Tuesday 25th Apr, 2017

BHP expansion threatened by dust debate

Iron ore train - credit BHP Billiton
Credit: BHP Billiton

A battle over dust levels in the Pilbara mining export town of Port Hedland could threaten BHP Billiton’s plans to expand annual iron ore export capacity at the site by 20 million tonnes.

BHP has an application with Western Australia’s Department of Environment Regulation to amend its licence to export 290 million tonnes of iron ore per annum, up from its current allowance of 270 million tonnes.

The miner wants to have 290mtpa run rate by 2019.

But a number of sources are reporting the DER is stalling the approval process, due to increased pressure from local interests who say the threat of increased dust levels is too high.

Locals are already complaining that the levels of dust put out by the rail unloading, and ship loading facility is unacceptable. Adding 20 million tonnes of extra annual throughput would only make this worse, they argue.

Port Hedland mayor Camilo Blanco says BHP has failed to contain dust levels, telling the AFR local residents are upset over iron ore dust blowing across the town.

“I know [BHP Billiton] are not doing what they should be in the way of dust management,” he was quoted as saying.

“There is no two ways about that. You hear that from employees. Clearly they are not going to admit to that in the public arena but they could do far better and, at the end of the day, I suppose it is all about saving money.”

The explosive comments come six months after the ABC wrote about a leaked report from the DER’s Port Hedland Dust Management Taskforce, which recommended the removal of permanent residents from dust-affected areas of Port Hedland.

The taskforce report also suggested banning new developments in the town’s West End, according to the ABC.

BHP asset president for WA iron ore, Edgar Basto, told the AFR conditions at the port were improving.

“BHP Billiton’s dust performance at Port Hedland has improved over time, despite an increase in production, due to the effective use of our broad range of dust controls that reduce dust generation at every point of the ore handling process,” Basto was quoted as saying.

“We monitor dust levels on a 24-hour basis and adjust our operations accordingly.

“We will continue to work with the regulators, the local community and the companies in Port Hedland to make progress under the process the government has put in place.”