By its very nature, mining has an impact on the environment and the industry faces many environmental challenges.
A partnership between government, labour representatives and mining companies with the support of the Minerals Council South Africa, is committed to constantly seeking new ways to avoid, minimise or mitigate the negative impacts of mining on the environment.
South Africa is a water scarce country and a large volume of water is used for the mining and processing of diamonds. Therefore, for many years the diamond mining industry has been using this scarce resource responsibly, lessening consumption by reusing and recycling water and aiming for zero discharge with the help of water treatment plants.
Effective waste management is a priority. The diamond mining industry endeavours to avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle, treat and dispose of waste in an effort to move towards zero waste and curtail our total environmental footprint. Guidelines on mineral, non-mineral and hazardous waste materials are included in environmental management systems implemented at operations.
ENERGY CONSUMPTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE
The diamond mining industry has for many years been committed to becoming more energy efficient. The industry mostly consumes indirect energy in the form of electricity purchased from the national power utility, Eskom, which is generated primary by fossil fuels. The industry invests time and expertise in formulating energy saving projects, not just for cost reasons but also because of its desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. Diversifying the energy mix is also part of the industry’s energy efficiency and climate change policy and strategy.
South African diamond mining companies acknowledge that some aspects of their operations alter the physical landscape permanently. Once mining has come to an end, land must be rehabilitated to assist its appropriate and productive use post-mining. Rehabilitation and closure are incorporated into overall planning from initial concept stage and during the life of mine. This includes ensuring that the necessary funding mechanisms for rehabilitation are in place. It is often the case that only a small proportion of the land covered by a company’s mining rights has been disturbed by mining.
LAND MANAGEMENT AND BIODIVERSITY
When vegetation is removed during the establishment of mining operations, it can destroy natural habitats and damage ecosystems, which can lead to the extinction of plants and animals in the area.
To mitigate this risk, biodiversity management plans are implemented at mining sites, through mine closure plans, environmental management plans or through specific biodiversity action plans. Plans can include anything from establishing nurseries to cultivate species to revegetate affected or remediated land, to working in partnership with conservation and wildlife organisations to set aside and protect areas of land which are rich in biodiversity or are home to species of flora or fauna of importance.
Petra Diamonds and biodiversity
A number of Red Data List species have been identified in Petra Diamond’s operational areas. Where appropriate, protected plants are relocated, or ‘no-go’ areas are established around species that cannot be relocated, such as the ‘Cullinan Ant’ colony situated on 1ha of undisturbed land in the middle of Cullinan’s coarse tailings facility.
Programmes are run with non-governmental organisations to assist with research into fauna, such as the secretary bird programme at Koffiefontein in the Free State in conjunction with BirdLife Africa, which has been running for the last five years. More recently, work is being carried out to register the Benfontein-Rooifontein-Dronfield complex in Kimberley as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area and formal provincial Protected Environment.
Venetia diamond mine and the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve
De Beers’s Venetia diamond mine is located in an environmentally sensitive area and the company spent some R17 million on initial environmental engineering projects. The 35km long water supply pipeline and other service supply pipelines are buried, the mine has a state-of-the-art dust control system, and noise and lighting impacts are minimised.
The company also established the 36,000ha Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve adjacent to the mine and moved a large number of animals from a new mining area to the reserve. The reserve is home to three of the big five - lion, elephant and leopard.