WWF urges responsible mining practice

2012-08-15 13:01

Economist Hugo Van Zyl has contributed to a report into the environmental cost of mining. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Duncan Alfreds

Cape Town – A report has found that South African mining companies have not made adequate provision for clean-up of operations following the closure of mines.

The report, commissioned by environmental organisation the World Wide Fund for Nature, found that South African tax payers are likely to face a massive bill for the clean-up and rehabilitation of derelict and abandoned mines.

The Financial Provisions for Rehabilitation and Closure in South African Mining: Discussion Document on Challenges and Recommended Improvements report highlighted concerns the ecological degradation in mining areas and the country’s response to the looming environmental crisis.

“This really ties in with the big issues that South Africa is grappling with: Water security, energy security, and economic development fuelled by the mining sector,” Christine Colvin senior manager for Freshwater Programmes at the WWF-SA told News24.

Acid mine drainage highlights the challenge facing communities where long abandoned mines have made severe impact on the environment, particularly in terms of the use of water at mines and in 2009, the Auditor General conservatively estimated the cost of clean-up at R30bn.

Mining licences

The issuing of mining licences creates a situation where many communities in SA are exposed to the negative environmental effects of mining, said the WWF.

“Currently there’s a massive proliferation in the issuing of prospecting licences: Fifty-four percent of the land area of Mpumalanga is under some sort of mining licence. The mining issues are issues that affect a huge part of South Africa,” said Colvin.

The report also found inconsistent application of the independent review process and recommended wider use of this tool to hold mines accountable during operations.

“It shouldn’t be that if there’s a big dispute between a mine and the DMR [department of mineral resources] then it should go to independent review, although that would also obviously be necessary, but make it a situation where these things can be used more randomly,” said economist Hugo Van Zyl, one of the report’s authors.

The report highlighted the high variability of Environmental Management Plans (EMP), specifically that in many there was not enough consideration given to water use and financial provision for clean-up after the mine closes.

Van Zyl said that best practice for mines was to conduct concurrent rehabilitation of the environment so that at the end of the mine’s lifetime, the company would require a minimal amount to remedy any ecological damage.

“Some EMPs will have very detailed numerical modelling of the aquifers at the mine site and others will just have thumb sucked figures that they’ve done on the back of a matchbox,” said Colvin.

Capacity

Van Zyl said that South Africans legislation was appropriate, but that capacity in the relevant departments was lacking.

“The legislation is there; the provisions are there. These things need to be improved – the sytems needs to be improved slightly. I don’t think it’s a fundamental, insurmountable difficulty, but capacity to implement, across the board, is not necessarily where it should be,” he said.

SA should scrutinise mining practices because its rate of growth could have long-term negative impacts for the society, said the WWF.

“All industries have environmental liabilities associated with them, but the rate of growth in the mining sector in South Africa is at a very critical point where we need to look at the legacy issues and to say: ‘Are we doing this in the best possible way?’,” said Colvin.

Read this document: financial-provisions-for-rehabilitation-and-closure-in-south-african-mining

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