A 50 to 100-year blueprint for BHP’s operations in the Pilbara including the construction of new mines and expansion of existing ones was yesterday given the green light by the Environmental Protection Authority.

EPA Deputy Chairman Robert Harvey said the Pilbara Expansion-Strategic Proposal was investigated over the past six years, during which time the miner’s projected impact on fauna, flora, surface and ground water, air quality and social surrounds was calculated.

The wide-ranging plan canvassed the possible construction of 13 new iron ore mines and the expansion of existing mines at Jimblebar, Mining Area C, Yandi and Newman. Yesterday’s tick of approval was played down by industry observers, who pointed out that it did not mean BHP could bypass future approvals processes.

Mr Harvey said BHP would still need to refer individual plans to the EPA to see whether they met environmental standards. The final decision rested with the minister of the day.

“Once a derived proposal is referred to the EPA, the authority will determine if there is any significant new information, or if there has been a significant change in the relevant environmental factors, since the strategic proposal was assessed, that would require the reassessment of the issues raised by the referred proposal,” he said.

A two-week public appeal period closes on July 23.

“The benefit of assessing a strategic proposal is that we are able to take a bigger-picture view of the potential environmental impacts the proposals may have,” Mr Harvey said.

“Through the assessment process the EPA was able to consider the cumulative impacts of BHP’s future proposals, rather than assessing impacts on a case-by-case basis, as individual mines or developments are proposed.

“The EPA’s environmental impact assessment on BHP’s strategic proposal ... outlines the conditions that may be applied to each development, including environmental management plans, a greenhouse gas management plan and a mine closure plan.”

Image: Haul truck at BHP Billiton's Jimblebar mine, Kalgoorlie Miner.