Mining giant Glencore has announced the Mount Isa Mines Copper Smelter and the Townsville Copper Refinery can stay open until 2022.
The facilities were due to close in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
The announcement follows an agreement between the Swiss miner and the Queensland Government over new environmental licensing conditions.
North Queensland copper assets chief operating officer Mike Westerman said improved environmental practices were behind the decision.
“Back in 2011 when we made the decision to close the smelter, that was in conjunction with the State Government at the time, and we had a temporary environmental plan in place that gradually reduced our environmental emissions up until 2016,” Mr Westerman said.
“During that five-year period we’ve been able to significantly improve our environmental performance to the [point] where the State Government is extremely happy with our environmental performance.
“The community of Mount Isa is happy with our performance and Glencore, as a global organisation, is also confident of our environmental performance, so all of those things aligned to allow us to operate post the 2016 closure date.”
The facilities support 250 jobs in Mount Isa and another 180 to 200 in Townsville, as well as more than 800 indirect jobs which flow on from those operations.
Mr Westerman said Glencore would operate the two facilities as long as they were economically viable.
“For the employees there and for the company, that means we have to concentrate on the things that we control, which is our cost performance, our efficiency, our environmental performance,” he said.
“If we can get those things right we can operate until 2022. The decision today gives us every opportunity to do that.”
Mr Westerman added that Glencore would invest $60-70 million in the smelter for maintenance over the next seven years.
State Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles said Glencore had improved its environmental performance over the past few years.
“They’ve met environmental standards for lead pollution in particular over recent years and will to have to under this environmental approval, so there’s no concession here in terms of lead pollution,” he said.
“The new environmental authority also requires them to do innovative things like make a smartphone app available to people with health issues that might make them particularly susceptible to certain types of pollution, like sulphur dioxide, so they can be constantly aware of potential weather patterns that might lead to higher levels of pollution.”
Dr Miles said Glencore also had advanced weather and pollution monitoring in place.
“That allows them to change the plant’s operations and even shut it down when weather patterns suggest that the pollution is likely to affect the Mount Isa population, and throughout that process the community is kept well informed,” he said.
Member for Mount Isa Rob Katter was excited by the news and said it was a great day for the region and the environment.
“If we didn’t step in to save this wonderful piece of infrastructure, that same ore would’ve been powered by diesel all across the water, four times the bulk as concentrate, up to China where it would’ve invariably gone into a much dirtier smelter pumping up into the atmosphere,” he said.
“We’ve achieved a better environment outcome by keeping that open so we don’t have to truck all that in bulk overseas … and we’ve saved Aussie jobs.
“Back in Mount Isa we don’t have alternate industries out there.
“If we don’t have mining … it really makes people very skittish and this just breathes confidence back in the place, so it’s a huge thing for us.”