The release of BHP Billiton’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed US$15 billion expansion of its Olympic Dam site in South Australia has outlined more than a decade of future construction.
The expansion, which will take an estimated 11 years, would turn Olympic Dam into one of the world’s largest open cut mines and would require a desalination plant, a new rail link and an airport.
According to BHP, the expansion will see a sixfold increase in production of copper, gold and uranium, with an annual export of 1.6 million tonnes of copper concentrate to China.
The report said that the expanded mine would consume five times as much energy as the current Olympic Dam site, and its water consumption would increase to 250 megalitres a day from the current daily level of 37 megalitres.
The expansion will require either a gas pipeline from Moomba to power an electricity station at Olympic Dam, or a 270 km electricity transmission line from Port Augusta to the mine, the EIS stated.
BHP did not disclose how much the proposed expansion would cost.
“We still have a lot of work to do before we can tell you when this project may start and how much it may cost,” BHP Uranium Australia chief operating officer Dean Dalla Valle said.
The EIS has failed to sway environmental groups, with the prevailing opinion that the Olympic Dam expansion will cause significant damage without adequate benefit to Australia.
“BHP Billiton’s plan for Roxby Downs will maximise the costs and minimise the benefits to the Australian people,” Greens MLC Mark Parnell said.
“Jobs will now be sent to China with the export of at least two thirds of the radioactive copper concentrate, the vast majority of the power will come from dirty fossil fuels and the desal plant will be over a third larger, placing even greater pressure on the at-risk marine environment.”
According to BHP, work on the mine’s expansion would create 8,000 jobs, with an additional 13,000 flow-on jobs.
The proposal requires approval from the South Australian, Northern Territory and Federal Governments.
The EIS is open to public consultation and comment until August 7.