Beenup clean-up blow-out

THE cost of BHP’s disastrous experi-ment with mineral sands in WA’s South West has blown out to as much as $300 million, as big clean-up expenses have been added to the huge capital lost in the short-lived project.

It is believed the mining giant, now BHP Billiton, has earmarked $50 million for a rehabilitation program which has 18 months left to run at the Beenup site near Augusta.

BHP Billiton sources confirmed the figure, though the official company line was simply that the cost was in the tens of millions of dollars.

A $30,000 audit of the rehabilitation program has been commissioned and is expected to conclude by year’s end.

The mining group spent $250 million developing the site at Beenup near Augusta, including much of the cost of Sue’s Road, yet the commercially untested ore extraction techniques at the titanium mineral project failed.

The mine closed in April 1999 after running only two years into a 20-year expected mine life because of the high levels of clay in the ore body and the abrasiveness of the sand, which was causing maintenance problems to plant and equipment.

BHP Billiton adopted technology to extract the ore from the clay, which had only been pilot tested and later proved unsuccessful on a large scale.

According to Beenup operating manager Bill Lyon, at its height the mine operated at 60 per cent capacity.

He said the operation was expected to bring in gross earnings of $60 million a year from 600,000 tonnes of titanium.

However, production costs blew out to around $200 a tonne – double the value of the mineral sand.

BHP Billiton environmental officer Gavin Price said the rehabilitation was 50 per cent of the way through the major earthworks.

“We are at a stage now where we have commenced landform design and revegetation,” he said.

A community consultative committee was set up with the support of BHP Billiton to oversee the implementation of the rehabilitation plan submitted to Depart-ment of Environmental Protection, and is providing feedback to the mining giant from the local community.

Consultancy firm Townley & Associates’ Lloyd Townley was appointed by the committee last week to complete a $30,000 BHP Billiton-funded audit of the rehabilit-ation program, which is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

Margaret River/Augusta shire develop-ment services director Manfred Boldy, who sits on the committee, was full of praise for the way BHP Billiton was undertaking the project.

“It’s pretty rare for a major company to not only deal with a community group in that way, but also that the group oversees the process,” Mr Boldy said.

“There is no statutory legislation which says that they have to have an audit like this.”

Kings Park Botanical Gardens is providing revegetation consultancy services to the project, while Rockwater is providing Hydrology services and the Geochemistry is provided by Environmental Geochemistry International.

More than 20 BHP Billiton employees are involved full time on the project. Early on in the project almost 100 people were employed at the site.

Kings Park Botanical Gardens director of science Kingsley Dixon said the Beenup project was a stand out among other closure projects.

“The Beenup project is one were they are really committed to do well and not just try to ride on the back of awards,” he said.


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