The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has recommended environmental approval for a proposal to mine and process rare earths in Western Australia’s Upper Gascoyne, subject to conditions to minimise impacts on significant vegetation and flora and limiting groundwater drawdown.
Hastings Technology Pty Ltd’s Yangibana Rare Earths Project proposes to mine and process rare earth element ore on a 13,373 hectare site about 270 kilometres north-east of Carnarvon.
EPA Chair Dr Tom Hatton said rare earth elements from this mine can be used for permanent magnets like those used in electric vehicles and mobile phones.
“This assessment is just one of the many diverse environmental assessments the EPA carries out, from iron ore and lithium proposals to heavy rail and irrigated agriculture,” Dr Hatton said.
“The EPA’s environmental assessment for this rare earth proposal considered impacts on flora and vegetation, stygofauna (subterranean fauna living in the groundwater), local water systems and human health and also considered if these impacts were manageable.”
“The EPA has recommended conditions to manage these environmental impacts, including requirements for surveys of significant flora and vegetation, modelling of surface water before any clearing and the preparation of management plans for flora and vegetation and stygofauna fauna.”
The EPA notes the proponent’s commitment to avoid directly dewatering the calcrete aquifer associated with an area rich in stygofauna (priority ecological community) and has recommended a condition to ensure potential drawdown does not significantly impact a small local calcrete aquifer. The clearing and mining within the area does not involve removal of calcrete.
The proposal includes the development of five open mine pits, groundwater abstraction, on-site processing of ore, tailings storage facilities, access and haul roads and supporting infrastructure such as accommodation facilities, administration buildings and an airstrip.
Rare earths have elevated levels of radiation. The proponent has demonstrated it can adequately manage these levels within acceptable limits to protect human health and the broader environment.
The EPA considered impacts to water and human health were unlikely to be significant and could be managed under Part V of the Environmental Protection Act 1986, the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914, the Radiation Safety Act 1975, the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 and the Mining Act 1978.
The Minister for Environment will make the final decision on the recommendation for approval.