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Myrup nickel sulphate plant sparks concerns

Dorothy HendersonThe West Australian
Peter Gale, John Hyatt, Emma Iddison, Diane Fletcher, Andrew Kuss and Donna Hyatt are among the landholders in the Myrup area worried about the impact a proposed nickel sulphate plant would have on the Esperance environment.
Camera IconPeter Gale, John Hyatt, Emma Iddison, Diane Fletcher, Andrew Kuss and Donna Hyatt are among the landholders in the Myrup area worried about the impact a proposed nickel sulphate plant would have on the Esperance environment. Credit: Dorothy Henderson

Although only in the definitive feasibility study phase of its development, Alpha Fine Chemicals’ theoretical nickel sulphate plant plan in Myrup has provoked a passionate response from landholders in the vicinity of the proposed site.

A petition was presented by Member for the Agricultural Region Colin de Grussa in State Parliament last week, with more than 800 signatures collected and residents of the region continuing their efforts to have their voices heard.

AFC describes itself as a privately owned organisation made up of “a small group” of Australian and Chinese shareholders. The company’s proposal was to construct and operate a plant at Myrup, near Esperance.

The company’s proposed plant would produce 20,000 tonnes per annum of high-purity nickel sulphate to supply the lithium-ion battery market for electric vehicles and stationary storage.

Those opposed to the location of the plant on the Myrup Road property have been quick to point out they were not opposed to the project itself.

There was support for the proposal in theory, with Esperance resident Emma Iddison saying the benefits such a project would bring to the region were appreciated, just as the value of end product was recognised. The opposition to the project was purely based on its proposed location.

“We love our environment, we love Esperance. We don’t want to see it getting hurt,” Ms Iddison said.

According to AFC, the plant would be the first commercial operation of its type in the world, and would use patented technology the CMN process, which does not involve complex process operations or toxic or flammable gases.

AFC expected the proposed plant would have a projected life of more than 20 years and offer at least 50 permanent jobs in the Esperance region.

A full investment decision for the project was anticipated for late 2018.

AFC said the Myrup Road site was chosen in consultation with the Shire of Esperance, with the decision based on the site’s zoning, size, compatibility with surrounding land uses, access to transport routes, proximity to the port and its flat terrain.

However, Shire president Victoria Brown said the council welcomed any new industry to Esperance, provided there was no impact on the town’s pristine environment.

Although AFC said the site was chosen with the Esperance Shire Council’s input, landholders close by were outraged the proposal had got so far.

Ms Iddison said while the company may claim the proposed plant was compatible with “surrounding land uses”, and those living in the area welcomed the company, its project and the economic benefits such a plant would bring to the community, the site that had been chosen was not appropriate.

“This is a food-producing area. There is a piggery nearby, an abattoir, crops are being grown here, and cattle and sheep are being grazed nearby. It is not an industrial zone,” she said.

Ms Iddison’s sentiments were shared by Andrew Kuss, whose family breeds stud Angus cattle near the site, and by Peter Gale, a local landowner and livestock agent.

Mr Gale said he had attended meetings with AFC with regard to the proposed plant, and had heard people express concerns about the site.

“There were a lot of concerned residents along with interested knowledgeable parties. The Department of Parks and Wildlife, the agriculture department — all voiced their concerns,” he said.

The proximity of the plant to the RAMSAR-listed Lake Warden Wetlands had also concerned residents.

Mr Gale said there had been discussion with regard to the fragile structure and layers of the underground geology of the area, including spongelite, and the associated water deposits and flows.

“The concern of the plant being placed on this type of country and the risk to the underground water supply and quality was spelled out loud and clear,” he said.

“This is not a suitable site. This view was reiterated to AFC representatives repeatedly at all the meetings, by concerned locals, business owners and specialists in the field.

“A plant using highly concentrated sulphuric acid and producing an end product that is a known carcinogenic should not be located on top of fragile geology with a limited water source, also on top of a water catchment system 3.5km from a RAMSAR wetland and only 9.5km from the centre of the town of Esperance.

“AFC is a new company that is trying a new process that has only been done in a lab and currently in a demonstration site. It has never been done on a commercial scale.”

Diane Fletcher, who lived near the proposed site, said she was concerned about the amount of water the plant would draw from the local supply, with 20,000 litres per hour needed for the process.

“I am concerned about the impact that will have on both the wetlands and the town water supply,” she said.

Donna and John Hyatt live south of the proposed nickel sulphate plant, and they say they are concerned about the impact it will have on the water quality and on the risks the plant posed to the Lake Warden wetlands, with three or four evaporation ponds capturing the waste stream from the plant.

AFC states that these ponds will be used to capture the final waste stream from the plant and facilitate evaporate of the water, a process which will leave Epsom salts, a by-product which will be harvested and sold.

While the company claims that all ponds are expected to have a clay base and be sealed with high density polyethylene liners and they there will be no discharge of waste streams from the plant into the environment, Mr and Mrs Hyatt are cynical of such claims.

“It needs to be remembered that these block are not just farming properties: they are lifestyle properties. People have chosen to live here because they want the rural lifestyle. They don’t want to live in an industrial area,” they said.

During community consultation in the past month, AFC stressed it would be operating in accordance with environmental regulations and licence requirements, and that ongoing environmental monitoring would be an integral part of the responsible operation of the plant.

“No one is against the company or the process, it’s just not the right place to put it,” Ms Iddison said.

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