Wuudagu Bauxite Mining Project near Kalumburu

Mining company VBX Limited wants to build a new bauxite mine 15 km west of Kalumburu, with a place for treating the bauxite for export. It would be built on an important area of Wunambal Gaambera country.

We know from what has happened in Nyoongar country in the South West that bauxite mining leaves very large areas of sick country that will never be healthy again.

Environs Kimberley is worried that, if the Wuudagu bauxite project goes ahead, it will harm the trees and plants, water, soil, and animals in the area. We believe that this mining project could spread over much wider areas in the future. The project could open up the North Kimberley to a whole bauxite-mining industry like the one in the forests in the South West.

What we know about the Wuudagu Bauxite Project

According to information provided by the company, and research by Environs Kimberley, the Wuudagu Bauxite project will mean:

  • Clearing all trees and other vegetation over nearly 20 square kilometres - about 86 times as big as the Kalumburu community. This area of clearing could get much bigger later on if the project grows. It will leave very wide areas of sick country that will never be healthy again.
  • Very large machines digging up bauxite all day and night for at least 10 years, with bright lights and noise that people in Kalumburu could hear and see.
  • An area of water bores and pumps, which will suck over 1 million litres of water every day from the underground aquifer. This could lower the water table and cause waterholes to dry up.
  • Around 2.5 million tonnes per year of bauxite waste will be dumped back on country, where the bauxite came from. This will change the soil and the flow of water on country.
  • Hundreds of trucks, running 24-hours a day, every day of the year to transport bauxite and waste along very wide new private mining roads west of Kalumburu.
  • A massive factory and conveyor belt to load the bauxite onto barges at Guy Point. This will run 24 hours a day, with a lot of noise and bright lights. The loading will disturb sea animals like turtles, dolphins and dugongs.
  • A private workers’ camp for 250 workers. It will have a rubbish tip, incinerator for burning rubbish, and a sewage plant.
  • Giant diesel generators as big as semi-trailers running 24 hours a day.
  • Big ships in the bay all the time near Kalumburu, being loaded with Bauxite. These ships risk polluting the water when they dump waste and ballast water. Their huge anchors will damage the sea floor.

The Kimberley is not the place for a big mining industry. There is no way that mining companies can make country healthy again after mining bauxite and dumping mining waste on country.

It is early days for the project, and it can be stopped if people speak up to protect country.

What we know about Bauxite mining on Nyoongar country in the Southwest

Bauxite mining has been going on for many years in forests in Noongar country in the South West. This has had very bad impacts on the forests, animals, water and local people.  Some of the important lessons from bauxite mining in the South West include:

  • Once bauxite mining starts, it will keep growing. Once the company has mined all the first area, it will spread into nearby areas, getting bigger and bigger every year. Once mining has started it is very hard to stop it from spreading.
  • Bauxite mines are much bigger than other mines. The layer of bauxite under the ground is quite thin and spread out. This means bauxite miners have to clear and mine very large areas.
  • The trees and animals never come back healthy after bauxite mining. The mining companies say they will plant trees when they finish mining, but mining changes the soil and groundwater, so the plants and animals never come back healthy in the areas that have been mined.
  • Bauxite mining damages water. Mining and processing bauxite uses huge amounts of water. Mining bauxite changes the water table and pollutes rivers and wetlands.
  • Bauxite processing produces huge amounts of waste. In the South West, bauxite miners are not allowed to dump this waste back in the mine areas, so it is dumped in huge piles in other places.

For more information on the impacts of bauxite mining on Noongar country click here.

More information about the Wuudagu Bauxite Project

The Wuudagu Bauxite Project will use very large machines to dig bauxite (or gravel) out of the ground from two wide open-mining areas totalling approximately 15 square kilometres. The bauxite will be carted in trucks along a new haulage route to a processing plant near Guy Point. A conveyor belt will be built to load the bauxite ore onto barges, where it will be transferred to ships offshore. Each part of the development and its potential impacts are described below.

Clearing of trees and vegetation

The project will initially require trees and other vegetation to be cleared over nearly 20 square kilometres. This is about 86 times the size of the Kalumburu community (where the houses are), or two and a half thousand times the size of the Kalumburu oval.

The cleared areas will include nearly 15 square kilometres for bauxite mining, and 4.8 square kilometres for roads, processing plant, accommodation camp, borefield and other purposes.

The bauxite in the mine areas that the company is seeking approval for will only last 10 years, but the mining tenement boundaries for the development are much larger than this initial mine area. This means that the mining company will almost certainly seek future approvals to greatly expand the size of the mine area in the future. See the map below showing the size of the initial mining areas and the much bigger tenement boundary marked in red.

Example of landclearing in the Kimberley - complete destruction of ecosystems

Excavation of Bauxite

Once the areas are cleared, excavation of the bauxite will begin over a wide area, in a process called strip mining. This means the entire surface of the ground is dug up by machines over wide areas to a depth of about 4 metres, to get the layer of bauxite around 3 metres thick. This process will remove all surface soil.

The bauxite will be dug up and trucked away for processing at a rate of 6 million tonnes every year. About 2.5 million tonnes per year of bauxite processing waste (containing clay) will then be dumped back into the areas that have been mined, while 3.5 million tonnes per year will be exported.

Once this happens, the land, soil and water-flows will be changed, and the surface level of the country will be different. Because of these changes, it is unlikely the country will ever be healthy again.

Bore-field and water use

The project will use over 1 million litres of water per day, or nearly 400 million litres per year. This will be used by the bauxite processing plant, for spraying on the minesite and haul roads to keep dust down, and for the accommodation camp. Bores will be drilled into the ground to supply the project with water. Pumping this amount of water from underground could affect the groundwater in the area around the bore-field. It could lower groundwater levels, which may lead to wetlands and waterholes drying up and may leave people and animals without water to drink. It could also lead to salty seawater entering the underground aquifer, turning it salty and making plants and animals sick.

Workers’ accommodation camp

A workers’ camp will be built for 250 people. This will include a rubbish tip, waste incinerator and sewage disposal pits. There will be 24-hour light pollution and the facility will operate 24 hours a day. Community members will not be allowed into the facility. Workers’ camps usually attract and breed feral cats and foxes, which hunt and kill a lot of wildlife. Up to 250 (mostly male) workers will stay at the camp, which may provide alcohol to workers. They may be looking for fishing, 4-wheel driving and other activities.

Power generation

Generators up to 6 MVA capacity will be installed. These are likely to be 2–4 diesel generators, each the size of a semi-trailer.  The huge generator units will be operating 24 hours a day, causing a lot of noise and air pollution. There will also be a power distribution network, including many kilometres of poles and wires. No power or diesel will be supplied to the community.

Mine Haul Road

35KM of haul roads 100m wide will be constructed from the mining areas to a beneficiation plant inland of Guy Point. These roads are much wider than a normal road. The haul road will flatten hills, creeks and valleys, and will change the way the water flows over the country when it rains.  Very heavy trucks will go up and down  24 hours a day, carrying bauxite. This will cause constant noise and light pollution, disrupting and killing wildlife, and disrupting hunting grounds. Community people will not be allowed to go on the road.

Bauxite processing plant with conveyor and barge-loading facility

The processing (or beneficiation) plant will be a very big factory-type facility operating 24 hours a  day with a lot of lights, noise and dust and big trucks constantly coming and going. The processing plant is likely to be about size of the whole Kalumburu community or even bigger.

At the processing plant, the bauxite or gravel will be crushed into paste and mixed with water. This plant will generate large amounts of waste every day which will be trucked back to the mined areas and dumped.

There will be a long conveyor belt to transfer the bauxite ore to barges at Guy Point. This will require a new jetty to be built and noisy loading and barge movements going 24 hours a day under bright lights at night. This will have impacts on marine life, including dolphins, turtles and dugong.

Transfer of bauxite ore from barges to ships

The barges will be used to transfer the bauxite ore to much larger ships, which will be anchored in the bay near Kalumburu. These ships will unload ballast water, which could bring diseases for fish and marine life; their engines will cause pollution, and their huge anchors or tethering systems will cause damage to the sea floor.

Proposed Wuudagu Bauxite project area

The map below shows the location of the mining areas (in light and dark blue) that the company is seeking environmental approval for. It also shows the proposed haul road and processing facilities at Guy Point. The red outline shows the mining tenement boundaries, which provides an indication of where the mining areas could be expanded to in the future.

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