Dec 10, 2020

Rio Tinto should 'pay for Juukan Gorge', inquiry says

RioTinto
inquiry
Australia
Dominic Ellis
2 min
Destruction of 46,000-year-old rock shelters in Juukan Gorge leads to reassessment of consent practices between mining companies and traditional landowners
Destruction of 46,000-year-old rock shelters in Juukan Gorge leads to reassessment of consent practices between mining companies and traditional landown...

Mining giant Rio Tinto should pay restitution to indigenous Australians affected by the destruction of two ancient rock shelters to expand an iron ore mine, according to an inquiry panel.

An interim report recommended that Rio Tinto should fully reconstruct the rock shelters in Western Australia’s Pilbara region at its own expense. The report includes broader industry guidance that highlights a review of consent practices and a moratorium on mining in the affected places.

However, the inquiry does not specify what, if any, financial compensation Rio Tinto should pay out to the traditional owners as part of the negotiated restitution package, but does state that agreement should include keeping places where artefacts and other materials could be stored and displayed for their benefit.

The parliamentary inquiry into the legal destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelter in May has held 13 public hearings, and received more than 140 submissions from miners, heritage specialists and Aboriginal and civil society groups.

The committee now says that it aims to finish the report in the second half of 2021, once it has heard testimony from other states after disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic slowed proceedings.

In a statement, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people whose lands were impacted say that they hope the inquiry’s findings prompt a ‘fundamental reset’ of the sector, particularly in the relationships between traditional owners and miners.

While it has started the long road towards healing and repairing its relationship with Rio, ‘there is still a long way to go’, the statement adds. “Rio Tinto now needs to turn its words into actions.”

Although the destruction of the ancient rock shelters in Juukan Gorge has sparked some industry change, with miners reviewing processes and their relationships with traditional owners of the land on which they operate, but there is room for more to be done, the inquiry asserts.

Rio Tinto says that it "regrets and unreservedly apologises to the PKKP people. The destruction of the rock shelters should not have happened, and we are absolutely committed to listening, learning, and changing."

The mining giant says that it has taken a number of actions to strengthen cultural heritage governance and controls and commenced the long-term process of regaining the trust of traditional owners. 

In a letter dated October 13, the company pledges to review all heritage disturbance in consultation with the traditional owners in the Pilbara; as well as sharing its intentions to modernise agreements, which includes the modification of clauses to ensure respect, transparency, and mutual benefit.

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May 7, 2021

Lithium producers bullish as EV revolution ramps demand

Lithium
Electric Vehicles
Albemarle
SQM
3 min
Lithium producers are drawing optimism from rising prices for the electric vehicle battery metal

Rising demand for lithium is stoking prices for the electric vehicle battery metal, fueling long-delayed expansions that still may not produce adequate supplies that automakers need to meet aggressive production plans.

Lithium

Growing industry optimism from higher lithium prices is a change from last year when funding for mines and processing plants dried up during the pandemic.

Albemarle Corp, Livent Corp and other producers are scrambling to make more lithium, but some analysts worry the recent price jump will not spur a big enough expansion to meet a planned wave of new EV models by mid-decade.

Since January, General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation Co, along with other automakers and battery parts manufacturers, have said they will spend billions of dollars on EV plants.

U.S. President Joe Biden has proposed spending $174bn to boost EV sales and infrastructure. The European Union has similar plans, part of a rush to catch up with global EV leader China.

Those moves have helped an index of lithium prices jump 59 percent since April 2020, according to data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a commodity pricing provider.

The rising demand “reflects what feels like a real and fundamental turning point in our industry,” said Paul Graves, chief executive of Livent Corp, which supplies Tesla Inc. On Monday, it said it would more than double its annual lithium production to 115,000 tonnes.

Graves warned, though, that “it will be a challenge for the lithium industry to produce sufficient qualified material in the near and medium term.”

Albermarle

Albemarle, the world’s largest lithium producer, aims to double its production capacity to 175,000 tonnes by the end of the year when two construction projects are complete. Albemarle's Q1 profit beat expectations thanks to rising lithium prices. Chile’s SQM, the No. 2 producer, said its goal to expand production of lithium carbonate by 71 percent to 120,000 tonnes should be complete by December.

Australia’s Orocobre is paying $1.4 billion for smaller rival Galaxy Resources, a strategy designed to boost scale and help it grow faster in regions closer to customers.

“The next few years are going to be critical in terms of whether there’s enough available lithium supply, and that’s why you’re starting to see commodity prices start to ramp,” said Chris Berry, an independent lithium industry consultant.

The price gains helped Albemarle and other major producers, including China’s Ganfeng Lithium Co and SQM, post big gains in first-quarter profit and boost forecasts for the year.

Even China’s Tianqi Lithium Corp, saddled with debt due to years of low lithium prices, signaled that recovering demand should help it swing to a profit this year.

Electric Vehicles

Forecasts call for demand for the white metals to surge from about 320,000 tonnes annually last year to more than 1 million tonnes annually by 2025, when many automakers plan to launch new EV fleets, according to Benchmark.

Still, demand is expected to outstrip supply in 2025 by more than 200,000 tonnes, so lithium prices may need to rise to encourage producers to build more mines. That could boost the prices consumers pay for EVs. “Companies across the lithium-ion supply chain are in the best position they’ve been in for the last 5 years,” said Pedro Palandrani of the Global X Lithium & Battery Technology ETF , which has doubled in value in the past year.

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