Savage River mine Tailing Dam [Google Earth]

North pit at Savage River mine

Tailing dam spill at Grange Resources Savage River mine – March 2013

After three weeks, we have some understanding of a significant high velocity discharge from the main tailing dam on the Grange Resources magnetite iron ore mine at Savage River.

A very large volume of discoloured water containing tailings material in suspension flushed down Mains Rivulet, a natural creek that enters the Savage River some 7 kilometres from the mine site. This rivulet has been used as the historical gutter for tailings overflow from this mine’s main tailing dam for many years. Operations Manager for Grange Resources, Ben Maynard acknowledged it was ‘a highly degraded stream’ resulting from mine operation that is acidic and leaching metals.

’Our tails do contain sulphur… it depends on what’s come out of the dam. And that’s what we need to understand, but yes, that… that creek doesn’t have aquatic life in it at the moment. It’s, it’s… very… it’s highly degraded.’, Mr Maynard told ABC radio on 26 March.

Bushwalkers climbing Mt Donaldson over a Labor day long weekend in March provided the photographic and written evidence of a substantial and sustained surge of discoloured water coming down the Savage River starting in the early hours of Monday 11 March. Mains Rivulet enters Savage River some 14 kilometres upstream of the bridge on the Western Explorer Road [C249].

Before ... and after. Pic taken from the same spot

After ...

The view from Mt Donaldson about 3 pm on the Monday

The graphic images posted on Tasmanian Times showed the Savage River at the bridge crossing on the afternoon before the surge and then another taken from the same location on the morning of 11 March Another image taken from the Mt Donaldson track shows a large quantity of discoloured water from the Savage River entering at Yanns Reach on the Pieman River estuary. 
The concerning inconsistencies in this incident are in the reporting. The first media appeared after the company and the EPA provided information to The Advocate on Thursday 14 March; this was published in the newspaper on the following day. The EPA posted a media release on their website dated 15 March calling the incident an ‘unplanned release’ which according to the EPA had occurred on the evening of the 14 March or the morning of the 15 March. Of course, this could not be correct because the bushwalkers had recorded it on the morning of the 11 of March and both the EPA and Grange Resources had given information of The Advocate the day before claiming the release had occurred ‘last night’.

Despite these date anomalies, one could say these ‘muddy waters’ from an unplanned release occurred at a time when Grange Resources is raising the height of its tailing dam impoundment so that greater volumes of unwanted liquid slurry can be pumped into an enormous tailings dam covering an area of well over 300 ha or 3 square kilometres. This single tailings dam has increased its foot print over the life of the mine.

What stands out in the contradictory statements from both the EPA and Grange Resources is of particular concern to those seeking greater transparency from our EPA and the companies that they claim to monitor.

Mining engineers freely acknowledge the likelihood and consequences of failures in tailings dams, such as the one constructed at Savage River mine. The ecological impact of pulses of substantial, high velocity releases of mining effluent waters containing suspended tailing material on the Savage and Pieman Rivers will only occur over time. The environmental harm may be done as this mine continues to 2030 and then becomes another mine site with a legacy. 

The EPA would have to have been routinely monitoring Main Rivulet, Savage and Pieman Rivers to determine trends.

With an EPA appearing on the scene at Salvage River several days after the incident, what hope have these magnificent natural catchments got?

About Grange Resources

According the Grange Resources latest Annual Reporting it is ‘the largest miner and processor of magnetite in Australia. Over 300,000,000 tonnes of high-grade ore still remains in the ‘north pit’ at the Savage River mine.A ‘reserve’ of 115,000,000 tonnes high-grade magnetite is being developed at the nearby Long Plains site.The Long Plains project is close to the existing Savage River mine site – it will come on stream in coming years and is dependent on approvals for additional tailings dams.

The life of the mine has now been extended to 2030.Grange’s Savage River mine will finance the profitability of the company and allow the 5 times larger magnetite mine development 90 km east of Albany in Western Australia at Southdown.

Magnetite[Fe304] concentrate rock slurry is transported by the pipeline to a pelletising plant at Port Latta.

Currently the company exports 2.3 to 2.5 million tonnes of ‘premium pellets [68-71% magnetite and low in sulphur] annually to its main customers with long-term contracts: Shagang – China’s largest private steel producer and Blue Scope Steel.

Grange Resources purchased the Savage River Mine three years ago [2010]. And there have been two large ‘wall failures’ in the north pit in June 2010 and July 2012.  According to Grange Resources CEO, Russel Clark from 2012 magnetite ore is mined ‘solely from the north pit’.

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