Rio Tinto’s iron ore mine expansion gets environmental nod

Autonomous trucks at West Angelas mine. (Image: Christian Sprogoe Photography | Rio Tinto.)

The world’s second largest miner, Rio Tinto, (ASX, LON, NYSE:RIO) is a step closer to begin expanding its West Angelas iron ore mine in the Pilbara, Western Australia, as it has received the state’s environmental watchdog’s approval.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) said Monday it would recommend open-cut mining at the site to be expanded by 4,100 hectares to 26,700ha, taking it to within 2km of Karijini National Park.

To further protect Karijini from up to 12 gigalitres annually of proposed surplus water discharge into Turee Creek East, and minimise the impact on riparian vegetation, the EPA recommended conditions including rigorous monitoring under an environmental management plan (EMP).

Approval is subject to conditions, including the protection of national park water resources and endangered ghost bats

The EPA has required Rio to ensure the groundwater level below Karijini is not affected and there is no irreversible damage to vegetation along the creek. It has also asked the company to take measures to protect the area’s endangered ghost bats.

The West Angelas expansion is part of Rio Tinto’s Robe River joint venture with Mitsui and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal, which recently committed to spend $1.55 billion to maintain output from the Robe River operations at 65 million tonnes a year.

Work at West Angelas and Robe Valley will begin later this year, with first ore due in 2021.

The EPA report is open for public appeal for two weeks. After that, Environment Minister Stephen Dawson will decide the final fate of the expansion.

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