Gold miner fined for hypersaline spill

Media release
A gold mining company has been fined $41,000 plus costs for allowing a large quantity of saline water to be discharged from its mine into the environment.
Last updated: 1 May 2023

Bellevue Gold Limited was charged with two offences after the company drew saline water from disused mines in the northern Goldfields near Leinster between December 2019 and March 2020, with the intent of pumping the water into surface pits.

Around 145,000 kilolitres – which would fill around 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools – was discharged into one surface pit, which overflowed into the environment through a vent shaft connected to the pit. The resulting hypersaline spill extended over 46 hectares and affected approximately 16 hectares of native vegetation and associated ecosystems.

Initially the discharge killed all native vegetation in the area and left a visible salt scar on the land. While subsequent rainfall dissipated surface salts, the salinity of the soil remained elevated in May 2022. Although saline-resistant species such as chenopods had started growing in the area, other coloniser species such as acacias had not recovered, even after approximately two years since the discharge.

Bellevue Gold Limited was charged under the Environmental Protection Act 1986 for causing material environmental harm and not being licensed for the emission. The charges carry maximum penalties of $250,000 and $100,000 respectively.

In sentencing on 27 April 2023 in the Perth Magistrates Court, Magistrate Andrew Matthews imposed a fine of $31,000 for causing material environmental harm and $10,000 for not being licensed for the emission. The company was also ordered to pay $4,663.30 costs.

Department of Water and Environmental Regulation Executive Director for Compliance and Enforcement, Kelly Faulkner, said the environment needed to be protected, even on isolated mining operations.

“In this case, the discharge left an impact so significant it could be seen in satellite images,” she said.

“It is the responsibility of mining companies to ensure they have the correct permissions to discharge water or otherwise impact the environment.”

Fined - Bellevue Gold Limited satellite photo