JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Current mining industry players are faced with the challenge of who should be responsible for and deal with the subsequent financial impact of the legacy issue of acid mine drainage (AMD).
The mining industry has been a significant driver of the country’s economy, dating back many years; however, as many of the mining houses that pioneered the industry in South Africa have moved on to other areas, or have evolved into other companies or consortiums, the challenge of assigning responsibility for current issues is a real concern, says minerals industry consultancy Venmyn Deloitte environmental industry adviser Sarah Dyke.
As South Africa’s water systems are interconnected, AMD, if not treated, could potentially decrease the country’s water supply quality, which will impact on industries, such as agriculture and manufacturing, Deloitte strategy and innovation consultant Sabatha Mhlanga says.
Out of the 120 mining companies that once mined in the Witwatersrand, only six remain, and there are about 6 000 ownerless and abandoned mines, as well as about 270 tailings dams in the area containing six-billion tons of pyrite – a catalyst for AMD. Therefore, there is going to be AMD production over the next couple of centuries, The Environmental Law Consultancy business development director Peter Flynn tells Mining Weekly.
“Currently, there are about 20 proven technologies that can deal effectively with AMD, but the problem is the cost of implementing these technologies. The mining industry is resistant to being held accountable for the entire problem, as government and by extension, the people of South Africa, have also made money from mining for the last 120 years,” he explains.
Flynn adds that, as the mining companies were legally allowed to mine in that manner, a complex situation has ensued.
Meanwhile, Water Stewardship Council trustee Dr Anthony Turton states that progress in the roll-out of technical solutions for AMD has been impaired by nongovernmental organisation (NGO) activity relating to assigning liability.
“In essence, NGOs have argued that the ‘polluter pays’ principle must apply and have launched a range of legal actions to enforce this. This has now gone through various courts and, in general, the apportionment of liability has been a failure as the cause of the problem is not current negligence by mining com- panies, but rather the historical failure of our predemocratic government to put in place the relevant governance structures that could ringfence capital for rehabilitation and develop a viable closure strategy to manage the transition to a postmining economy and the technology for mitigation purposes.
“This historic failing cannot be remedied through litigation against current players, but this quest has introduced such high levels of risk into the AMD space, that most technical solutions have been developed in secret, simply to avoid the risk of becoming embroiled in the intense contestation between NGOs and an embattled industry and regulator,” Turton says.
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