A WA gold miner that spilled hypersaline water onto farmland — the latest in a series of incidents involving mining companies over the past five years — is being investigated.
- Minjar Gold detected the discharge of hypersaline water at its Southern Cross operations on March 3 this year
- The mine operates near the small Wheatbelt community of Marvel Loch, 375 kilometres east of Perth
- Since 2015, nine mining companies and one individual have been convicted of hypersaline water spills in WA, with nearly $240,000 in fines issued
The incident under investigation occurred earlier this year at Minjar Gold’s Southern Cross operations in the Wheatbelt.
An old pipeline burst and spilled, according to Minjar Gold, “water with a high salinity, diluted by a large rain fall event” into a creek-line which flowed onto farmland.
The ABC understands vegetation was damaged and the sheep farmer’s stock dam contaminated.
A spokesman for the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation said Minjar Gold reported the incident, but the department would not comment further, saying the matter remained under investigation.
Miner working with farmer
In a statement, Minjar Gold said it immediately implemented a remediation plan and remained in regular communication with the farmer and regulatory authorities.
The company blamed a decommissioned pipeline which it says filled with water from a nearby pond and overflowed following a large rainfall event.
“The remediation work is continuing, and our team has regular communication with the farmer involved,” Minjar Gold said in a statement.
Minjar Gold, which bought the Southern Cross operations for $330 million in 2017, said it was the first hypersaline spill under its ownership.
“This was a very unusual occurrence, due to a number of uncontrollable factors happening at the same time,” the company said.
Ten convictions in five years
In the past five years, nine mining companies and one individual have been convicted of a similar offence, including two separate spills at the Higginsville gold mine near Norseman which resulted in $75,000 in fines for Avoca Mining.
Kambalda nickel miner Mincor Resources was also convicted twice in 2016 and fined a total of $50,000 for two separate incidents within the space of a month.
The incidents were both at Mincor’s now-closed Miitel mine — the release of 30,000 litres of hypersaline water into nearby native vegetation on March 24, 2015 and another 20,000 litres on April 29, 2015.
The most high-profile offender was a subsidiary of Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group, which was fined $25,000 in 2017 for discharging between 2.5 to 3.6 million litres of hypersaline water that impacted vegetation at the Cloudbreak iron ore mine in the Pilbara.
Last year, a subsidiary of nickel miner Western Areas was fined $37,500 after discharging about 4.7 million litres of hypersaline water into the environment.
Cliffs Asia Pacific Iron ore, the former owners of the Koolyanobbing iron ore mine, 50 kilometres north of Southern Cross, was fined $25,000 in 2016 for discharging 288,000 litres of hypersaline water into the environment.
Polaris Metals — a subsidiary of mining giant Mineral Resources — was fined a total of $22,500 in 2015 for two incidents at the Carina iron ore mine near Southern Cross, including dumping hypersaline water onto land owned by the Department of Treasurer and Finance.
The lone individual prosecuted, Bruce Richard MacPherson, was fined $4,000 in 2015 for dumping an estimated 144,000 litres of hypersaline water into a creek system near the historic WA gold mining town of Kookynie.