The South African mining industry is governed by legal and regulatory framework. The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) is the legislative regarding the legislation of the regulations which the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) is the competent authority to manage and enforce the regulations. Legislation applicable to mine closure in South Africa is the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) as well as the financial provisional regulations under government notice R1147 (GNR1147). Under this framework, mining companies are obligated to submit mine closure plans and financial provisions to cover the costs of closure on an annual basis. These regulations are designed to ensure that mining operations are closed responsibly and that the burden of rehabilitation does not fall on the state or local communities.
Compliance with these regulations can however present a significant challenge. Some mining companies may delay or avoid fulfilling their closure obligations, creating potential liabilities for the state and communities.
Environmental risks are a central concern in mine closure. Incorrect management and mitigation strategies can lead to long-term environmental damage, including water pollution, soil degradation, and habitat destruction. Effective mine closure plans must address these risks and provide for the remediation of environmental damage.
One specific environmental risk is acid mine drainage (AMD), a phenomenon caused by the exposure of sulphide minerals in mine waste to air and water. This leads to the generation of highly acidic and toxic water which is detrimental to the surrounding environment as well as the downstream environment. The effective management of AMD is therefore critical during the mine closure planning as well as the closure phase.
A critical aspect of mine closure is the requirement for mining companies to provide financial guarantees to cover the costs of rehabilitation and remediation based on the above mentioned GNR1147 regulations. These financial provisions are intended to ensure that sufficient funds are available at the closure phase to carry out the necessary deconstruction and rehabilitation work.
The risk associated with financial provisions lies in the adequacy and management of the provisioned funds. Inadequate financial provisions can leave the liability of the mine remaining with the mining house and requiring additional resources and finances to complete the rehabilitation process which can be to the detriment of the mining house. Ensuring that the financial provisions are accurate and consistently updated is there essential to mitigate this risk.
In South Africa there is a long history of mining, which has left a legacy of abandoned mines and associated environmental problems across the previous decades. These legacy liabilities include acid mine drainage, contaminated water bodies, and unstable mine dumps. Accurately identifying and thereby managing and remediating these legacy liabilities present significant risks to mine closure.
One challenge is the identification and prioritization of legacy liabilities early on in the operational phase and to design and implement effective management and mitigation strategies. Additionally, the sheer scale of some of these liabilities often require substantial financial and technical resources to address effectively.
Social and Community Risks
Mine closure can have a profound impact on the communities surrounding mining operations. Job losses, changes to the local economy, and disruptions to social structures can lead to social unrest and community dissatisfaction. Ensuring that communities are adequately prepared for mine closure and that alternative livelihood opportunities are available is crucial to mitigating these social and community risks.
Furthermore, issues related to land tenure and access can also arise during mine closure. Some communities may seek to reclaim land that was previously used for mining, creating potential conflicts and legal disputes. Managing these issues requires careful planning and community engagement.
Another significant risk factor during mine closure is the loss of skilled human resources. As mines close, experienced workers may leave the industry or migrate to other regions, making it challenging to find qualified personnel for closure and rehabilitation activities. Retaining and transferring knowledge from experienced employees to the next generation is vital to mitigate this risk.
Mine closure is fraught with a wide range of risks, from regulatory compliance and financial provisions to social, environmental, and legacy liabilities. Effectively managing these risks requires a coordinated effort between government, industry, and communities, with a strong focus on proactive planning, comprehensive closure plans, and responsible financial provisions. By addressing these challenges diligently, transition from a mining economy to a sustainable post-mining future while minimizing the negative impacts of mine closure.
Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (No.8 of 2002)
Regulations pertaining to the Financial Provision for Prospecting, Exploration, Mining or Production Operations (GNR 1147 of 20 November 2015)