Strategic assessment of BHP Billiton iron ore expansion for the Pilbara

On 18 September 2012, the Australian Government entered into an agreement with BHP Billiton Iron Ore to undertake a strategic assessment for the Pilbara region of Western Australia, to assess the environmental impacts of the company's potential future mines and associated infrastructure. The strategic assessment will be undertaken in accordance with section 146 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

What development is proposed?

The agreement includes BHP Billiton Iron Ore's potential future mines and associated infrastructure in the central Pilbara region to take production substantially beyond 240 million tonnes per annum in the longer term.

Why is a strategic assessment being undertaken?

Environmental studies have identified several matters of national environmental significance located in the region, including the Northern Quoll, Greater Bilby, Pilbara Leaf-nosed Bat, Pilbara Olive Python and their habitat. The strategic assessment will look at impacts, help identify, plan for and manage existing and emerging risks to ensure ongoing protection and management of matters of national environmental significance.

The strategic assessment will include commitments from BHP Billiton on how to avoid, mitigate and offset impacts so that developing new mines or expanding existing sites and associated infrastructure in the area is done in a manner that protects and enhances the area's environmental values.

More information

What are the next steps?

The terms of reference for the strategic impact assessment report have been finalised following public comment. Please refer to the BHP Billiton website.

A draft plan (describing proposed developments and commitments to environmental protection through a process of avoidance, mitigation and offsetting impacts) and draft strategic assessment report (describing impacts on biodiversity and matters of national environmental significant from implementation of the plan) will be developed by BHP Billiton and released for public comment. At the close of the public comment period, an additional report will be prepared summarising the public comments received and how they are addressed in the final plan.

When finalised, these documents will be submitted to the Australian Government environment minister for endorsement. The minister may either request modifications or endorse the plan. Once a plan has been endorsed, the minister may approve actions or classes of actions to be taken in accordance with the endorsed plan.

This approval is a legal step that allows development and other related activities identified in the plan to proceed without the need for further approval from the Australian Government under national environment law.