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EXCLUSIVE: Generator malfunction sees company dump 15,000 litres of diesel near Broome

Giovanni Torre -

A spill of 15,000 litres of diesel fuel at a mine accommodation village near Broome has raised concerns for Traditional Owners and environmentalists over the potential impact of contamination.

The diesel spill occurred at the accommodation village for Kimberley Mineral Sands' Thunderbird mine site earlier this month.

A WA Department of Water and Environmental Regulation spokesperson told National Indigenous Times the department "can confirm a notification of a diesel spill was received by the department for a mine site located near Broome on 6 September 2023".

"DWER can confirm that approximately 15,000L was reported as being spilled from an onsite diesel generator which malfunctioned. This incident is currently under investigation by the department and clean-up is progressing with DWER oversight," they said.

Nyikina Mangala Traditional Owner Rosita Shaw told National Indigenous Times that heritage monitors should have been alerted to the spill so they could assess its impact.

"For me that is not a good thing, destroying Country. It's not good for the environment," she said.

"I only just knew about it now, when you contacted me. I don't think any Traditional Owners know about it, the board of directors (at Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation) don't know about it, I am on that board.

"When it happened they should have notified us, the heritage monitors, and the board - as soon as it happened."

Ms Shaw said companies working on Country need to "do the right thing by the Traditional Owners of that land".

"People from other Countries working on someone's Native Title area should go through a proper Welcome by the Traditional Owners. Our mothers, uncles and grandparents told us this is important, like in the Old Days, before going on to someone's land they had to be welcomed, what we call wan though they do online cultural awareness training, they also need to go through a welcome from the Traditional Owners," she said.

"I am not surprised that the spill happened.

"The two PBCs (Native Title bodies for that land) should have been notified ASAP. We have an underground spring, Ungoorrwilla, that is important, these springs connect right through to the desert and have a big meaning to different tribes. Maloomuda-Ngarrdoo (this is serious).

"This was passed down from generation to generation. We were taught that, and we teach our children to teach their children. Our grand-kids are the future storytellers and knowledge holders."

Ms Shaw said she was concerned the spill could affect the water table.

"There are special spirits in that area, Godoombarn, that protect that Country. If you do something wrong, there could be consequences."

Environs Kimberley director of strategy Martin Pritchard told National Indigenous Times the group is calling for "an urgent investigation into this highly polluting incident".

"All work needs to cease until the cause is determined.

"The investigation needs to look at work practices and make sure no corners are being cut and we expect the findings to be made public including what impacts there are on the aquifer in the area."

Kimberley Mineral Sands' Chief Executive Officer Stuart Pether told National Indigenous Times the spill occurred on 4 September "as a result of a fuel transfer pump failure in a generator at the power generation compound at Thunderbird's Accommodation Village".

"The spill was contained to the immediate area in the vicinity of the Village and remediation action was taken in line with Thunderbird's Spill Response Management Plan," he said.

"The incident was reported to the necessary authorities upon discovery, and we are working closely with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, and with the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, to ensure the necessary remediation actions are completed."

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