Importance of end land use and mine closure planning increases in SA

22nd November 2013

By: Chantelle Kotze


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Significant improvement to mine closure planning has taken place over the last decade in South Africa since the promulgation of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), which is a move towards ensuring that mining operations consider ways of reinstating a functional end land use that can positively contribute towards the future biophysical and societal demands of the people and the animals living in proximity to a disturbed environment.

This is highlighted by global environmental engineering consulting firm Golder Associates senior rehabilitation and closure consultant Raina Hattingh, who also points out that, from an end land use planning perspective, Section 38(1)(d) of the MPRDA and Government Notice R.545 of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema) both state that mining operations should “as far as it is reasonably practicable, rehabilitate the environment affected by the prospecting or mining operations to its natural or predetermined state, or to a land use which conforms to the generally accepted principle of sustainable development”.

The MPRDA also alludes to the need to “. . . provide broad future land use objective(s) for a site”, in Section 61(b), and the provision of a plan describing the final and future land use proposal and arrangements for the site, in Section 62(i), as part of the mine’s closure planning.

As a result of this, end land use planning in the mining industry is fast becoming a key consideration guiding rehabilitation and closure planning in forward-thinking oper-ations, Hattingh says.

Mine closure planning is also being considered more often, owing to an improved understanding of regulators, including the Department of Mineral Resources, the Department of Water Affairs and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), and their risk related to managing long- term environmental and financial liabilities associated with these operations.

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Mines (CoM) of South Africa’s guidelines for the rehabilitation of mined land – although not promulgated in local legislation – is a key document used throughout the mining industry towards reinstating postmining land capabilities to the premining landscape.

Hattingh highlights that the need to develop a comprehensive land use plan prior to conceptualisation of closure objectives and associated rehabilitation measures is also gaining momentum, with land use planning no longer considered as a component of closure planning, but more as an upfront driver for closure planning.

While several factors are driving mine land rehabilitation, there are difficulties affecting its success.

The Challenges of Rehabilitating Mined-Out Land
Although key documents and legislation, such as the MPRDA, Nema, the CoM guidelines for the rehabilitation of mined land and the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s mining and biodiversity guidelines, foster the convergence of multidisciplinary thinking towards reinstating functional postmining landscapes, more buy-in from all regulators and affected mining companies is required to develop a standard approach, Hattingh emphasises.

She says this will result in a consolidated, practical end land use vision, area by area.

This is also emphasised by University of Pretoria Department of Plant Production and Soil Science senior lecturer Dr Wayne Truter, who is also the founder and first president of the Land Rehabilitation Society of Southern Africa (LaRSSA).

He says, while there are many large international mining companies with good strategies in place to undertake land rehabili- tation in South Africa, it can be debated whether these strategies are being imple- mented and regulated effectively.

A further concern is the smaller mining companies and irresponsible mining companies that are either not doing anything or only doing the minimum amount of required rehabilitation.

Truter says the little interaction between regulators and mining companies, together with the low capacity of skilled people in organisations responsible for ensuring good land rehabilitation and regulation, is hampering good mine land rehabilitation in the country, as land rehabilitation is site specific and requires a multidisciplinary approach to be sustainable and successful.

Another reason is the lack of environ- mental pressure from the public, which often leads to environmental issues passing by unforeseen.

Truter also notes that the interpretation of the legislation pertaining to mine rehabilitation is often controversial. He adds that, while South Africa has some of the most detailed and comprehensive legislation in the world, with its Constitution stating that everyone has the right to an environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations, the long-term future of best practice land rehabilitation will be reflected through the implementation of professional, transparent, responsible and integrated approaches.

In an eye-opening keynote address at LaRSSA’s inaugural yearly land rehabilitation conference, held in Pretoria last month, DEA chief policy adviser of strategic environmental intelligence Peter Lukey highlighted that, in terms of land transformation, the country will have no natural habitat left outside protected areas by 2050, given the current rate at which natural vegetation in KwaZulu-Natal, the North West and Gauteng is being converted.

“If we keep on taking away and we keep on using, it should be no surprise that the quality of our environment is ever decreasing. By doing this, we are losing biodiversity, the quality of our rivers are getting worse and the areas of natural infrastructure are being destroyed,” he emphasised.

Despite this information, closure planning remains an end state far in the future, which is, unfortunately, not regarded as requiring immediate consideration.

The Argument for Closure Planning and End Land Use Planning
The most preferred end land use of a closed mine site is generally determined by several factors, including current land use surrounding the site, the potential for beneficial reuse of surface infrastructure, the extent of the environmental impact resulting from the operational period of the mine and the future planning objectives of local regulators.

Hattingh says by considering end land use and closure planning during mine planning, some of the associated rehabilitation costs may already have been integrated into the initial design of the infrastructure. Potentially prohibitive costs can, therefore, be partially eliminated at a later stage when the mine has to invest large amounts of money in other areas of closure-related work.

“If future end uses of mine infrastructure are identified during mine planning, the potential to develop them after mine closure can be secured through appropriate and consultative planning. The beneficial reuse of mine infrastructure after mine closure may be precluded if this is not done, simply because of the way in which plant and infrastructure elements are spatially positioned in relation to each other.”

More importantly, mining companies should try to reinstate functional ecosystems, such as wetlands and wilderness habitats, within the postmining landscape. This will result in, for example, the provision of feeding, breeding and nesting areas for fauna and the creation of potential conservation areas for threatened species.

Other inherent functions of functional ecosystems include flood attenuation, carbon sequestration and water filtration and purification. These have a measurable monetary value and the need to protect and, where possible, reinstate these functions is being increasingly acknowledged and should form an integral part of postclosure land use planning, notes Hattingh.

She adds that, while it is evident that the premining land capability can seldomly be fully reinstated, it is necessary to explore alternative ways of sustaining the affected communities in postmining regions, especially in the face of increased pressure to ensure long-term food security worldwide. Therefore the rehabilitation of land to reinstate agricultural potential is of key importance.

Hattingh notes the advantage of creating a defined approach to end land use planning. This involves undertaking planning from an overarching, regional perspective to ensure the proper integration and seamless trans-ition of various mined-out areas into the surrounding landscape.

“This regional end land use focus, supported by local and district municipali- ties, as well as by all major mines in a region, can assist in formulating an aligned long-term land use vision for the region, according to which future strategic provincial and national decisions can be made.”

This means that individual mine land use plans would then inform and form part of the land use master plan for the region.

Taking into consideration what has been done in the past and what is required in the future, a platform for rehabilitation discussion is necessary to determine the successes and challenges.

A Possible Way Forward
Truter says there has been no platform until recently to discuss the success and failure of mine land rehabilitation.

“From an academic point of view, the establishment of LaRSSA, which aims to create open and transparent communication channels to disseminate information and discuss various aspects from the different fields of expertise within the discipline, will help educate people on what land rehabilitation is, what it entails and what it requires.”

LaRSSA’s vision is the continual improvement of land rehabilitation best practices towards sustainable land use in the areas of mining, agriculture, forestry and conservation.

Its mission is to be a multidisciplinary society that promotes land rehabilitation that is scientific, technically robust, economically viable and socially acceptable.

The society’s objectives are to provide land rehabilitation discussion forums and a platform for the relevant capacity building of land rehabilitation best practices. It aims to create open communication channels among all stakeholders, which will provide inform-ation that will influence policy to ensure more sustainable rehabilitation outcomes. The promotion of scientific research on land rehabilitation and to communicate valuable outcomes are also envisaged.

LaRSSA aims to host various technical field workshops and a yearly conference where scientific research and case studies can be shared.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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