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Factbox: Australian resource projects in focus after sacred site destruction

Factbox: Australian resource projects in focus after sacred site destruction
The Rio Tinto mining company’s logo is photographed at their annual general meeting in Sydney

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The destruction of sacred sites in Western Australia by mining giant Rio Tinto has increased scrutiny on resource projects in other parts of the country that could affect places of cultural significance.

Rio Tinto on Friday said Chief Executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques will step down by March 31 next year, after shareholders expressed concerns about executive accountability.

Since July 2010, miners have submitted more than 460 applications to disturb or destroy sites of potential cultural significance in the region. All but one of those applications were approved.

However, Australia’s largest resource companies say they are now taking another look at projects that could affect sacred sites:

— BHP Group said it would not disturb any sites around its planned $2.9 billion South Flank expansion in Western Australia without further study and consultation with traditional owners to understand the cultural significance of the area.

— Fortescue Metals Group, the world’s fourth biggest iron ore miner, will review plans at its Solomon iron ore mine expansion in Western Australia after an Indigenous group said a planned expansion threatened sacred sites, including a 60,000-year old rock shelter.

— Rio Tinto has pledged to protect a 43,000-year old rock shelter on the fringe of its Silvergrass iron ore mine in Western Australia as it reviews heritage sites.

— Woodside Petroleum is in talks with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corp about a proposed gas pipeline which it plans to run 5 kms (3 miles) west of two sites where archaeologists recently discovered hundreds of ancient stone tools.

The traditional owners are pressing the company to do a thorough investigation to ensure there aren’t other underwater heritage sites in the area before it goes ahead.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton and Sonali Paul in Melbourme; Writing by Sam Holmes; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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