The Rio Tinto (Mount Bruce Mining Pty Ltd) Koodaideri Iron Ore Project is located approximately 110 km north-west of Newman in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. During detailed ecological studies of the project area, a significant maternity roost (containing around 430 individuals) of the Orange Leaf-nosed Bat (OLNB) (Rhinonicteris aurantius) was discovered within the boundaries of the proposed mining area. The OLNB is listed as Vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and is listed as a Schedule 1 species under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act 1950.
With a good understanding of blast vibration attenuation in the Pilbara's different geologies and in the absence of other known studies, it was considered that appropriate buffer distances between mining and bat colonies were not scientifically determined. Therefore, to inform the environmental approvals process that was underway, a series of seismic blasts was planned to assess and measure the sensitivity of the OLNB to trial-sized seismic blasting activities to develop a more scientifically based buffer zone for the protection of the OLNB. This was to be achieved by testing ground attenuation of the site and measuring any response from the OLNB to the firing of seismic charges. Rio Tinto sought the independent expertise of ecological consultants to evaluate and participate in the work to quantify the level of sensitivity of the bat colony and to outline the proposal to government authorities.
After detailed risk assessment and project mapping, the seismic blasts were implemented, with the aim of firing individual charged and measured vector peak particle velocity (VPPV) at the OLNB roost cave, combined with monitoring OLNB disturbance activity within the roost that was invoked by the blasts. A series of six charges were fired with the VPPV ranging from 0.66 mms-1 to 18.70 mms-1. The OLNB activity was monitored using high frequency microphones, which detect bat calls emitted during flight. Under daytime conditions, the bats would normally be dormant, so the null hypothesis was for no calls to be detected if the bats displayed no disturbance behaviour. This work has improved understanding of mining activities (blasting) on the OLNB species, assisting in establishing mining exclusion zones that are based on scientific data, contributing to a sustainable future for both the environment and the mining industry.
Martin, D, 2015. Scientific evaluation of fauna sensitivity to blasting, in Proceedings 11th International Symposium on Rock Fragmentation by Blasting, pp 519–526 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).