Mine closures: Thorough planning paramount


Industry leaders from across the globe partook in a topical discussion on Communities Surrounding Mining Projects and Mine Water Management. Mr Hilaire Diarra, group environment and community development officer for Randgold Resources opened the discussion with a presentation on responsible water management, focusing on Randgold Resources water management.

Bill Houston, former group human capital and sustainability executive, Randgold Resources Limited contributed to the presentation by adding his points on community development, and finally deputy director general Anile Singh, Department of Water and Sanitation South Africa presented an outline on the water use authorisation regimes, water user licences and legislative developments.

Digby Wells Environmental CEO, Graham Trusler, opened the floor to attending delegates for a thorough question and answer session, and sat down with Gregory Simpson after the event for more insights.

Good to see you again Graham at the sustainability breakfast. A few key talking points to come out today, sustainable mine closure?

It was great to have a lot of very experienced people sharing their learning. We’re all grappling with this issue of how do we close a mine properly, how do we provide for the communities around us, who should benefit, who not, who is a newcomer and the roles of what is the responsibility of government and what are the responsibilities of mines. 

So it was great to share ideas and we’ve advanced quite a long way from where we thought we’d be.   There’s got to be a partnership – it’s not a one size fits all and the mines have got to be a part of the solution and the government has got to be a part of the solution. What I really enjoyed today was the government agencies who are in charge of implementing, the people thinking about the solutions, the miners are miners, they help and they go into partnership. The people who are looking after water must drive the water strategy, the people who are coming for sanitation must drive the sanitation strategy, and people who are looking after schools must drive the schooling system. So leave it to the experts but work together. 

When you go into places like Mali you really have to work with the locals to bring all those factors together?

For sure and it’s a pleasure seeing the development in all these rural areas. For instance in Mali, a lot of people move into the area, a lot of jobs are created but then there’s also people who move into an area with expectations of jobs which they are not going to get. So they’re forced into entrepreneurial activities but that’s aided because there’s money in the area, there’s turnover of economy so most jobs created around the mine are not by the mine but from the money spent by the mine employees. 

Water security is a big talking point, how can we ensure underground aquifers remain viable for years to come and maintain the connection to the community?

The sustainability of those supplies is critical. The supply of water to the communities around the mining activities really depends on how rural the area is, whether it’s a borehole system, pumping system or some type of water services provider. The actual de-watering effects for mines is fairly limited to areas right around the mines and the big issue is obviously acid mine drainage affecting the quality of water, so we need to deal with those issues and we’re not doing it well enough. We’re not putting in enough money and we’re not actually implementing enough solutions. But part of the mine workings could also be the solution, a storage place for water which was not subject to evaporation. We need to look at what qualities come out of there and maybe have different users for that water which has had its quality affected.

And new technology coming through to combat acid mine drainage, are we seeing some breakthroughs?

There’s quite a lot of new technology coming through but particularly firms are seeing this now as a real option to sell their technologies whereas before they just had it developed, sat in a laboratory and now people have to have solutions. So it’s a good time for engineering services providers to be selling these solutions. Not that much is new; a lot of it is no longer practical implementation.

On average we are seeing 300 days to award a water license for mining, how does that compare with first world countries?

I don’t have a lot of experience in first world countries but I suspect it takes even longer in a lot of first world jurisdictions, so we do complain in South Africa that it takes so long, in a lot of developed nations it is a longer process. The problem in South Africa is not the lack of alignment between environmental applications; water ones, and the minerals legislation.

Recently there’s been a lot of changes to try and align these processes so we really hope it works, because people need to invest, you need to have new production facilities, it doesn’t help if you get all the legislation and tick boxes and then the guy says well I’m not going to invest. We need the investment, we need the jobs, we need the wealth creation.

Do you see a scenario of having a one-stop-shop where all the government departments work together as one?

A on-stop-shop has been spoken about a number of times and there have been various attempts to get that happening. It works for a while then the departments split off because certain departments feel that their needs are not being met. There’s been a very welcome drive in the last two years to bring these back together again to make it a one-stop-shop for all mining applications. We’re just going through a number of applications for the first and we will see how it works, but it’s certainly a welcome initiative.

What are the similarities and differences of doing business in South Africa with some of these far flung Northern African/Western African countries?  

All countries which are really new into the mining space, for instance Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso, it’s a lot easier to do business there because people have been to the bottom of the economic cycle and they really realise they mustn’t complicate things and therefore welcome investment. South Africa is particularly problematic as we deal with our past racial injustices, mineral distribution injustices, wealth, lack of distribution to the majority so it is extremely difficult for us in South Africa to get something through, we’ve got to fight through so much history, and so much expectation. The owners of capital just had expectations that they could just go ahead as they were, they’re slowly realising they need to justify their existence, so many mining regulators and communities had such high expectations of what they could achieve and it’s become too complicated, and I doubt if anybody is really winning at this stage.

And the shrinkage of the mining industry, how can we put the brakes on that, in terms of GDP?

We need to get that going, we need to get jobs and taxes paid in the country and  part of it is just make it simpler for people to apply for licenses, less onerous, and let’s talk about the real issues and not technicalities all the time or try to score points. We need to get businesses in there, we need to just simply say to investors you’re welcome here and you’ve got security of tenure, you’ve got this asset, you can make it work and if you make money you can keep the money.

Jobs, jobs, jobs seem to be the talking point at the Mining Indaba?

It’s going to be a tough sell, the commodity prices are at an all time low, so jobs and survival is going to be the key stories here. We know this is a cycle and we will come out of it, we just don’t know when, so as businessmen we ought to gear ourselves up to be ready for that growth cycle when it does happen.

Is 2017 going to be the boom year?

I really hope so, I predicted it a year ago and the downturn has carried on a lot longer than I thought.

How do you encourage illegal mining from not contaminating water supplies?

Well we’ve got to get more innovative about mine closure, when it’s a permanent closure we have to seal these workings properly or seal them with water or tailings or something so people can’t access them.  I see there’s a real problem with care and maintenance because you need to spend so much on security keeping illegal miners out, but there has to be a safety net for these illegal miners, you can’t expect them to starve and not provide for their families, they’re doing an extremely hard and onerous job trying to provide for their families so we must respect that. It’s complicated in South Africa that a lot of illegal miners are probably not South Africans, there’s very little economic activity in the countries that they come from, so we need to provide alternative livelihoods for them. 

And your (Digby Wells Environmental) latest merger with Lwazi Capital, exciting times, good partners?

Yes, we’re very excited about Lwazi Capital becoming partners with Digby Wells, something we’ve worked on for a long time, we see a lot of synergies, growing into areas we haven’t grown in before and spreading the wealth from our activities more. So our idea is to be able to expand, grow and generate more income for more people. That’s a good motto for South Africa.

Gregory Simpson


PULL QUOTE: “The people who are looking after water must drive the water strategy”

PULL QUOTE: “Let’s talk about the real issues and not technicalities all the time or trying to score points”

PULL QUOTE: “Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso, it’s a lot easier to do business there because people have been to the bottom of the economic cycle and they really realise they mustn’t complicate things and welcome investment”

tr.jpg Soil Erosion at Edge of Forest Exit. Kaolin quarry  in Kyshtym
comments powered by Disqus


This edition

Issue 42