Glencore’s Australia mine expansion threatens sacred sites – authority head

Groundwater sampling adjacent to tailings dam at McArthur River zinc mine. (Image courtesy of Glencore.)

Expansion at an Australian lead and zinc mine run by miner Glencore puts at risk several sacred Aboriginal sites including a historical quarry, the head of a Northern Territory oversight authority told an Australian inquiry on Tuesday.

Glencore unit McArthur River Mine (MRM) received approval from the territory’s mining minister last year to proceed with expansion at the mine, 670 km (420 miles) southeast of Darwin, including doubling the size of its waste dump.

The approval came despite an objection by an authority responsible for protecting traditional sites, and amid greater scrutiny of miners’ dealings with Indigenous groups after Rio Tinto destroyed ancient rockshelters in Western Australia for an iron ore mine expansion last year.

MRM produced around 600,000 tonnes of zinc in concentrate, and 210,000 of lead in concentrate in 2019

“The scale of the mine expansion raises some quite serious questions about the maintenance and protection of sacred sites on that lease and also access to those places for custodians into the future,” said Benedict Scambary, chief executive of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA).

Glencore has applied to almost double the height of its waste rock dump to 140 m (150 yards) from 80 m and approval now rests with the Northern Territory mining minister. It is currently mining without exceeding the height restrictions.

Glencore said in a statement to Reuters that it operated under stringent conditions set down by territory and federal legislation, as well as by AAPA conditions.

“We understand our obligation to protect sacred sites on our mining lease and take this obligation very seriously,” Glencore said, adding that it would seek approvals from AAPA for any future mining plans that required them.

Scambary told the parliamentary inquiry into Rio Tinto’s destruction of rockshelters last year that the MRM waste dump expansion could impact adjacent sacred sites, and that Glencore did not have proper authority from appropriate elders to do so.

Sites at risk included one related to creation stories, known as barramundi dreaming, as well as a quarry where stone tools were made, Scambary said.

MRM produced around 600,000 tonnes of zinc in concentrate, and 210,000 of lead in concentrate in 2019, according to Glencore’s most recent annual report.

(By Melanie Burton; Editing by Tom Hogue)


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