Expansion at an Australian mine run by Glencore puts several sacred Aboriginal sites at risk, an inquiry heard on Tuesday.
The head of a Northern Territory oversight authority said that a range of locations including a historical quarry were in danger.
Glencore’s McArthur River Mine received approval from the territory’s mining minister last year to go ahead with doubling the size of its waste dump.
Approval was granted despite an objection by an authority responsible for protecting traditional sites.
Benedict Scambary, chief executive of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, questioned whether Glencore had the authority to expand its mine.
“The scale of the mine expansion raises some quite serious questions about the maintenance and protection of sacred sites on that lease and also access to those places for custodians into the future,” he said.
Approval now rests with the Northern Territory mining minister.
The decision could form the fate of historic sites including one related to creation stories, as well as a quarry where stone tools were made.
In a statement, Glencore said: “We understand our obligation to protect sacred sites on our mining lease and take this obligation very seriously.”
Scrutiny weighs on miners
The inquiry comes as Australian mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP’s plan to build a large new copper mine in Arizona faced a setback.
The US government has reversed a decision to allow a land swap after the project was fought by the San Carlos Apache tribe.
The tribe fears the mine will impact sacred and actively used religious land.
The objections follow a surge in scrutiny of miners’ dealings with Indigenous groups.
Rio Tinto destroyed ancient rock shelters in Western Australia for an iron ore mine expansion last year.
The saga led to the departure of former CEO Jean-Sebastian Jacques, with the company vowing to rebuild relationships with traditional owners.