A West Australian gold miner has been fined $41,000 after a flood at its northern Goldfields operation killed 16 hectares of native vegetation.
- Bellevue Gold Limited has been fined $41,000 for environmental damage caused in 2020
- 16 hectares of native vegetation were killed after hypersaline water escaped a holding pit
- The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation says the area has not fully recovered
Bellevue Gold Limited (BGL) was charged with two offences after kilolitres of hypersaline water escaped one of the company’s holding pits in 2020.
The high salt-concentrated water escaped through a vent shaft, flooding 46 hectares of native vegetation and causing damage to the surrounding ecosystem.
The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) said the initial spill killed all native vegetation in the area and left a “salt scar” on the land.
The full scale of the damage was captured by satellites.
Under the Environmental Protection Act 1986, Bellevue was charged with causing material environmental harm and not being licensed for the emission.
The charges carry fines of up to $250,000 and $100,000 respectively.
Perth Magistrate Andrew Matthews handed BGL fines of $31,000 for environmental damage and $10,000 for the unlicensed discharge.
The company was also ordered to pay $4,663 in costs.
Between December 2019 and March 2020, about 145,000 kilolitres of hypersaline water was drawn from disused mines in the area and pumped into surface pits, with DWER saying the total amount could fill 60 Olympic size swimming pools.
The damage comes as BGL pushes ahead with the development of its Bellevue Gold Project, a high-grade underground goldmine about 40 kilometres northwest of Leinster.
The mine sits in a major gold and nickel-producing district and is expected to produce $2.1 billion over the project’s 10-year mine life.
Traditional owners ‘concerned’
In October 2022, BGL announced a Native Title Agreement had been signed with the Tjiwarl Aboriginal Corporation, which holds native title on behalf of the 11 families recognised as traditional owners.
At the time of the flood, Tjiwarl chairman Brett Lewis said any environmental discharge from a mining company on country was concerning to the Tjiwarl people.
Following the decision in the Perth Magistrate’s Court, DWER executive director for compliance and enforcement, Kelly Faulkner, said the environment needed to be protected, even at isolated mining operations.
“It is the responsibility of mining companies to ensure they have the correct permissions to discharge water or otherwise impact the environment,” she said.
“In this case, the discharge left an impact so significant it could be seen in satellite images.”
Testing of the site in 2022 found that while rainfall in the region had dispersed the surface salt level, the salinity of the soil remained high.
DWER said two years after the spill some saline-resistant species had started growing in the area, however other plants including acacias had not recovered.
Bellevue Gold Limited has been contacted for comment.