Thursday, November 27, 2008

Protect the Great Artesian Basin! Stop Olympic Dam!

Arabunna elder Kevin Buzzacott told Directors and shareholders of BHP Billiton today (Thursday Nov 26 2008) at the Melbourne AGM to “close down the Olympic Dam uranium mine immediately” and to “stop taking the sacred water out of the Great Artesian Basin”.

This courageous and defiant call was made by a man who has spent his life standing up to some of the giants in mining, industry and politics on behalf of his land and his people.

The local (South Australian) media have buried Buzzacott’s comments and it’s been left to a New Zealand site to give voice to his anger at BHP Billiton.[1]

Olympic Dam

The Olympic Dam mine, sometimes also known as Roxby Downs from the name of the nearby town at which the miners live, is an underground copper and uranium mine originally opened by Western Mining Corporation in 1987[2].

WMC was bought out by BHP Billiton in 2005. BHP Billiton has plans for a massive expansion of the mine using open cut methods. The mine will become the largest in the world[3].

Great Artesian Basin

The Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is an underground aquifer covering nearly 25 per cent of Australia. Bores sunk into the GAB frequently released high volume and high temperature water with a wastage rate estimated to be around 80 per cent.

Several decades ago, the flow rate from bores diminished forcing governments to seal a number of wells in an effort to preserve the resource[4].

A decade or so ago, a debate erupted about the nature of the GAB. Government and industry sources favour the view that the GAB is an open system replenished by rainfall in Northern Queensland[5].

However, a different view has been put by others, most notable Prof. Lance Endersbee, who contends that the GAB is a closed system of non-renewable plutonic water, and that continuing to use the waters from this source has huge implications for, amongst other things, “potential recovery of oil and gas”[6].

Expansion of Olympic Dam

BHP Billiton currently draws about 35 megalitres of water per day from the GAB for mining purposes. This water comes from two borefields north of Olympic Dam. It does not pay for this water. Therefore there is no incentive not to waste the water, nor to limit the future draw on the borefields. When the mine is expanded in a couple of years’ time, it will require at least an extra 125 megalitres per day. However, artesian pressure in the borefields is declining and BHP Billiton has announced plans for a desalination plant in the north of Spencer’s Gulf.

Who wins and who loses?

In addition to waters required for mining, GAB water is used for stock, for domestic purposes and for township supplies. The Queensland city of Toowoomba announced on October 18, 2008 that it would become the first major urban centre to draw water from the GAB, having rejected proposals for the use of recycled and treated effluent. The town is expected to draw 2000 megalitres of water from the GAB each year.

Ultimately all of these users will be losers for, even if the “open system” lobbyists are correct, the rate of usage is many times more than that claimed for acquifer recharge by infiltration of rainwater[7]. And if they are wrong, and Endersbee’s “closed system” is correct and accounts for the major part of GAB water as a non-renewable source, then we collectively - as a nation – are in for very bad times ahead.

Aboriginal custodians

Which brings us back to the Aboriginal custodians of the land.

No-one has more to lose than these people. Some of the major concentrations of Aboriginal communities are found on land above the GAB.

Their knowledge of the water resources is the accumulation of many tens of thousands of years of practical experience in surviving and maintaining communities on the driest continent in the world.

As the Aboriginal worker sacked from the Challenger gold mine is reported to have said, water in the centre of Australia is like a spider’s web of streams under the ground, and they knew where to dig for it[8].

In the southern sweep of the GAB, adjacent to Olympic Dam, are a series of mound springs that provided a continuous flow of water. These mound springs are now endangered and some have dried up, threatening rare native flora and fauna[9].

As custodians of the land, with obligations of tradition and custom attached to it, Aboriginal people don’t want to see the waters wasted, nor to have them disappear, literally beneath their feet.

People hesitant to speak out

Nor do many non-indigenous people living in the outback.

However, BHP Billiton is a formidable opponent. It has the power to make its presence felt. It wields very large economic and political sticks, and has the resources to play divide and rule games, as did its predecessor WMC[10].

“We’re too afraid up here to make too many waves,” one person told me. “Many here in the outback have no confidence in the mining operations being beneficial in the long run.”

Another summed it up, saying “He who holds the gold and silver makes the rules. Melbourne and Adelaide might be about to run out of water, but the carpetbaggers are about to rampage our state. Without free water for BHP there’s no mining.”

Even online, some websites are showing evidence of people’s outrage at BHP’s water grab.

“Alex” responded to a Coober Pedy Regional Times posting of Endersbee’s “plutonic waters” article with the comment that “The GAB give-away has got to stop, BHP and the rest of the consortium know it’s a steal…sucking the lifeblood out of this beautiful nation”. “Christina” highlighted the risk of “permanent radioactive pollution of the GAB through uranium mining”, whilst “InTheKnowRoxby”, a former miner at the site wrote that “Most workers who come out of Roxby have either been carelessly radiated and buggered off. Or they are appalled by the practices around water which are nothing short of a criminal coverup…what we ex-Olympic Dam workers predict as the end of the Great Artesian Basin”[11].

Bullying the elders

The Olympic Dam operation was exempted from the requirements of nearly every relevant state piece of legislation back in 1982[12]. As the current owners of Olympic Dam, BHP Billiton must consult with traditional owners and get their consent to development activities; however, BHP Billiton can choose who to consult with and how to consult, and can determine the level of protection, if any, to be accorded to Aboriginal heritage sites.

At the moment, BHP is in a hurry to get signatures of approval for the expansion of the mine from a group of Kokatha elders who are being dragged into a meeting on December 14, 2008. However, there is some resistance from within this group. One source reports that some of the elders are not only reluctant to sign, but want to withdraw signatures already obtained from now-deceased elders. BHP is confident that even one signature will suffice to provide evidence of consultation and consent.

“The traditional aborigine is not interested in the Aussie currency, it’s only the new generation,” a resident of Roxby Downs told me. “However, the elders have the first right to signatures. It seems like they (BHP) can’t wait for them to die out. They (the elders) are always accused of just wanting money, which amuses me as isn’t that what companies like BHP want??? Pot calling the kettle black especially with BHP being an offshore company.”

Mineral rich, water poor

Our illustrious Premier keeps bragging that we are mineral rich, that we are set to become the “Saudi Arabia of uranium mining”.

Nowhere does he alert us to the fact that pressure in the GAB has dropped dramatically.

BHP Billiton continues to bleed the GAB dry without paying a cent for its water wastage. Cyanide used in mineral recovery (leaching) and radioactive wastes lie about as surface waters, poisoning wildlife and filtering back into local shallow aquifers. Not content with what it has already, BHP Billiton is currently trying to buy properties along the Birdsville Track...they need MORE water than the GAB can deliver.

For the sake of the shareholders of an already bloated multinational, South Australia and other parts of the country are being damaged for all time[13].

This must stop.

We must take an interest in this issue and put country first.

The legal exemptions granted to WMC and inherited by BHP Billiton in the form of the SA Roxby Downs Indenture Act must be repealed!

The voice of Kevin Buzzacott must be heard in South Australia!

[4] and
[6] and


1 comment:

Jeremiah said...


With the Roxby Indenture Act I’m assuming that’s an agreement with the SA govt. Would that be correct everyone?

Obviously we are aware, aren’t we, that a majority of the water is sucked into SA (Olympic Dam) by a pumping process, from as far away as Qld and northern NSW? Again…we are aware, aren’t we folks?

GAB water is clearly going to Olympic Dam from across the border and needs an IMMEDIATE enquiry as to whether the Roxby Downs Indenture Act is signed by NSW and Queenland along with Indigenous (Land and) Water use Agreements from every aboriginal nation that has a tradition tie to land connected to every area above the GAB across Australia.

If this is the case then BHP Billiton would have a legal agreement and open permission to syphon off NSW and QLD water without conscious during our countries greatest drought.

This continual extraction of water whether it is dewatering, bore water or the syphoning off of underground streams will inevitably force many Australian primary producing properties to close? These primary producers are our food chain folks. Take a reality check….please!

From an ex-WMC worker: Quote: ” Roxby does control the sump of the GAB and therefore the whole Basin.

Current water extraction causes a cone of depression at the well site which in turn causes a drop in the potentiametric head across the whole basin. ie the drawdown effect can be felt 1000’s of kms away. The result of the cone of depression causes water to speed up as it tries to fill the void created by pumping.

The eastern states should be querying Roxby’s water extraction program as a reason for the poor state of their own Artesian waters” End of quote.

Sorry if I’m dreaming here but BHP Billiton ARE using water from across the border.

As mentioned the Land Use agreements with the indigenous people are now called “Land and Water Use Agreements”.

Are the South Australian indigenous people informed of this impact on water belonging to other states and that they are being coerced into signing illegally on behalf of the NSW and QLD indigenous people.

Again, does BHP have signatures from every indigenous group who has historic ties to land above the entire GAB land mass in this country?

According to three credible studies the origin of the Great Artesian Basin water is Plutonic, which means any surface recharge would be of little significance to the main body of any Artesian Basin in the World.

Mining companies have collapsed Artesian Basins in countries, not their own, before today. One in India and one in North America causing a sunken land mass and a changing of the shoreline.

I read a report a few days ago which says that BHP claim the levels in GAB are down due to very little rain.

From memory it was 100 metres down. Wouldn’t you stop immediately to spare a country who has been your host from pending thirst and devastation? BHP won’t, all the while we believe it is only SA water on the line. Are we so stupid in 2008?

Are the Governments of this country so naïve, lacking information or instruction, not initiated; deficient in relevant experience and totally gullible or just plain, short term greedy middle men?

Does the Queensland Government enjoy considering giving Australian taxpayers expensively processed recycled sewage while an offshore company collapses our own water lifeline which is our birthright? Is there some knowlege that the world will end soon and we won’t be needing this water?

If this company was the “good corporate citizen” it claims to be then it would have the honesty and the moral conscience to get off OUR Basin and find something else less destructive to do.

This goes for every other mining company with it’s massive water extraction plans that are put conveniently out of the reach of the average person. Don’t you ever wonder how these mining companies water needs are satisfied?

If you don’t, then you deserve what you get.

If any of our Governments really cared about it’s own citizens or had any knowledge of natural evolution, then this would not be happening.

We not only have a problem with red tape in this country; there are far too many chiefs and not enough indians in a stuffy, clicky, complicated, pumped up bureaucracy of Ostriches, who have made a mistake and won’t admit it or are too inept to correct it.

How do they compensate for BHP having control of the main body of Australia’s water? By forcing the people of this country to pay the price.

Let BHP recycle their own sewage. We don’t wan’t the slurry from their desal plant in our environment either.

WAKE UP AUSTRALIANS, YOUR CHILDREN WILL NEED THIS WATER. Our very own Primary Producers need this water. Wake up Governments and dispense with BHP Billiton. Get them off our Land…now… and turn off the GAB tap to Olympic Dam - BHP Billiton and every other company currently rorting the sharemarket.