A proposed major phosphate mine in Central Australia has received approval from the Northern Territory Environmental Protection Authority (NTEPA).
- Ammaroo phosphate mine receives approval from environment watchdog
- Project slated to become second-largest water user in the region
- Company criticises delays in approval process
The project, by Verdant Minerals, will be one of the largest phosphate mines in the country, with aspirations to supply Asian markets via the Darwin Port.
The Ammaroo Phosphate Project, which will be 270 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs on Alyawarre country, is expected to create 300 construction jobs and 150 ongoing operations positions.
The feasibility study has valued the mine at $344 million, with plans to produce more than 2 million tonnes of rock phosphate annually.
Verdant Minerals’ managing director Chris Tziolis said receiving the approval was a “milestone”.
“The Environmental Impact Assessment that is conducted by the NT Government and the NTEPA is the most rigorous part of that assessment process,” Mr Tziolis said.
The NTEPA made 12 recommendations in its report focusing on groundwater concerns at the site, which Mr Tziolis labelled “fairly standard”.
Included in the report was a recommendation to conduct regular radiological testing of “all materials scheduled for mining or in constructed landforms”.
“We’re prepared to do that because we’ve been asked to do that,” Mr Tziolis said.
“There’s no actual radioactive material and that’s been clearly demonstrated, but we’ve been asked to do that so we will until the point that it’s been proven conclusively.”
He said while the company appreciated the importance of groundwater in mining projects, concerns at the site were unfounded.
“The groundwater aquifers out in that area are extensive — they’re huge, hundreds of thousands of gigalitres,” Mr Tziolis said.
He said the mine, which is predicted to have a life of 25 years, will use a total of 60 to 70 gigalitres in the first 20 years of its operation.
Project to be second-largest water user in the region
Paul Vogel from the NTEPA said usage of the aquifer was one of the biggest concerns the authority had about the mine.
“The two major issues we were concerned with were issues around groundwater extraction and mine closure and rehabilitation,” Dr Vogel said.
The project expects to use 60-70 gigalitres of water over its first 20 years. (Supplied: Verdant Minerals)
At a predicted 3.6-gigalitre extraction of water each year, he said the project would be the second-largest water user in the region.
“It’s not a groundwater aquifer that we know a lot about — 3.6 gigalitres per annum is a substantial water extraction,” he said.
“We paid particular attention to their modelling and ensuring their predictive modelling is accurate and making sure that over time it is validated by real-time monitoring.”
Dr Vodel said the NTEPA was satisfied the 12 recommendations would mitigate any risk of groundwater being affected in the region.
“We think they’re a very rigorous and comprehensive set of conditions,” he said.
“[There will be] independent reviews, preparation of plans that regulators have to sign off on, zero reduction of availability of water to other users.
“If predicted drawdowns of the monitoring show that something is not as it should be, in terms of other users’ access to it, they [the mine] have to make good.”
Approval timeline criticised
Mr Tziolis criticised the amount of time the NTEPA took to complete its Environmental Impact Assessment.
“It’s been a long process, perhaps longer than it should be,” he said.
“I would encourage the NT Government to perhaps look at streamlining this process.”
But Dr Vogel said speeding up that process was a matter for the company applying.
“This is probably a common criticism of impact assessment around Australia — that it takes too long,” he said.
“In this case, we received notice of intent in April 2014, and here we are talking about the impact assessment report four years later.
“We issued the terms of reference at the end of 2014 and the company took three years to produce their environmental review document.
“We only received the final documentation from the proponents in August this year and two months later we’ve issued the report.”
Mr Tziolis said the next step in the project would be to complete the Native Title agreement with traditional owners and pursue memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with future customers.
The company already has MoUs with a Tasmanian company and Indian fertiliser business, but would be pursuing more customers in Asia.
“That’s a big focus in the next handful of months as well, converting those MoUs to finding offtake and also putting more offtake in place,” he said.
“That’s a core piece of actually being able to get the finance, is getting those MoUs in place.”
The project will now go to NT Minister for Environment and Natural Resources Eva Lawler and NT Minister for Primary Industry and Resources Ken Vowles for approval.