Satellite image exposes $41,000 mistake in Aussie outback
The mining company responsible paid just a fraction of the maximum penalties it faced.
A mining company's mistake that caused a massive discharge of salt water and left a visible scar on the environment has cost it more than $41,000.
Satellite images show the ground bleached white after enough water to fill 60 Olympic-sized pools was spilled across a remote northern Goldfields site in Western Australia in 2020. Authorities describe it as a “visible salt scar”.
The spill unexpectedly occurred after the miner filled a disused pit with 145,000 kilolitres of hypersaline water — a process known as dewatering. After heavy rains, the water rose to the surface via a ventilation shaft, flooding 46 hectares and stripping 16 hectares of native vegetation.
Measurements to help you understand the scale of the disaster
A Kilolitre has a volume equivalent to 1000 litres.
One hectare is 10,000 square metres.
Hypersaline is water highly concentrated with salt.
What penalties did the company face?
Australian-listed mining company Bellevue Gold was taken to court by the Department of Environmental Regulation and Water (DWER). It faced two charges that could have resulted in the following penalties:
$350,000 for causing material environmental harm.
$100,000 for not being licensed for the emission.
On Thursday, the Perth Magistrates Court issued fines of $31,000 and $10,000 respectively. The company was also ordered to pay costs of $4,663.30.
How did the gold mining company respond?
Bellevue Gold indicated it did not wish to respond to the judgement, and Yahoo understands it is unlikely to appeal the judgement.
A third-party environmental assessment predicted the land would recover without intervention. In its sustainability report to the ASX in 2020, it released two further satellite images showing the area “gradually returning to pre-release conditions”.
Does the government agree?
DWER said while chenopod shrubs were growing again at the site, two years on from the discharge event acacia species had not recovered.
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“In this case, the discharge left an impact so significant it could be seen in satellite images,” DWER’s Kelly Faulkner, said.
“It is the responsibility of mining companies to ensure they have the correct permissions to discharge water or otherwise impact the environment.”
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