How Australian governments gave BHP special treatment, and free groundwater
Public resources for private profit: free water for the largest open-pit mine in the world Coober Pedy Regional Times, by: Nectaria Calan, 13 Oct 11 In August mining giant BHP Billiton announced record financial results for the 2011 financial year, recording a total net profit of US$23.95 billion, nearly double its 2010 figure of US$13.01 billion.
Despite its profits more than tripling in the last three years, BHP has never paid a cent for the water used at its Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine. The mine currently takes an average of 37 million litres of water a day from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). Under the Roxby Downs Indenture Act BHP is not required to pay for this water usage.
The Indenture Act applies specifically to the Olympic Dam mine, and provides for wide-ranging legal exemptions from s eve r a l South Aus t r a l i an l aws , including the Aboriginal Heritage Act, the Environmental Protection Act, and the Natural Resources Management Act (which incorporates water management).
It is essentially a contract between BHP and the state government, which overrides key legislation in South Australia with the terms set out in the indenture agreement. The Special Water Licence for the mine is granted under the Indenture Act. It does not allocate a fee for the water used at the mine, essentially providing BHP with a massive subsidy. The new open-pit mine at Olympic Dam will require an additional 200 million litres of water per day, with water intake from the Basin proposed to in crease to the current licence limit of 42 million litres per day. *During the construction phase, it is projected that 44 million litres per day will be required, pending further government approvals.
This sits uneasily alongside the recently announc ed thi rd s t age of the Gr e a t Ar t e s i an Ba s in Sustainability Initiative (GABSI), for which the State and Commonwealth Governments have committed $2 million, to preserve an additional 3.8 million litres a day.
The water intake from the GAB is already affecting the unique Mound Springs found in the Lake Eyre region. Fed by the underlying Artesian Basin, they are integral to the desert ecosystem and sacred to the Arabunna people.
Arabunna elder Kevin Buzzacott observes that, “since the establishment of the mine by Western Mining Corporation, people like myself, born and bred in the area, have noticed the water level of the springs dropping. One is just about gone.”
The Great Artesian Basin Wellfields Report, published yearly by BHP in accordance with the Indenture Act, shows reduced flow rates for several springs, particularly those monitored from the mid-1980’s, when the mine was established…. Coober Pedy Regional Times 13-10-2011 (PDF)