By its very nature, mining has an impact on the environment and so the industry faces many environmental challenges.
A partnership between government, labour representatives and mining companies with the support of the Minerals Council, is committed to constantly seeking new ways to avoid, minimise or mitigate the negative impacts of mining on the environment, and address legacy issues, such as acid mine drainage.
South Africa is a water scarce country and a large volume of water is used for the mining and processing of gold. Therefore, for many years the gold 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.
AIR QUALITY MANAGEMENT
Several activities associated with the gold mining process can impact the air quality in and around operations, potentially also affecting communities and habitats. These include mining and ore processing activities, power generation as well as transportation. There are two types of air quality impacts: airborne particulates or gases from sources such as smelthouse and power generation stacks; or from sources such as unsealed access roads and tailings storage facilities.
Air quality control measures range from bag filters to gas scrubbers for fixed point stacks, to water irrigation or biodegradable chemical sealants for dirt roads and tailings facility surfaces, to the vegetation of mine dumps.
Effective waste management is a priority. The gold mining industry endeavours to reduce, reuse and recycle in an effort to move towards zero waste and curtail our total mining 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 gold 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 by coal-fired power stations. 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 gold 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.