Revised Fairbreeze BAR submitted in search of project approval

16th March 2012 By: Sashnee Moodley - Deputy Editor Polity and Multimedia

Diversified mining company Exxaro has compiled a revised basic assessment report (BAR) for necessary regulatory approvals on the Fairbreeze mine project, says Fairbreeze project manager Cobus Janse van Rensburg.

The full BAR, which will soon be submitted to the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development (DAEARD), also includes two new specialists studies, peer reviews of two other studies and additional comments from affected and interested parties. The original BAR was not accepted for review by DAEARD and returned to Exxaro in October last year for the additional information to be added.

“Construction will begin as soon as the regulatory approvals are obtained. Depending on when construction activities can start, mining operations are currently planned for the second half of 2014,” explains Janse van Rensburg.

The Fairbreeze mine is being developed as a replacement feedstock producer for the miner’s Hillendale mine, which currently provides feedstock to the titanium slag smelters at its mineral sands operation KZN Sands.

The detailed integrated design for Fairbreeze is currently 75% complete, says Janse van Rensburg.

“We plan to finish the design phase by the middle of the year. The next step will be to draw up bills of quantities in preparation for the issuing of tenders. The design for Fairbreeze is based on the well-proven design of Hillendale, although some parameters have been updated to incorporate improved technology. This will see sandy tails with a higher density being pumped.

“Residue storage dam walls will be constructed and process adjustments include pumping tailings at higher densities to increase energy efficiency to reduce pipe diameters for long distance overland pipelines. High-rate, high-wall thickeners will be used, as opposed to Hillendale's ultra-high-rate thickeners, to guarantee consolidation of fine residue tails. By building the residue storage facility walls to the final height with the standard tails infrastructure, rehabilitation not only covers the slopes exposed, but also saves on capital on additional infrastructure usually required for wall building ,” notes Janse van Rensburg.

Hillendale will reach the end of its life by the end of 2012 and without Fairbreeze, the entire KZN Sands operation will need to close, says Janse van Rensburg. This will result in the loss of about 1 000 permanent jobs and a further 1 000 indirect jobs. The lost job opportunities will remove a yearly wage bill of more than R300-million from Zululand. The Empangeni and Richards Bay areas will furthermore lose around R530-million worth of goods and services that KZN Sands procures from local businesses every year.

Janse van Rensburg says the Fairbreeze deposits are some of the best quality heavy minerals deposits remaining in the world. The mine is also well serviced by infrastructure and is close to KZN Sands’ downstream processing facilities, in Empangeni.

“During the first greenfield phase of the project, estimated at five years, 9.8-million tons a year will be mined at Fairbreeze. This will increase to about 17.7-million tons in the second half of the mine’s life. The total life of the mine is estimated at between 12 and 15 years,” explains Janse van Rensburg.

There are environmental challenges associated with the Fairbreeze mine’s development, says Exxaro corporate communication, corporate affairs and strategy manager Hilton Atkinson.

Environmentally sensitive areas border the mining deposits and this makes the mining process challenging.

The mining project has ignited environmental concern among some members of the public, making community and stakeholder relations a challenge, says Atkinson.

“We have been studying the environment around the Fairbreeze project area for almost a decade and are acutely aware of the current state of the important environmental areas around the project site. These areas have been impacted on by intensive farming operations over the past 100 years,” he reveals.

Integrated assessments of the expected environmental impact of the proposed mine’s mining methods have been carried out by several specialists. Atkinson says the company is confident that the mine will provide an opportunity to implement sustainable improvements to the area once mining starts to counter long-term impacts.

Further, he says the opportunity to improve the run-off to the Siyaya estuary system will improve the environment in the project area. The Fairbreeze project will impact on existing commercial eucalyptus plantations as well as sugar cane farming areas.

Secondary natural habitats will also be affected by some mining infrastructure and these impacts will be mitigated by establishing offset areas in line with the provincial guidelines.

“We understand the environmental aspects of the area. However, our mining impacts have been assessed and management measures have been developed. We are, therefore, confident that the natural environment will be adequately protected and that the proposed, long-term enhancements will leave the area in an improved state post mining,” assures Atkinson.

Environmental management and rehabilitation strategies for Fairbreeze are being influenced by the lessons Exxaro have learned at it Hillendale mine. Rehabilitation at Hillendale is ongoing at a cost of R425-million, which is funded from the operating budget. A further R104-million has been allocated to the mine-closure fund, for rehabilitation and closure activities after operations stop at Hillendale.

The rehabilitation of the residue dam will begin following the end of mining operations next year.

Currently, 60 ha of intermediate crops have been planted and worked into the soil. The process, which is called green manuring, provides organic material and nitrogen to the soil and helps stabilise and create good soil structure. The process is repeated until the soil is ready for the planting of certified seed cane, explains Janse van Rensburg. In January, a significant rehabilitation milestone was reached when the first 90 t of seed cane was planted on Hillendale’s rehabilitated dunes.

During 2011, Exxaro bought 1 500 t of compost from communities and farmers around Hillendale in support of the rehabilitation effort.

“As part of the mine closure plan, Exxaro will rehabilitate the mine area to sugar cane, which was the original vegetation. A great deal of research has been conducted in association with the University of Zululand to develop a suitable rehabilitation process as it is complex,” highlights Janse van Rensburg.

The rehabilitation process at Hillendale has three stages that include backfilling, mix placement and intermediate crop planting.

As of February 15, 172.3 ha of the 262 ha of mined area had been backfilled, while 40.6 ha is currently being backfilled. A further 13.9 ha is used for infrastructure and 34.7 ha are actively being mined.

Meanwhile, mix placement is at different stages on the backfilled dunes.

“Mix is produced in a mix plant with a composition of about 30% fines to 70% sands. The material is placed up to 1.5 m deep and, to date, 140 ha have been covered to varying depths with capping material,” reports Janse van Rensburg.

“We hope for a productive, full mining life and successful rehabilitation once the mine ends its operation,” notes Janse van Rensburg.

KZN Sands contributes to the local area by developing sustainable skills, establishing small sustainable businesses and contributing infrastructure.

Its community-focused skills development offers 20 matriculants, who have passed maths and science, learnerships as process controllers. A further ten places are reserved for students who have completed their S4 mechanical engineering qualification and require internships. A 24-month programme has been reserved for 15 junior artisans who have obtained their trade certificates but require practical experience to pass their trade test.

“KZN Sands maintains a so-called pool team with a local labour supplier. The company has paid for medical evaluations, safety training and induction of around 100 people recruited from the tribal areas in Richards Bay, Empangeni and Mtunzini. Should KZN Sands require general workers, labourers or maintenance workers at its plants, the pool team is called in,” explains Janse van Rensburg.

The mineral sands operation also undertakes a monthly procurement forum with representatives of the six tribal areas around its operations.

The aim of the forum is to establish sustainable businesses to ensure the area remains uplifted when the operations end.

People are given business training and access to certain contracts. At least 90 jobs have been created to date, with seven community contracts awarded. During 2011, more than R7-million flowed into the six tribal areas, reveals Janse van Rensburg.

Exxaro contributed a further R12.7-million to improve Mtunzini’s electricity supply.