South Australia is anticipating an precedented boom in mining activity in the coming decade, spearheaded by the massive Olympic Dam mine expansion. From an environmental standpoint, massive mining activity equates to massive impacts. The Olympic Dam mine alone will, if approved by operator BHP Billiton’s board in mid-2012, become the world’s largest open pit mine, with an estimated total life of a century. Principally a copper mine, the ore body also holds the largest known deposit of uranium, the fuel required to drive the world’s nuclear power plants. Overshadowed by Olympic Dam’s elephantism are an additional 30 billion dollars worth of smaller mining projects at varying stages of development, peppered all over the state.
Unlike its western neighbours, South Australia currently lacks the infrastructure to adequately support the incoming boom, and in response, development proposals are popping up left, right and centre. Perhaps the greatest noted absence for regional SA, is that of a deep-water bulk commodities port suitable for the mass export of minerals. State Government, rather than taking a leadership position and spearheading the development of a single, optimal deep-water port, are encouraging industry to come forward with the answers.
The result is likely to be a distributed and cumulative impact, with port developments and expansions proposed at numerous sites around our magnificent South Australian coast. Put simply, increased shipping increases the risk of introducing feral marine pests to the area, along with marine pollutants and potential shipping accidents. Port Bonython (near Whyalla on the Point Lowly peninsula) currently services the needs of Santos, and their Gas Fractionation Plant on the Point Lowly peninsula. Irrespective of the peninsula’s proximity to critical fish nurseries (which include the only known mass breeding site for the iconic Giant Australian Cuttlefish) plans are in place to degrade and sacrifice the area’s social and environmental values. An expansion of the port has been proposed, and a variety of petro-chemical, desalination and heavy industrial operations are looking to move in. You can see the state of affairs in the video episode below.
Port Spencer is a different kettle of fish, or more aptly, marine birds. The proposed port site repurposes land previously used for agriculture, immediately north of Lipson Cove. Less than a kilometre to the south of the port site sits Lipson Island, an 8 hectare conservation park established for the protection of bird rookeries, which include Fairy Penguins, Black-faced Cormorants and Crested Terns. After watching in horror late last year as the freighter Rena broke apart in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, imagining a similar event ruining Spencer Gulf has become all easy. We sincerely hope that proponents Centrex Metals have the compassion and wisdom to seek out an alternative site in a less sensitive area.
Located between Port Neill and Tumby Bay on Eyre Peninsula’s south eastern shore, Lipson Cove (immediately south of the Port Spencer site) is also an exceedingly popular campsite, entertaining a steady flow of tourists and locals who visit to fish, surf, explore and relax. The parallels to Port Bonython are glaring. In both cases, environmental and social values of chosen locations are being casually cast aside by decision makers who live elsewhere. Both projects have recently been granted Major Project Status by the South Australian government.
There is only one Lipson Island, and our penguin colonies, just like our breeding population of Giant Australian Cuttlefish, are already in trouble. These sites should be regarded as sacred, and protected for all time- not jeopardised by foolhardy beaurocrats and miners whose interested are overwhelmingly economic.
If you’re interested making a written submission to the South Australian government in response to either of these developments, we urge you to do so. You can find out more about these projects over at Cuttlefish Country, the website for danimations’ forthcoming documentary film, due for release in May 2012. Formal submissions on Port Spencer close on April 27th.