wetlands

Shared water challenges

Working together on water challenges in the regions where we operate.

BHP released its Water Stewardship Position Statement  in FY2019, which outlines our vision for a water secure world by 2030, an aim consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

 

In our Position Statement, we commit to set public, context-based business level targets that aim to improve our management of water and support shared approaches to water management within the regions where we operate to ensure  local water resources are conserved and resilient so they can continue to support healthy ecosystems, maintain cultural and spiritual values and sustain economic activity.

A key step in this commitment is to complete a Water Resource Situational Analysis (WRSA) in relation to each of our operating assets to understand the water challenges within our regions. These WRSAs, alongside internal catchment risk assessments, inform our context-based water targets (CBWTs). For further information on how BHP has engaged Indigenous peoples regarding Water, please refer to our Water Resource Situational Analysis webpage

What is a Water Resource Situational Analysis (WRSA)? 

A Water Resource Situational Analysis (WRSA) is a holistic assessment and summary of the sustainability, governance, and social, cultural, spiritual, environment and economic values of water (fresh or marine) within a defined catchment area.

Catchment risks

Each of our operated assets has identified and assessed risks (both threats and opportunities) within the catchments where we operate.

Water is a blue thread connecting our operations to the people and environments around them. We have assessed risks that could arise from our water-related interactions and use this information to improve our management. For example, this information may lead us to improve our understanding of hydrogeology or stakeholder values within a catchment, or to change our water management practices addressing a potential environmental impact or dependency. This understanding has also been used to inform the setting of our CBWTs.

Refer to the Water page for more information on the water-related risks our operated assets manage, and the BHP Operating and Financial Review, 9 – How we manage risk for more on BHP’s Risk Framework.

Context-Based Water Targets

Targets that aim to address the shared challenges and opportunities within the catchments where we operate.

Context-based water targets aim to help address the water challenges shared by BHP and other stakeholders in the regions where we operate.  These targets are based on what we heard from others and our own assessment of water-related threats and opportunities.

Our targets include actions to address our own operational water performance and actions which are intended for the collective benefit of stakeholders and Indigenous peoples in the region. 

While all targets are ideally measurable, this is not always practicable owing to the variable nature of these challenges. Sometimes we have to build knowledge and a shared understanding before we can set quantitative targets. This is particularly true when the actions are for the collective benefit of others or for complex water-dependent ecosystems.

Preferred practice for water targets, and for nature targets more broadly, is changing as the global community builds understanding on how to set meaningful and effective corporate targets and the practical steps needed to get there.  BHP is now moving from a global, singular water target to targets that consider local context and stakeholder priorities. We are proud of the water targets we present here, but also expect that our methods and metrics will evolve further as we learn more.

For further information on our approach to context-based water targets see the white paper we prepared to share our experience to date.


We have developed CBWTs for our operating assets presented below that will apply until FY2030. Progress on the CBWTs and milestones will be described on our main water webpage from FY2024 onwards.

  • BMA
  • Escondida and Pampa Norte
  • Nickel West
  • Olympic Dam
  • WAIO

Context

The Water Resources Situational Analysis (WRSA) for the Central Queensland region describes the hydrological setting for the region, and the shared water challenges and opportunities recognised by people of the region.

The water-related activities and risks for BMA are summarised on the BHP website.

Targets

Why these targets

BMA operates seven metallurgical coal mines in the Fitzroy Basin in the Central Queensland region. The Fitzroy Basin is the second largest seaward draining basin in Australia. The river flows through the lands of 17 Indigenous groups, supports major agricultural and mineral activity and flows into the southern Great Barrier Reef lagoon. The Fitzroy Partnership for River Health, which brings together government, industry and research representatives, provides an important platform for shared understanding (including via an annual ecosystem health report card) and collaboration.

The WRSA recognised the lack of water for economic and social wellbeing and to support ecosystems as a key challenge shared by stakeholders in the region.  We will implement initiatives to our water distribution and coal processing facilities so that we can make more use of mine-affected water, reduce our take of regional water supplies, and improve our water efficiency. This will mean we use less water for each tonne of product produced.  As our water supply is dependent on rainfall, significantly less rainfall than median conditions may impact our ability to reduce operational water sourced from water allocations.

The internal improvement measures will allow us to return some of our allocated water each year so that others in the region can use it, supporting our commitment in Target 2 to improving access to water.

Context

The Water Resource Situational Analyses (WRSAs) for the High Andes of the Tarapaca and Antofagasta region and the coastal zones of Bahia de Mejillones and Bahia San Jorge, all in northern Chile, describe the hydrological setting for these regions, and the shared water challenges and opportunities recognised by people of the region.

The water-related activities and risks for Escondida and Pampa Norte are summarised on the BHP website.

Targets

Why these targets

Escondida and Pampa Norte (which includes the Spence and Cerro Colorado mines) have three copper mines in the arid Andes of northern Chile, and ports and desalination facilities in the coastal zone that lies west of the mines.    

We aim to remove our operational reliance on groundwater from arid areas and support the recovery of wetlands impacted by groundwater withdrawal. Since 2015, we have reduced and ultimately ceased our withdrawal of groundwater for operational use by Escondida, and it is now supplied by desalinated ocean water that is generated using renewable energy. Cerro Colorado will close temporarily in FY2024 and alternatives to reopen will be evaluated through a new project, which will not consider the use of groundwater as an operational water source.  Spence will replace water supplied from groundwater with water from coastal desalination by FY2028.  Achieving Target 1 will complete our transition away from terrestrial water use in water scarce areas. 

The use of desalinated ocean water is growing in northern Chile and there are now more than 20 major desalination plants along this coastline.  Desalination facilities are not known to have broad regional effects but the cumulative effects of this rapid growth on marine ecosystems are not yet clear.  Target 2 will minimise BHP’s use of marine water and contribution to the cumulative effects.      

Both WRSAs identified that the environmental threats and resilience of the high Andes and coastal marine regions need to be understood better.  We will continue to research the water and ecosystems in these regions, and will share our knowledge on these and the effectiveness of management methods where it may contribute to the health of these natural systems.

Context

The Northern Goldfields Water Resources Situational Analysis (WRSA) describes the hydrological setting for the region, and the shared water challenges and opportunities recognised by people of the region.

The water-related activities and risks for Nickel West are summarised on the BHP website.

Targets

Why these targets

Nickel West operates two nickel mines in the northern goldfields region of Western Australia.  The region is semi-arid and characterised by low vegetation and extensive salt lakes.  Some 20% of the permanent population are Indigenous Peoples who maintain strong cultural connections to the waters of their country.  Mining is the main industry and is set to experience considerable growth due to planned developments of battery mineral deposits like lithium and nickel.

The WRSA identified water resource sustainability and the appropriate use of the variable water qualities in the Northern Goldfields as key shared challenges. Given that Nickel West is evaluating options for growth, our best opportunity to address these shared challenges in our own performance is to prioritise water management in new projects and set public performance objectives when those projects mature.  We will continue to prioritise water efficiency and the use of poorer quality water within our existing operations.

The WRSA recognised that a framework for Indigenous people, industry, government and other stakeholders to co-manage water resources was a key step to address the future challenges.  To achieve our Target 1, BHP will work with regional stakeholders to build the knowledge base of water resources and develop a regional water management program, including a data sharing solution, which consider appropriate use of the variable water quality in the region, while seeking to respect cultural perspectives and maintain environmental integrity.  

Context

The Water Resources Situational Analysis (WRSA) for the Central and Northern Arid Lands of South Australia describes the hydrological setting for the region, and the shared water challenges and opportunities recognised by people of the region.

The water-related activities and risks for Olympic Dam are summarised on the BHP website.

Targets

Why these targets

Olympic Dam operates a copper mine and processing facility in the Arid Lands region of South Australia.  The only permanent waters in the Arid Lands are groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin aquifer (GAB) and the mound springs (so named for mineral deposits around their mounts) formed by seeping groundwater.  Broad lakes also form temporarily after occasional large rainfall events.  Several Indigenous groups maintain their enduring connection to the lands and waters of the region.  Pastoralism, mining and petroleum extraction are the main industries.

The WRSA found that a key shared challenge was impacts to the ecosystems and cultural values of the mound springs caused by extraction from the GAB.  The achievement of Target 1 will reduce the draw of water from the borefield (Wellfield A) which has the most effect on the flow from the mound springs, while we partner with the South Australian government on the Northern Water Supply Project to cease draw from Wellfield A altogether.

Target 2 states that we will also contribute to the understanding and direct protection of the mound spring ecosystems both in our own landholdings and more broadly.  Helping others with these key activities is an important opportunity for collective action recognised in the WRSA.

Context

The Pilbara Water Resources Situational Analysis (WRSA) describes the hydrological setting for the Pilbara region, and the shared water challenges and opportunities recognised by people of the region.

The water-related activities and risks for WAIO are summarised on the BHP website.

Targets

Why these targets

WAIO operates three iron ore mining hubs, a rail system and a port in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.  Wherever WAIO operates in the Pilbara, it does so on the traditional lands and waters of Indigenous Peoples.  The Pilbara has seen considerable growth in resource development activity, which includes a large increase in groundwater extraction for mine dewatering – a key challenge identified by the Pilbara WRSA. BHP will aim to minimise our effect on the groundwater resource by prioritising at least half of WAIO surplus water to be used beneficially, for example, by returning it to nearby groundwater aquifers. This will involve the building and operation of large water distribution networks and Managed Aquifer Recharge borefields, subject to required external approvals.

The Pilbara WRSA also revealed that stakeholders recognise shared access to the data held across many water-involved organisations in the Pilbara as a vital step for sustainable water resource management.  We will work with interested groups to develop a data sharing platform that all can use.

Footnotes

All targets and milestones refer to the end of the quoted year.  

FY refers to the Australian financial year, which runs from 1 July to 30 June.

All baselines are subject to adjustment for any material acquisitions and divestments, and to reflect progressive refinement of relevant methodologies, for example in water reporting.

Surplus water is groundwater abstraction to allow mining below the water table that is surplus to operational water use requirements.

Beneficial use is water used in ways that contribute to environmental resilience, social benefit or economic growth.  For example, water returned into aquifers to reduce pressure on regional groundwater resources; or transfer of surplus water to another operational use to avoid or reduce the need for additional natural water resources.

Threatened ecological communities are those nationally listed threatened ecological communities determined by the process under the Australian Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. 

CBWTs will be developed for New South Wales Energy Coal and Legacy Assets in future.