Sustainable mining is a complex enterprise that depends on three things – people, the environment and technology. This trifecta requires a healthy dose of capital, whether it be social, environmental, geological or financial.
We aim to strike a good balance between all four when it comes to effectively managing water resources.
Without water, our business simply could not operate. And without water, the communities we operate in wouldn’t survive.
That’s why minimising our impact on water resources and forging strong ties with the local communities where we operate are vital.
Transparency across all sectors is crucial to effective water governance. Our inaugural Water Report released today is the first step in our long-term plan to do our part and more effectively disclose our water use and performance as we strengthen water management across our operations.
The report is based on the International Council on Mining and Metals water reporting guidelines, which set a transparent minimum benchmark for disclosure. This helps us and others monitor and hold us accountable for our progress.
In FY2017, we announced a new five-year water target of reducing fresh water withdrawal by 15 per cent across our operated assets. Reducing fresh water use is critical as this is generally the most important water resource for our host communities and the environment. In FY2018 we achieved a 2 per cent reduction against this target. However, we still have a way to go.
Over in Chile, our Escondida copper mine has made a significant contribution to water preservation.
In April this year, we inaugurated the largest desalination plant in South America to supply water to our copper operations. The desalination plant involved the construction of a 180-kilometre water transport system to reach the Escondida copper mine.
Four high-pressure pump stations move water from the Port of Coloso across the Atacama Desert and up to a reservoir at the Escondida mine site, more than 3,000 metres above sea level.
The facility is one of the largest desalination plants in the world and Escondida’s second plant. The first plant has operated for the past decade and produces 525 litres of water per second.
The new plant has the capacity to produce 2,500 litres per second of fresh water. It not only secures a sustainable water supply for our operations, but minimises our reliance on the region’s aquifers.
The sheer scale of this project, along with the US$3.4 billion of funding, demonstrates our commitment to preserving fresh water and making every drop count. Industry cannot rely on groundwater in the long-term given it is a vital yet limited resource for communities and the environment.
Since Escondida first started 25 years ago, our environmental standards have increased and we have stronger connections with our indigenous communities. But we also face many challenges through increasing expectations from workers, communities, regulators and government that match those of developed economies. And yet, our industry must stay competitive, particularly as resource quality (grade, hauling cycles, hardness, etc.) naturally deteriorate over time.
While the strategy will have a significant impact on Escondida’s production costs in the near term, we are convinced that today’s challenge is tomorrow’s opportunity. We can best compete globally if we make the most of what we have - and that includes water.
In Australia, at Olympic Dam, we are improving water efficiency in all aspects of our operations and beyond. We’re working closely with the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI), a program introduced by the Australian Government in 2000 to reduce the impact on springs as a result of water extraction in the region.
Since 1999, Olympic Dam has worked with GABSI and neighbouring landowners to decommission or replace bores, or provide reticulation systems to reduce water losses. As a result, Olympic Dam has contributed to 235,000 megalitres in cumulative water savings for the region.
Water management has long been part of BHP’s governance, risk and operational practices. The shared nature of water resources means we must think ‘beyond the fence’ and work more closely with communities, government, industry and other stakeholders.
Increased pressure on water resources means we must do more - to responsibly meet water needs today and safeguard water supplies for future generations. This is not only for our future, but the future of the local communities and the environment where we operate.