Mokonyane seeks new guide for mining in sensitive areas

Jul 16 2017 14:18
Liesl Peyper

Cape Town – The Department of Water and Sanitation wants an Integrated Master Plan to regulate future mining developments in South Africa and protect water resources.

In a policy position paper published in the Government Gazette on mine water management, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said the Department of Mineral Resource’s mandate to promote minerals development appears to be incompatible with that of her Department, namely to protect and use water resources sustainably.

“Mining authorisations appear to be granted on an ad hoc basis without the necessary consultations among the Departments of Mineral Resources, Water and Sanitation and Environmental Affairs,” according to the policy paper.

In the policy paper it is recommended that mining should be prohibited in water-sensitive areas and that planning for mining should take cognisance of vulnerable water resource areas.

READ: SA coal mines leave legacy of ruin 

“Where necessary such areas should be demarcated as ‘no go’ areas.”

The Department of Water and Sanitation also recommends that the ultimate socio-economic benefit of mining be measured against the potential impact mining activity could have on water resources over the long term. “This should guide the decision on whether to authorise mining activity in sensitive areas.”

Approach to mine closures

In the policy paper, the Department of Water and Sanitation also addresses the issue of mine closures and ensuring that the onus doesn’t fall on government to manage liabilities such acid mine water drainage post-closure.

It is recommended that a trilateral agreement be drawn up between the Departments of Mineral Resources, Water and Sanitation and Environmental affairs through which a regional mine closure plan be developed for each mine.

“This should not only apply after mine closure but should also enable government to apply regulatory provisions and will require mines to implement proactive steps long before mine closure.”

In May last year, Mokonyane announced plans for an acid mine water treatment plan in Gauteng, which was expected to cost between R10bn and R12bn.

READ: Mines to carry 67% of acid mining clean-up costs - minister

Mokonyane at the time said the mining sector would be required to pay 67% of toward the project.

Acid mine water occurs when old shafts and tunnels fill up with water. When the mineral pyrite - better known as fool's gold - reacts with water and oxygen, sulphuric acid is produced. This decants into the environment, which is known as acid mine drainage.

In the policy paper the Department of Water and Sanitation also says legislation needs to be strengthened to give it the powers to impose sanctions.

“In terms of liability, the polluter pays-principle should be applied to mine water in all its forms,” according to the policy document. Pollution includes acid mine drainage and all other metallurgical process waters which are not formally defined in legislation.

The Department recommends where subcontracting of mining activities exist the principle mine remains responsible for any legacy issues.

In the policy paper, the Department acknowledges that the regulatory environment on mine water management will be more strictly applied to new mines compared to currently active and historic ones.

“New mining ventures should prove, beforehand, that the cost to deal with the residual impacts associated with mining (such as acid mine drainage) will be catered for and a cost-benefit analysis should be provided,” according to the policy paper. 

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acid mine water  |  mining



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