Rio Tinto receives green light from EPA for West Angelas expansion at Pilbara
Rio Tinto has received approval from the Environmental Protection Agency for its plans to expand operations at its West Angelas iron ore mine in Pilbara, Western Australia.
The EPA has recommended the mine for environmental approval subject to conditions including the protection of national park water resources and threatened ghost bats.
Rio Tinto propose to to expand open-cut mining at the West Angelas mine site, 130km north-west of Newman, by 4,100 hectares (ha) to 26,700 ha.
The West Angelas expansion is part of Rio Tinto’s Robe River joint venture with Mitsui and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal to produce the premium Pilbara Blend iron ore and Robe Valley lump and fines in the coming years. Rio Tinto plans to begin construction this year ahead of a forecasted production start in 2021.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury commented: “The additional Robe Valley deposits will enable us to continue to provide a highly valued product to our long-term customers across Asia.”
As a result of roundtable discussions with proponent Robe River Mining Co Pty Ltd and the EPA – regarding the impact to Karijini National Park of pumping up to 14 gigalitres annually (GL/a) of groundwater for the proposal – the EPA has recommended a condition for Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) to maintain groundwater levels.
To further protect the national park from up to 12 GL/a of proposed surplus water discharge into Turee Creek East, and minimise the impact on riparian vegetation, the EPA recommended conditions including rigorous monitoring under an environmental management plan (EMP).
Further conditions in the EMP, and for rehabilitation under an updated mine closure plan, are recommended to minimise impacts of clearing native vegetation and other disturbances to habitat for conservation-significant fauna.
To offset the significant residual impact of additional clearing – including to the West Angelas Cracking Clay Priority Ecological Community, riparian vegetation, and disturbance to threatened species including the ghost bat – the EPA recommended contributions to the Pilbara Environmental Offset Fund.
EPA Deputy Chair Robert Harvey acknowledged “the scientific rigour of the environmental assessment work and conditions to ensure there is no groundwater drawdown impacts on Karijini National Park, and to limit impacts to surface water flow and quality”.
“This assessment work and recommended conditions constitute a comprehensive approach to management of environmental impacts, following a proactive approach by the proponent and extensive consultation with the EPA,” he said.
British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.