BHP Billiton has received conditional approval from the Western Australia Environmental Protection Authority for the proposed A$14bn ($14.7bn) expansion of its iron ore export harbour in Port Hedland.
Under the plan, the mining major will build a 4km jetty, a railway line and a stockpile facility in Port Hedland as part of its plans to export 240 million tonnes of iron ore a year.
Western Australia EPA chairman Paul Vogel said that a comprehensive set of environmental conditions, including measures to limit the impact on marine habitats, had been recommended to ensure that the EPA’s environmental objectives could be met.
While approving the plan, the EPA raised concerns about the destruction of marine habitats, water pollution and dust emissions. The port expansion includes a large marine dredging campaign, which will take four years to complete and involves the dredging and disposal of 42 million cubic metres of sediment.
"The EPA has found that the dredging campaign could be managed in a way that is unlikely to compromise the ecological functioning of the marine environment, locally and regionally," said Vogel.
The EPA has recommended an offset package to minimise environment damage, which includes supporting research on sawfish, whales, dolphins, dugongs and turtles.
The outer harbour will take about eight years to build and will be implemented over four phases, increasing BHP’s Pilbara iron ore exports to 350 million tonnes by 2020.
Commenting on the approval, BHP Billiton spokesperson Kelly Quirke told Bloomberg that the firm is looking forward to the next stage in the assessment process, which involves a two-week public comment period followed by the Western Australian Appeals Convenor’s consideration of any appeals.
The expansion will help the company increase supplies to China, which is trailing in iron ore production to Vale and Rio Tinto Group. BHP Billiton has already earmarked $7.4bn to increase its iron ore export capacity from 155 million tonnes a year in 2011 to 220 million tonnes in 2014 by building the Jimblebar mine.
Image: BHP iron ore train in Port Hedland, Western Australia. Photo:Nachoman-au.