State gets even tougher with water polluters

15th July 2005 By: Nicola Mawson

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (Dwaf)'s latest directive has also been issued under Section 19 of the National Water Act of 1998, which provides that mining companies are responsible to take all reasonable measures to prevent any pollution of water resources from occurring, continuing or recurring.

The Witwatersrand High Court has held up previous directives issued and one miner has taken the decision on appeal.

Issued to miners in the Klerksdorp-Orkney-Stilfontein-Hartebeesfontein (Kosh) area, the latest directive, a copy of which is in the possession of Mining Weekly, is a consolidation of the three prior directives and requires miners to share pumping costs equally as well as to provide Dwaf with information.

The directive has been issued to AngloGold Ashanti, DRDGold, Harmony and Stilfontein, as well as to the liquidators of DRDGold's North West operations - Hartebeesfontein and Buffelsfontein.

While specific details as to pumping on each shaft, for example, vary from mine to mine, the basis of the directive is the same.

Failure to comply with the directive will result in harsh penalties, such as criminal action. But failing to comply will have even more devastating consequences for South Africa's water reserves and the future of mining in the Kosh area.

The directive requests information, such as names of each shaft under the mines' control, when mining operations started, average tonnage of ore extracted each year and volumes of water removed from each shaft.

It also requires the size of geographical area that has been affected by mining.

A weekly report must be submitted until October 31, in which information such as the volume of water removed, quality of water removed, location of removed water and the status of management measures in place to inspect such water must be provided.

In addition, Dwaf has asked the miners to engage with it in finding a sustainable solution to the problem.

Information gleaned from the directive will be used to determine the joint and individual responsibility for contributions towards the costs involved in remedying the situation.

These costs will arise from the implementation of measures to prevent pollution of underground and surface water resources in the area where mining is taking place.

It will also arise from ensuring that there will be safe remediation and closure of the mines once the gold has been mined out.

People being held responsible include the land's owners, those in control of the land or anyone who fails to stop pollution.

Also considered responsible, according to the directive, are those who benefited from the activity.

By casting this net as wide as possible, Dwaf is ensuring that miners are held responsible at the top of the decision-making ladder.

This is indicative of the value of the resource at risk, says senior manager of resource protection and waste at the department, Carin Bosman.

The directive explains that the five companies are interlinked and part of a hydraulic underground unit.

This water must be removed at the most advantageous position to prevent pollution of surface and ground water.

Removal of water will also assist in extending the life-of-mine in the area, providing continuing employment to miners.

On Monday, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism joined in the fray and gave five miners seven days to indicate to it why the department should not also serve them with directives.

AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony, DRDGold, Stilfontein and Buffelsfontein (in provisional liquidation), could be served with directives, which mirror those handed out by Dwaf, said Deat DG Pam Yako.

Deat, in a statement, contends that the underground water becomes polluted by becoming excessively acidic through exposure to pyrite as a result of gold mining.

It says that the water then dissolves heavy metals, causing harm to the environment and humans.

The department argues that “groundwater and surface water resources in the vicinity of the mining activities are at risk of significant pollution, as polluted water may decant into waterways, with the directly consequential degradation of the environment (including, but not limited to, the potentially deleterious consequences for the biota in the affected areas)”.

Harmony had previously indicated to Mining Weekly Online that it had paid the full amount up to the end of the previous directive, which expired on June 30.

However, it had contested the validity of the directive in court.

The directive was upheld by the court but Harmony was given leave to appeal the decision in a higher court, but it is unlikely that the appeal will be heard until the second half of this year.

During the court hearing at which the directive was upheld, Stilfontein indicated that it would be liquidating, as it was unable to afford the almost R2-million a month in pumping costs.

Subsequently, Stilfontein did not pay its share of pumping costs and, at its liquidation hearing, Dwaf and AngloGold Ashanti asked the court to find the company in contempt of court.

Both also opposed the liquidation on the grounds that Stilfontein was only liquidating to benefit Simmer & Jack Mines, which is the preferred bidder for DRDGold's liquidated operations.

The allegation was based on the fact that the companies share three directors.

Subsequently, the Stilfontein board resigned en masse to dispel the rumours, after offering control of the board to AngloGold Ashanti.

This means that Stilfontein is currently director-less until the global shareholders convene and appoint a new board.

The contempt hearing has been postponed until July 25.