Speculation is growing that Shree Minerals’ plans to abandon its Nelson Bay River iron ore mine in Tasmania.
Since 2014, environmental group Save the Tarkine has been calling for the suspension of the mine after it was found to produce 20 times more waste than was initially approved by authorities. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) then allowed it to temporarily store the waste outside the open pit for no longer than 30 months, and to continue mining operations whilst adhering to its environmental regulations.
The company now faces legal action and fines for not adhering to the Supreme Court decision, ordering it to move 80,000 cubic meters of potentially toxic waste rock into the mining pit by May 8.
Wes Ford, director of the EPA, requested action from the company six weeks ago but did not receive a response.
He outlines two options for the mine if it continues to operate: shift the waste rock that could be acidic into the pit or begin the process again with the local council and EPA.
He said putting the waste in the pit would result in the closure of the mine, according to the ABC.
“They are [legally] required to place the material back in the hole,” he said.
“In order to place it back into the pit it will effectively sterilise the resource because of the volume of material that has to go back into the pit.”
He said the company’s management plan does not give sufficient evidence on how they plan to handle the waste.
If the EPA decides to prosecute, and are successful, the company could face a maximum penalty of $350,000.
Tasmania’s mining minister Adam Brooks said he was not aware of any non-response from the company and will let the EPA handle the situation.
“At the moment the project is in care and maintenance, if Shree did decide, and it’s their decision, they can either reapply for a whole new permit [or] they could close and walk,” he said.
If the mine is abandoned, it could cost the Tasmanian Government $800,000 in a security bond to cover remediation costs.
Scott Jordan from Save the Tarkine believes the mine will not reopen.
“It doesn’t have a future, its reserves are dwindling down and it’s already began restructuring,” he said.
“We believe the Government needs to intervene right now to pull the permits, to cancel the lease and access the rehabilitation bonds to start doing the work that Shree refuses to do.”
The mine has been out of operation for almost two years due to low iron ore prices.
Shree Minerals will hold a general meeting next month, with one of the topics dealing with the case around the company’s mine plan.