Troubled NT mine compliant: watchdog

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A massive Northern Territory lead and zinc mine that's been dogged by environmental incidents and alleged damage to Indigenous cultural sites has lifted its game, an independent monitor says.

Glencore's McArthur River Mine - about 750km southeast of Darwin - has been under fire for decades over problems including spontaneously combusting waste rock, a seeping tailings dam and expansion near Aboriginal cultural and sacred sites.

Since 2006, it's been assessed by an independent monitor to ensure it's following the rules, along with the NT Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, which is tasked with enforcing them.

The watchdog found MRM and the department showed a high level of compliance with the mining authorisation conditions and the NT environmental protection agency's recommendations for the period from April 1, 2018 to April 30, 2020.

"MRM scored 100 per cent compliance with the 30 recommendations that were made by the NT EPA to improve environmental performance," the independent monitor's report published in April said.

The independent assessment also found that no significant environmental issues needed urgent investigation or were found to have happened during the audit period.

Overall, the McArthur River and its creeks were in good health and the fish were safe to eat, it said.

The improved way that MRM has followed approval requirements to look after the environment was attributed to how well the department had applied the requirements.

But a review of the department's regulatory procedures and approach found that there are opportunities to simplify activities to make them more efficient, especially those involving recurring regulatory processes.

"I am pleased with the (department's) regulatory performance as reported by the independent monitor," Minister for Mining and Industry Nicole Manison said on Monday.

"The overall compliance score achieved by the department is 97 per cent and this is strong evidence that we are regulating the operator of the mine effectively."

MRM general manager Steven Rooney said the mine would keep working to protect the health of the McArthur River and surrounding environment.

"The entire workforce at MRM is committed to operating responsibly and I'm very proud of their achievements," he said.

"The IM's findings are a testament to the considerable and sustained progress we've made in recent years."

Environment Centre NT director Kirsty Howey said the report failed to address a significant number of environmental risks identified by the previous company contracted to act as the IM.

"There's no way these problems have vanished into thin air," she said.

These included concerns that the McArthur River, which was diverted by MRM, may reconnect with its old channel, potentially causing the mine wall to fail and contaminated water to be discharged into the river.

"This would poison the river in perpetuity, however, there is no mention of this risk at all in the report, or what the mine is doing to prevent it," she said.

The next audit for the period from May 2020 to April 2021 has started, with the next annual environmental performance audit report and annual report card to be released around September 2021.

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