BHP Billiton: Billions in profits and not paying a cent for water in SA, Friends of the Earth Adelaide, 24th AUGUST 2011 Today 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 vast amounts of water used by the Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine near Roxby Downs. The mine currently uses approximately 35 million litres of water a day from the Great Artesian Basin. 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 and overrides from environmental and Aboriginal heritage protection laws that apply elsewhere in the state, including the Environmental Protection Act and the Natural Resources Act (which incorporates water management issues).
“The Indenture Act means that the Olympic Dam mine is not subject to the same environmental regulatory framework as other industrial projects in the state,’ explained Nectaria Calan of Friends of the Earth Adelaide. “Additionally, by allowing BHP to take water from the Great Artesian Basin for free, the South Australian government is essentially providing BHP with a massive subsidy,” she continued.
The water intake from the Great Artesian Basin has already had adverse impacts on the unique Mound Springs found near Lake Eyre, which are fed by the underlying Artesian Basin, and are sacred to the Arabunna people, the traditional owners of the area.
As part of the proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam mine, BHP Billiton proposes to increase its water consumption by an additional 200 million litres per day. Water intake from the Great Artesian Basin will increase to up to 42 million litres per day, with the remainder to come from a proposed desalination plant at Point Lowly. This amounts to over 100,000 litres of water per minute.
“The vast water usage of uranium mines is often forgotten in the debate about uranium and nuclear energy. Here we are, in the driest state on the driest continent on earth, host to a mine which needs millions of litres of water each day. Due to the Indenture Act, we are essentially exporting our water overseas for free,” said Ms. Calan.
The Indenture Act is currently the subject of negotiations between BHP Billiton and the South Australian government. In the near future amendments will be introduced into parliament to extend the Indenture Act to the proposed expansion.
“The South Australian government is planning to allow the largest uranium mine in the world to go ahead with legal privileges that will allow BHP an impunity characteristic of some third world states,” said Ms. Calan. “The Indenture Act should be repealed completely, allowing BHP to be subject to the same laws as other corporations operating in the state.”