• Clouds of sulphur dioxide being emitted from the gigantic waste rock pile at McArthur River Mine 2014. David Morris EDONT (The Conversation)Source: The Conversation
A new report has highlighted the environmental and cultural damage being caused by the operation of the controversial McArthur River Mine.
Keira Jenkins

8 Feb 2021 - 5:18 PM  UPDATED 8 Feb 2021 - 5:18 PM

Twenty-two sacred sites are under threat of irreversible damage from operations at the McArthur River Mine, according to a new report from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The report also found an important river system in the Northern Territory could face ecological damage if the mine operations continue unabated.

Gudanji and Yanyuwa Traditional Owners have raised concerns about the cultural and environmental damage caused by the massive lead-zinc mine for years.

A continuous plume of sulphur dioxide smoke has been emitted from the mine's waste rock dump since 2013 and acid seepage through the site near Borroloola on the Gulf of Carpentaria has also been reported.

The UNSW report found there were delays in responding to issues raised by the independent monitoring system, which was set up to protect the environmental and cultural interests in the area, with the mine site operator Glencore Australia, and the NT mining regulator failing to act quickly to mitigate these risks, or failing to take action on recommendations altogether.

The NT government recently approved an expansion of the mine, despite the authority responsible for the protection of Aboriginal sites rejecting Glencore's application.

The NT's Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) said they were concerned about the potential damage to sacred sites after Glencore was given the green light to increase the size of the mining pit and waste rock dump last year. 

The government also reduced Glencore's environmental security bond from $519 million to $400 million. 

At the time, the AAPA called on the McArthur River Mine to properly engage with Traditional Owners. UNSW's report has echoed these calls, saying more systematic engagement with communities in Borroloola and surrounding areas needs to be prioritised.

In December, the Northern Land Council lodged a compensation claim against the NT government on behalf of Gudanji, Yanyuwa and Yanyuwa-Marra Native Title holders.

The Native Title holders mounted a successful legal challenge in 2007 over approvals to change the mining method from underground to open cut.

The NT government immediately passed new legislation to validate the approvals.

The following year, Native Title holders successfully challenged approvals made by the Federal Environment Minister, but the Minister granted a separate environmental approval.

NITV News has contacted Glencore for comment. 

NT mine expansion given go ahead without Aboriginal protection approvals
The Northern Territory government has announced the expansion of the McArthur River zinc mine, despite the authority responsible for the protection of Aboriginal sacred sites rejecting the company's application.