Shannon and Daniel Tapp bought Spooks Hill station bordering Litchfield National Park near Darwin last year, hoping to get away from mining.
Cattle station owners fear environmental impacts from lithium project in the Top End
Miner Ragusa Minerals is promising to uphold the highest environmental standards
An investigation is underway into allegations of pollution caused by another company at Finniss Lithium Mine
“We have a permanent beautiful spring that flows out of the hills here all year round, we have undulating ridge country, sand, and low lying flats, its just beautiful,” Ms Tapp said.
They sold their property in the Beetaloo Basin because it had been targeted for gas exploration.
So Mr and Mrs Tapp were dismayed to have discovered through a newspaper advert that a Perth-based miner, Ragusa Minerals, had applied to explore for lithium on their new property.
“I thought we were going to be nestled in here on freehold land between another cattle station and the national park and that there was no way industry was going to turn up,” Ms Tapp said.
‘It’s going to disrupt our business’
Lithium is a critical mineral that is used to make batteries, and is particularly favoured by electric vehicle manufacturers because it is lightweight.
Australia is home to some of the biggest known lithium deposits in the world.
However, the push to extract the valuable resource has raised concerns for some Northern Territory pastoralists, including Shannon and Daniel Tapp, about what it would mean for the environment, and their livelihoods.
While the gas industry is required to negotiate land access agreements with pastoralists in the Northern Territory to explore, minerals miners are not.
Mr Tapp claims that for a relatively small property like theirs, mining impacts could be large.
“These aren’t small impacts we’re looking at, where potentially a third of our property could be basically under a mine pit,” he said.
“It’s going to disrupt our business.”
The lithium exploration application also covers part of neighbouring Hazard Station, which has been in Ms Tapp’s family since the 1960s and is now owned by her sister, Casey Townsend.
Their father is buried there.
“I’m just gutted, because we’ve operated for so long without disturbance, if it goes ahead it is just going to disrupt our whole business,” Ms Townsend said.
“Just coming onto the property with trucks, if gates are left open, it disrupts our breeding program.”
The families are particularly concerned about whether mining runoff could pollute the creek, which runs through both stations.
“Because that’s my creek where I have to drink from, we’ve got no other water here,” Ms Tapp said.
“And if they say they can contain that, in our wet seasons when we sometimes have ten inches of rain, I don’t see how they can do that on this country.”
The family wanted to see what a lithium mine looked like, so they went to the new Core Lithium Finniss mine nearby in March.
They said their concerns increased after discovering what they claim was runoff from the site, which they allege appeared to have reached a creek.
‘Highest environmental standards’ will be adhered to
The Environment Protection Agency told the ABC that the NT Environment Department is investigating.
Core Lithium told the ABC that after receiving complaints in March and April, as the dry season started it carried out water testing which found that the site was not discharging sediment at levels that breached its licence.
Ragusa Minerals Chairman Jerko Zuvela is hoping to reassure landowners that his company’s planned Litchfield Lithium Project will adhere to the highest environmental standards.
“It borders a national park so we’ve got an extra level of caution and concern,” he said.
“The tenements, if they are granted, come with a lot of environmental conditions and requirements and obviously we would be following all those.”
Mr Zuvela said the company is keen to foster good community relationships.
“We always work closely with the pastoralists to make sure that there’s no lasting impacts, or minimal impacts, for the works that you are doing, and make sure that their concerns are mitigated,” he said.
Mr Zuvela said the company has a track record of working with farmers in Western Australia.
“For our Burracoppin Halloysite Project in Western Australia in the wheat sheep belt we were required to get the pastoralists’ consent to enter the land and get the mineral rights so we worked with them to get their permission,” he said.
Daniel Tapp is not reassured.
“What we’ve seen is iron ore mines being approved and then causing damage in the Roper, there is no accountability, and the regulators are basically non existent,” he said.
‘Select areas that are sustainable’
Mr Tapp said he knows that because the world needs to change over to using renewable energy, more of the metal needed to make batteries and other equipment must be found, and that he could be accused of just not wanting it “in his own back yard”.
“The industry needs to select areas that are sustainable,” he said.
“This area here and the area where the Core Lithium Mine is is all swamp and spring country, that’s no place for mines, it’s just going to leach out into waterways.”
The NT Environment Centre’s Director, Kirsty Howey, said recent pollution by several NT mines suggests the Government is ill prepared to regulate more.
“At the moment we see that there’s over five hundred square kilometres of lithium tenements covering an area which is renowned globally for its beautiful pristine nature,” she said.
“And the concern is that mining regulation in the Northern Territory is an absolute basket case.”
The NT Mines Department has not yet responded to a request for its response.
Ms Howey said she realises that more lithium mines will be needed.
“There is no doubt we need to be moving towards renewables from fossil fuel extraction, but we need to make sure that in the move to this mining, that we ensure that these companies and regulators comply with the highest possible environmental standards,” she said.
Ragusa Minerals said it hopes to start exploration drilling within six months, and if it is able to verify that the Litchfield lithium resource is worth mining it hopes to develop a mine within five to seven years.
Shannon Tapp said her family is determined to stay put.
Posted 2h ago2 hours agoMon 23 May 2022 at 8:31pm, updated 6m ago6 minutes agoMon 23 May 2022 at 11:23pm