By Rachel Seeley
AS the world’s second largest zinc resource, the McArthur River Mine (MRM) is a key operation in Glencore’s portfolio.
Rachel Seeley spoke to MRM general manager Sam Strohmayr about the environmental challenges being met at the operation.
Q. Please provide a brief overview of the McArthur River Mine.
Glencore’s McArthur River Mine (MRM) is located in the remote Gulf of Carpentaria, 900km southeast of Darwin.
MRM is a world-class zinc-lead mine with a long future ahead of it. It is an important part of the Territory’s resources history and continues to make a big contribution to the Territory and the nation.
Originally discovered in 1955, the Here’s Your Chance zinc-lead deposit was not commercially mined for 40 years until 1995 when underground mining production began.
MRM produces zinc, lead and silver from an open cut mine which is then processed and stored onsite before being transported to Bing Bong Loading Facility and shipped to customers all over the world.
We are proud of our 20 year history in the Territory and remain committed to running a safe, responsible, sustainable and competitive mining operation.
Q. How is production at MRM tracking?
MRM has 194 million tonnes of zinc and lead resources and 109mt of zinc and lead reserves. We have an annual production capacity of up to 5 million tonnes of ore each year.
MRM is an open cut mine that uses conventional drilling, blasting, horizontal bench scraping, loading and haulage methods.
We use a conventional crushing/grinding and flotation process to produce zinc-lead concentrates and export to a number of countries, including Europe, Japan, China and North America.
MRM’s open pit is currently 1.6km long, 650m wide and 116m deep. Its overall footprint is 102ha.
Q. What role does MRM play in the context of the Northern Territory’s economy?
MRM makes a very important financial contribution to the local community and to the Northern Territory.
For 20 years, we’ve been a major employer and a major buyer of Territory goods and services.
At full production we provide direct employment to more than 600 people, including contractors.
In 2014, we spent $60 million in wages, $191 million in capital works, $233 million on goods and services – much of which was spent locally – and $1.4 million on community investment projects.
Q. What are Glencore’s key priorities at MRM?
At MRM, we are absolutely focused on operating in a safe, responsible, efficient and sustainable manner.
Our first priority is to ensure MRM is a safe place for people to work. We are committed to zero harm through the assessment, removal and control of hazards.
We have now gone about 22 months without a lost time injury, which is something I’m very proud of.
We have a strong occupational health program, which is focused on prevention strategies.
Our first line of defence is to make adjustments to work practices and the work environment, followed by monitoring then treatment of health or injury issues as a last resort.
Health issues are generally in line with most mining sites, with an obvious focus on lead.
Our key concerns are around monitoring and minimising lead levels, noise, slips, trip and fall hazards, heat stress, dust exposure, fatigue and hazards associated with general musculoskeletal degeneration.
We also take the monitoring of blood levels very seriously and enforce strict protocols to reduce the risk of exposure to lead in the workplace.
Engagement with the community is another key priority for Glencore, and we play an essential role in the communities where we live and work, creating jobs, infrastructure, income for suppliers and many other benefits.
MRM’s closest town is Borroloola, a community of around 1000 people about 65km from our mine site.
We employ a number of people from the local community and about 16 per cent of our overall workforce is indigenous.
Our mine is a significant contributor to the local economy, but we believe our contribution is much broader.
Since 2006, we have extended our corporate social involvement program to work in partnership with government and other stakeholders to support regional development and social initiatives.
Our efforts are delivered through our own sponsorship program, the MRM Community Benefits Trust and community relations activities.
Our MRM Community Benefits Trust was established in 2007 for the life of the mine as the main vehicle for us to contribute to the social and economic development of our region.
The Trust operates as a partnership between MRM, the Northern Territory Government and the local community.
It funds initiatives in the areas of enterprise and job creation, environment, arts, culture, health, education, social and community development.
Since its establishment in 2007, the Community Benefits Trust has invested more than $10 million into around 60 programs to support social-economic development in the Gulf region.
In addition to funds invested through the trust, MRM has committed a further $6 million to the community over that time including $3.5 million for a multi-purpose community centre in Borroloola, sponsorships, donations and fund-raising activities.
Q. What does MRM’s commitment to the environment involve?
We are committed to the highest standards of environmental management and performance.
Our management practices proactively prevent risks and we have a comprehensive monitoring program in place to regularly assess and record the mine’s environmental performance.
Our aim is to preserve the long-term health, function, and viability of the natural environment through three key measures.
The first is operating to environmental standards and eliminating, mitigating and remediating the potential environmental effects of our activities.
The second is conserving our natural resources by avoiding destruction of natural habitats and efficiently using and recycling materials assessing environmental conditions, potential risks and effects of our activities minimising our greenhouse gas emissions and working with others to address climate change.
Thirdly, we are committed to responding to local communities and other stakeholders on environmental matters.
Q. MRM has faced a number of environmental challenges in recent years. How is Glencore managing these and what progress has been made?
We’ve faced a number of geological and geochemical challenges in the past 24 months and have made good progress on all of them.
We acknowledge there is more work to do and are focused on getting it done.
Throughout this time, we’ve engaged openly and regularly with all our key stakeholders, including the local community of Borroloola, a variety of independent scientific experts, a number of media organisations and a variety of NT government ministries, including the Department of Mines and Energy, the Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries and the Department of Health.
In terms of the progress we’ve made, we succeeded in putting out the emissions from our waste rock area more than 16 months ago; we’ve further improved the stability of our tailings storage facility through what we call a beaching process; and we’ve conducted a thorough fish testing program.
We’ve also continued to revegetate the McArthur River channel and have seen an increase in native fish abundance and diversity.
We’ve engaged a variety of independent experts to help us monitor and manage the challenges.
We understand there is still more work to do and we are committed to doing it.
Q. What does the future hold for MRM?
We are continuing to work with the NT Government and the Environmental Protection Authority on a number of things, including an Environmental Impact Statement process that will help determine our future waste rock management plan to enable a ramp up to full production at a future time when market conditions improve.
We are determined to continue making a positive contribution to the local community of Borroloola and the Territory for the next 20 years and will continue to engage regularly and openly with all our key stakeholders along the way.