South Australian and Commonwealth governments have formally approved the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam project expansion. However, the approval is contingent on over 100 strict conditions during operation and beyond.
BHP Billiton proposes to expand its operations at Olympic Dam by developing a new open pit copper-uranium mine to increase ore production. The new mine could begin operations in 2016 with production increasing to 32 million pounds of uranium in the early 2020s, according to the draft EIS. The expansion would also raise copper production from around 180,000 tonnes per year to 750,000 tonnes.
In addition to the new pit BHP proposes new and expanded infrastructure including a waste rock storage facility and an expanded tailings storage facility (see box below).
The governmental approval comes six years after BHP Billiton was required to produce the comprehensive EIS.
Independent experts including Geoscience Australia, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, and the Supervising Scientist all reviewed the EIS prior to its approval, the Commonwealth government noted.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said: “BHP Billiton will be required to adhere to more than 100 stringent conditions including establishing an offset area of about 140,000 hectares, biodiversity conservation and environment protection management programs and a comprehensive compliance strategy.”
BHP Billiton welcomed the announcement, but said the project still remains in the feasibility stage and requires approval of the BHP Billiton Board.
“We recognise the approval conditions and the requirement to meet all of them across the life of the project,” said BHP Billiton Uranium President, Dean Dalla Valle.
“We will now take these conditions into account and incorporate them into our final assessment and recommendation to the Board next year,” he added.
On 12 October, BHP Billiton announced approval for US$1.2 billion in pre-commitment capital for the first phase of the Olympic Dam Project. The funding will facilitate the procurement of long lead items such as trucks and accommodation, infrastructure development and early site works for the first phase of the projectt.