05 Jan 2018
The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA) has completed a rigorous environmental impact assessment of Arafura Resources Ltd’s Nolans Project, and concluded that it could be managed to avoid unacceptable environmental impacts and risks.
The proposal is to mine rare earth
elements, key components in many green and sustainable products, such as wind
turbines for the clean energy industry and hybrid vehicles. The proposal
includes open cut mining and processing over a 55 year mine life.
Mining wastes that include naturally
occurring radioactive materials would be permanently stored onsite. The
proposal also includes groundwater abstraction from a new borefield and
permanent diversion of an ephemeral creek.
The proposed site is 135 km
north-northwest of Alice Springs and 10 kilometres west of Aileron roadhouse
and Alyuen community.
NT EPA Chairman, Dr Paul Vogel, said the
NT EPA identified potentially significant environmental impacts and risks
associated with the proposal and made 16 recommendations to avoid and mitigate those
“This proposal comes with long term
environmental risks that will require a high level of ongoing regulatory
scrutiny across Government,” Dr Vogel said.
The NT EPA considers that the
implementation of its recommendations would prevent or mitigate potential
environmental impacts and risks from implementation of the Project.
The NT EPA’s key recommendations focus
on ensuring leading practice in management of tailings, residue and waste
during operation, closure and post decommissioning.
Potential contaminants and the presence
of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in these waste streams warrant
independent technical review and operational oversight to ensure the risks are
minimised to the lowest extent practicable and to promote a transparent
The NT EPA considers there is potential
for impacts on groundwater hydrological processes and associated environmental
The sustainable use and management of
groundwater resources is important in an arid zone where the Project is
The NT EPA recommends further
hydrological investigations including refining the groundwater model, setting
site-specific groundwater level triggers and adaptive management of groundwater
To ensure best practice closure and
rehabilitation, the NT EPA considers the Project should effectively integrate
mine closure planning with mine operational planning and that progressive
rehabilitation is undertaken during Project operations.
The Mine Closure Plan should incorporate
agreed stakeholder rehabilitation objectives, standards and criteria and post-mining
land uses prior to approvals.
The Mine Closure Plan should be
regularly updated based on research, site investigations and rehabilitation
performance monitoring in accordance with the principles of adaptive
The NT EPA has recommended that the
security bond be revised based on the updated Mine Closure Plan to ensure the
costs of rehabilitation and post-closure liabilities are not borne by the Northern
Territory Government and the community in the event of the Operator abandoning
the site or becoming insolvent.
The NT EPA notes that uncertainty
remains around the potential for significant environmental impacts over the
life of the Project.
The NT EPA emphasises that the
environmental commitments, safeguards and recommendations outlined in the
Environmental Impact Statement, this Assessment Report and in the final
management plans must be implemented by the Proponent, with a high level of oversight
and strong compliance enforcement by the relevant regulator throughout the life
of the Project to deliver acceptable environmental outcomes.
The NT EPA has provided its assessment report
to the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Lauren Moss, for
To obtain a
copy of the assessment report please visit www.ntepa.nt.gov.au/environmental-assessments/register/nolans-project
Media Contact –
Department of Environment and Natural Resources - 0437915366