The revised proposal, released for public consultation by the EPA on June 20, is primarily focused on an expansion of Worsley’s Boddington bauxite mine.

It details how about 4300ha would be cleared for new transport corridors as well as storage and maintenance activities at the alumina refinery further north.

Most of the land cleared would be used to tap new ore in Worsley’s mining development envelope of 27,800ha at Boddington.

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“This will be progressively cleared during mining operations, with the majority of the area progressively rehabilitated under existing operational procedures,” the South32 proposal said.

However, conservationists said the expansion would result in the loss of habitats for threatened wildlife, including black cockatoos, western ringtail possums and woylies.

“Bauxite mining has already cleared at least 32,000ha of publicly owned forest and is the primary cause of deforestation in WA’s South West,” Conservation Council of WA executive director Maggie Wood said.

“An additional 4400ha of clearing is the equivalent of more than 1000 MCGs of lost native trees and habitat for vulnerable and endangered species.

“The northern jarrah forest is already under enormous strain from mining and that in turn is pushing animals like black cockatoos and western ringtail possums to near extinction.”

South32’s proposal acknowledges the expansion would widen its footprint in the southern Wheatbelt but insists it also allowed for better environmental management of the Worsley project.

“The development project seeks to minimise environmental impacts while enabling the continuation of bauxite mining - an important component in our aluminium supply chain,” a South32 spokesman said.

“The project also seeks to protect local jobs and continue to provide a significant contribution to the Peel, South West and West Australian economies.

“This process is a positive step forward for the project and we look forward to further engagement and discussion with the Government and community as we progress carefully and thoughtfully through the approvals process. South32 is committed to following all relevant environmental and cultural heritage processes.”

But Ms Wood said the proposal was “highly irresponsible” given the environmental impacts.

“South32 has openly acknowledged that further clearing at Boddington will have a greater environmental impact than current operations, yet the company is pressing ahead regardless,” she said.

“We think that’s highly irresponsible and we are asking the EPA to block the plan.”

Ms Wood said keeping the State’s native forests intact helped reduce emissions.

“Our native forests are one of the only major naturally occurring carbon sinks in WA and they play a vital role in keeping our emissions under control,” she said.

“Sadly, WA is the only State in which greenhouse gas emissions have increased since 2005, by more than 20 per cent.

“Other States, like Victoria and South Australia, have managed to shrink their emissions by at least the same amount in that period of time.

“While moving away from fossil fuels and building towards more renewable energy is important, we also need to think about the carbon that is already in the atmosphere.

“Keeping our native forests intact and in their natural state not only helps draw carbon from the atmosphere, it also makes them more resilient to bushfires and helps maintain much needed rainfall.”

Public submissions on the expansion proposal close on August 15.

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