Alcoa has canned plans to increase bauxite mining of the Northern Jarrah Forest to allow export of the unprocessed ore and will instead preserve its output for its three West Australian alumina refineries.
The US company’s WA mines produce about 36 million tonnes of bauxite a year to supply its gas-fired alumina refineries in Kwinana, Pinjarra and Wagerup.
In 2021, Alcoa completed a trial of mining and exporting an additional 2.5 million tonnes of bauxite for export.
A proposed expansion of the footprint of the Huntly mine Alcoa lodged with the WA Environmental Protection Authority in mid-2020 included the option of continued exports.
An Alcoa spokeswoman on Monday said its priority was to value-add to its bauxite in WA by producing alumina, the feedstock for aluminium production.
“Given our continued focus on our integrated mining and refining operations, we don’t intend to export bauxite and are currently working on an amendment to the scope of the environmental assessment for future mine regions to reflect this,” she said.
The small reduction in planned annual maximum bauxite production comes as Alcoa’s mining in the Northern Jarrah Forests is coming under greater scrutiny.
Environmental campaigners have given the area increased attention since winning a long-running battle in 2021 to end the logging of native forests for timber.
Conservation groups calculated that 62 per cent of the 18,000 hectares of tall and medium forests in WA deforested from 2010 to 2020 were to allow for mining bauxite that in WA is conducted by two companies: Alcoa and South32-owned Worsley Alumina.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2022 said the ecosystem – which stretches 250 kilometres from Toodyay to Collie – faced a high risk of significant transition or collapse without changes to management practices.
Wilderness Society WA campaigns manager Patrick Gardner said logging, clearing, mining and burning had all produced major impacts on the south-west native forests for decades.
“The process of bauxite mining, following the clearing of swathes of the Northern Jarrah Forest, involves excavation and a drastic change in the soil composition,” he said.
“Alongside the obvious impacts to jarrah and its understorey, the fragmentation of the landscape continues to box-in the ground-dwelling species that depend on large, intact and functioning ecosystems.”
Alcoa chief executive Roy Harvey last week said the proposal before the EPA was a “full-blown review” but he was confident Alcoa would gain this and other approvals it needed to continue mining in WA for a few more decades.
WA, which Harvey regards as critical to his $12.8 billion company, provided 75 per cent of its bauxite and 71 per cent of its alumina in 2022.
Alcoa’s mines and refineries in WA are 40 per cent owned by ASX-listed Alumina Limited.
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Source: Thanks smh.com