Sep 17 2008

Alcoa Destroys Ancient Australian Forest for Mining

Alcoa is clearing Western Australia’s old growth Jarrah forests at an incredible rate. Vast areas of State Forest within an hour’s drive south east of Perth, Western Australia, are being devastated by bauxite mining. Jarrah forests are unique and under threat from many areas. They need to be preserved, not cleared. Alcoa’s present mineral lease covers 4,898 sq km of State forest. The current lease extends from Wundowie to the Preston River, south of Collie, plus a pocket at Julimar near Bindoon. Alcoa’s lease allows them access to the bauxite from 1961 to 2044. The Darling Range bauxite is the lowest grade ore mined on a commercial scale anywhere in the world. At present the royalty Alcoa is required to pay is just 1.65% on the value of alumina sales. Alcoa’s refineries at Kwinana, Pinjarra and Wagerup produce some 16 percent of world demand for alumina.
The image to the right shows clearing and then mining within metres of South Dandalup dam which is one of Perth’s major water supplies

Jarrah logging has previously thinned the area in the foreground and now Alcoa is clearing and removing the topsoil to get bauxite. In the process they remove about 0.5 metres of topsoil and overburden, 1.5 metres of caprock (which they first drill and blast) plus two to 10 metres of laterite under that. So in their mining operations, they remove up to 12 metres of the earth’s surface on which over the millennia the jarrah forest has grown and evolved.

After mining has removed most of the top soil from the area the law requires that the forest be rehabilitated. It is believed that Alcoa is experimenting with over 200 species of trees in the process. Jarrah is difficult to grow at the best of times, let alone under these appalling conditions. According to Alcoa, jarrah now comprises 80% of the tree component in rehabilitated areas. Just how successful they will be in the long term remains to be seen.

After excavation, the soil containing the bauxite is transported from the forest down a conveyer belt spanning several kilometres to be processed at one of Alcoa’s plants. In the foreground is the red mud that remains after the alumina has been removed from the bauxite.

The last remnants of the jarrah forest, bulldozed into piles prior to burning. This area will then be drilled and blasted prior to mining.

Small clumps of jarrah are sometimes left in the middle of mining areas as a “conservation” exercise. These areas are devoid of wildlife (remember, blasting and mining totally surround this island).

In Alcoa’s Environment Health and Safety Policy it states that they will not compromise environmental values for profit or production. It would appear that Alcoa does not regard the ancient Jarrah forests as having any environmental values.

Source: Western Australia Forest Alliance


2 Responses to “Alcoa Destroys Ancient Australian Forest for Mining”

  1. Peter Wood says:

    This is very interesting. Not only are these activities destroying biodiversity, they are also releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Are these emissions being accounted for? From the map above, it looks like the area of the two mines is at least 200 square kilometers.That adds up to a lot of carbon. Alcoa does not have to pay for these emissions from deforestation and degradation.Alcoa has has massive emissions from Aluminium smelting, but under the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction scheme, they are likely to get 90% of emissions permits for these activities for free.

  2. Jaap says:

    You are making an interesting point. Bauxite is more often than not found in forest ecosystems. Bauxite rich soil tends to function as a sponge. This is why there tends to be lush growth on top of it. In places with wet and dry seasons, like SW Australia or NE India, removing bauxite makes these soils incapable of maintaining the same level of bioproductivity, which means attempts at restoring habitat after mining will almost certainly fail. Not only is carbon released by deforrestation, but also the capacity for the soil to act as a carbon sink is destroyed – and this can not be undone.