Mine non-compliant

On the surface the news that Terramin Australia has been issued an environmental direction under the Mining Act to bring its Angas Zinc Mine tailings dam back into compliance by the end of 2012 sounds great.As the executive director of Mineral Resources Dr Ted Tyne says, the dam has been non-compliant for the past two years. And there has been no sign of discernible improvement in the short term.
But the Environmental Direction needs to be looked at closely.
The December 31, 2012, deadline only refers to reducing the water in the dam to a level that keeps it within the double plastic liners. This is a critical milestone because the more water that creeps over onto the single liner, the greater the risk of leaking and the greater the risk of ground water contamination from mine waste in the dam.
However, staying within the double liners doesn’t mean the dam is compliant.
Compliance means a ponded water surface area of 15,000sqm or about 20 million litres.
That’s the volume the “most over engineered” tailings dam in the world was designed to handle.
Despite a lot of money, three reverse osmosis water treatment plants making some inroads into the excess water and another rented plant sitting at the mine site ready for commissioning, the mine still has about 200 million litres of water sitting in the dam.
The mine will not be compliant by the end of 2012. Even Terramin says it won’t reach that milestone until mid 2013, all going well.
So why is the Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy saying it is ordering the mine to be compliant?
A few weeks ago a Strathalbyn man went public with his frustration at the lack of action and accountability from government agencies to make the mine obey the rules of its licence.
Mike Farrier, a member of the Strathalbyn Community Consultative Committee (SCCC) – the local watchdog body overlooking the mine – vented his concerns to SA Mines Minister Tom Koutsantonis and asked him to intervene.
Once Mr Farrier went public, so did some of his colleagues on the committee – belatedly and in extremely measured tones.
The Minister declined to intervene but Mr Farrier’s complaints were heard and had to be addressed.
This environmental direction falls short of addressing the SCCC concerns. While it lists critical actions that must be met, it fails to set a deadline for true compliance.
Is this because authorities don’t want to set Terramin up for failure when so many of the company’s own deadlines have come and gone?
Or is this because the 15,000sqm licence is unrealistic and can never be met? These questions need answering by authorities.