Reclamation of the Soweto Cluster mine dumps

DRD Gold’s organizational structure is such that it is divided into dozens of sub-companies, with each sub-company being responsible for its own production and maximizing its own profit. It is structured in such a manner that the profits of one sub-company cannot offset the liabilities and impacts of another sub-company.  The result is that the impacts and the pollution costs of beleaguered sub-companies are often carried by communities, the environment and future generations and not by DRD Gold.

The Federation for a Sustainable Environment comments on the reclaimation of the Soweto Cluster mine dumps.  This in response to the enviornmental impact assessment and environmental management programme for same.   The full comment is available as a PDF attachment. Extracts from the comment follow.

The Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine Company (BGMC) eft in its wake a number of un-rehabilitated footprints of reclaimed tailings storage facilities, containing toxic and radioactive water and soil, radioactive infrastructure, tailings storage facilities without vegetation, retainer walls and functional toe paddocks and penstocks, and total environmental liabilities of R891 million. R35 million is held in trust for rehabilitation.
A criminal case was opened against the directors of DRD Gold and itsoperator, Village Main Reef Mine (VMRM) by the FSE at the Carletonville Police Station on the 19th of February 2014 (CAS 347/2/2014) for the alleged violations of the Environmental Management Programme Report, including the Slime Spill Contingency Plan and the Blyvoor Waste Management Strategy.
Pursuant to the criminal charge, the DEA: Inspectorate in collaboration with the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), the NNR, the DWA, provincial and local municipalities has launched a criminal investigation against DRD Gold and Village Main Reef Mine.
It is common practice for DRD Gold to transfer the assets and significant liabilities of its less profitable sub-companies to beleaguered mining companies.  
The aforesaid is relevant to the proposed reclamation of the Soweto Cluster Mine Dumps as follows:
The name of the applicant is listed as Ergo Mining (Pty) Ltd. (Ergo).  Ergo is a subsidiary of DRD Gold.  The FSE expresses serious concern that when DRD Gold’s subsidiary has selectively extracted the value from the portions of the slimes dams and sand dumps (Ergo has applied for a mining right in respect of twelve slimes dams and two sand dumps), there is the risk that Ergo will either apply for liquidation or will alienate its liabilities to companies that do not have access to sufficient financial resources or whose mining activities will result in unacceptable pollution, ecological degradation or damage to the environment.  

Also –
The current state of the environment suggests a gross failure on the part of DRD Gold in

  • Its duty of care (Section 28 of the National Environmental Management Act, 107 of 1998
  • To prevent pollution
  • To responsibly manage its significant impacts
  • To comply with its legally binding Environmental Management Programmes and Plans.

The highest burden of the pollution costs are currently being borne by communities and the environment and not by DRD Gold as would be expected.

The FSE further comments –

This application should only be approved if it involves the removal of the entire residue deposits of the twelve slimes dams and two sand dumps and the rehabilitation of the remaining footprints.   
The past practice of granting rights and authorization for the reprocessing of individual residue deposits must be reviewed insofar as it allows the selective extraction of value from portions of a site without ploughing some of that value back into the rehabilitation of the entire mining area.  It must be accepted that the reprocessing of some mining residues will never be economically viable and that these will need to be transported to superdumps, or rehabilitated in situ.
While the EIA/EMPR Report commits to the testing of radioactivity, the failure to assess the radioactivity and toxicity risks and the potential for acute and latent toxicity and radioactivity impacts on humans presents a flaw in the Report.
The proposed post closure monitoring of the dump footprints for 3 years (page 59 of the EIA/EMP Report) is regarded as insufficient.  The latent impacts may continue for decades.

The FSE urges the decision-makers not to grant the mining right and environmental authorisation for the above-mentioned project unless the future land uses, in consultation with interested and affected parties, have been determined and assiduous attention has been given expert findings. These include that experts consider residential townships, edible crop production and livestock grazing to be high risk land-uses for tailings storage facilities footprints and areas within the aqueous and aerial zone of influence.  Failure by the regulators and communities to agree on suitable ‘soft’ end land-uses and buffer zones could exacerbate liabilities for closing mines by resulting in subsequent land-uses that are sub-economic or risky.

We also think it relevant to advise that since the MPRDA commits to the NEMA principles, this implies that the Best Available Technology not Exceeding Excess Cost (BATNEEC) approach can no longer be followed in determining the “reasonable measures” for remediation and mine closure, since the National Environmental Management Act (107 of 1998) (NEMA) does not refer to BATNEEC, but incorporates the Best Practicable Environmental Option (BPEO) approach in section 2.  NEMA defines “best practicable environmental option” to mean the option that provides the most benefit or causes the least damage to the environment as a whole, at a cost accept able to society in the long as well as the short term.  The BPEO is therefore the outcome of a systematic consultative and decision making process that emphasises the protection of the environment across land, air and water and that establishes, for a given set of objectives, the option that provides the most benefit or least damage to the environment as a whole at acceptable cost in the short as well as long term.

Furthermore, the study area occurs within two threatened ecosystems, the Klip River Highveld Grassland and the Soweto Highveld Grassland and the pipeline routes will cross these areas. (Page 25 of the EIA/EMP Report.)  Since the EIA was conducted during April, the EIA would significantly under-represent the the evaluation of the biodiversity within the Grassland Biome and most plant species (83% of which are actually non-grasses).

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