In mid-March, BHP Billiton Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) submitted a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of its central Pilbara iron ore assets to “contribute to the long-term environmental planning and management of its operations.”
BHP says the assessment ‘provides greater visibility of our potential environmental footprint over the next 50 to 100 years’ of mining activity in the Pilbara.

The SEA, according to the company, is the first of its kind in the Australian mining industry and gives an overview of the regional environmental footprint of all of the company’s current and potential future Pilbara-based iron ore operations.

BHP Billiton Western Australia Iron Ore Asset President Edgar Basto said the company had been operating in the Pilbara for almost 50 years and understood the environmental impacts of its operations in the region.

“The SEA provides greater visibility of our potential environmental footprint over the next 50 to 100 years, improving our ability, as well as the govern-
ment and others in the industry, to plan for future operations.

“It outlines where we may develop in the future so any potential impacts on the environment can be assessed and adequately managed for future generations.”

Basto said the company would still be required to work with relevant departments to ensure necessary approvals were sought for individual projects, but the SEA takes a look at the company’s environmental plan over the long term in a more considered and complete way.

“Previously, we worked through the approval process for individual projects in isolation. We can now look at how future developments may interact and think about what we need to do to manage any impacts in advance,” he said.

“It gives the company, industry, the community and regulators a more comprehensive understanding of the region, which ultimately helps everyone to more effectively manage our natural resources.

“It’s about being transparent in our future plans and recognizing that environmental impacts are not confined to one particular mining project and should be looked at more holistically.”

BHP said the SEA was made public and open for comment in March. “We expect to continue to mine in the region for more than 100 years, which enables us to give back to the communities that have supported us for so long. The SEA demonstrates our ongoing commitment to the Pilbara and our host communities over the long term,” Basto said.

The SEA will be submitted to both the commonwealth and Western Australia governments for their endorsement.

Decisions on production volumes and the development or execution of further greenfield or expansion projects remain independent commercial decisions that are separate from the SEA.

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