JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) - Key
role-players in resolving the environmental threat posed by acid
mine drainage (AMD) in South Africa's Witwatersrand (Wits) Basin
said on Wednesday that there was a "tight deadline" for
decisions by the State and Rand Water if their proposed
five-point plan for a "cost-effective, sustainable solution" is
The urgency, they say, rests in the fact that, currently, no
cost-effective, sustainable means of dealing with the
155-million litres of AMD that could arise daily in the West
Wits Basin in as little as three years is being applied. In the
absence of this, the risk of uncontrolled decanting of AMD, with
consequent environmental damage, is increasing.
Western Utilities Corporation (WUC) MD Jaco Schoeman told Mining
Weekly Online that an "imminent environmental disaster" would
occur if the AMD problem were not tackled immediately.
Decant in the Western Basin first started in 2002 at 15-million
litres a day. Schoeman noted that the Central Basin would decant
within two-and-half years at about 60-million litres a day, four
times the magnitude of the Western Basin, if a solution was not
implemented. In addition, once pumping stops in the Eastern
Basin, currently being maintained by Pamodzi Gold, decant would
occur within three years at 82-million litres a day.
"Ultimately, the toxic water will rise to surface and decant.
This will contaminate groundwater, possibly cause sinkhole
formations and destroy all eco-systems."
Currently, the partial treatment of the AMD is costing the mines
R12-million, which was said to be unsustainable. "The effect of
that is that the mines will essentially close down and the
liability of treating the water will then revert to the State,"
WUC, a wholly owned subsidiary of AIM-listed Watermark Global,
was commissioned by the Section 21 companies to develop a
holistic, integrated plan for the treatment of the AMD in the
Western Basin, Central Basin and Eastern Basin.
The company developed a five-point plan that includes securing
sufficient AMD to feed large-scale water treatment plants on an
ongoing basis, the investigation and selection of suitable
technology to treat AMD to produce drinking and industrial
water, complying with all legal requirements, securing
long-term, large-scale users for the drinking and industrial
water produced and, raising funding for the project.
Schoeman noted that AMD need not be a liability, but rather a
valuable asset in a water-stressed country, such as South
Africa. The company intends to implement the
alkali-barium-calcium process developed by South Africa's
Council for Scientific and Industrial research to treat AMD and
produce drinking and industrial water.
"Understandably, some stakeholders are concerned about the
quality of the WUC product, the drinking water in particular.
However, we are satisfied that, on the basis of our own work and
exhaustive audits by third-party experts, that we can and will
comply with the standards of the South African National
Accreditation Systems and the South African Bureau of
To ensure compliance with all legal requirements, WUC engaged
with all regulatory bodies at the outset of its work, and
continues to do so, on a regular basis, Schoeman said.
"Critical milestones for us are submission of our environmental
impact assessment to the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and
Rural Development by October 2009 and authorisation of this by
the Department of Water Affairs by December 2009."
Another ‘make or break', he said, would be an off-take agreement
with Rand Water for drinking water.
Schoeman said that, while the estimated cost of implementing the
WUC solution is more than R2-billion, mining companies
associated with the Section 21 companies have already committed
substantial existing infrastructure worth more than
"Pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility studies costing some
R60-million have been funded by the Development Bank of South
Africa (DBSA) and with equity raised through Watermark; for
construction, we intend securing up to R1,5-billion of funding
in equity through Watermark and in debt through commercial
banks, the DBSA and the Industrial Development Corporation.
Further operations and expansions will be funded through
internal cash flows and further debt- and equity-raisings.
"We are very aware that, without prompt regulatory approvals and
an off-take agreement with Rand Water, we are unlikely to get
the investment commitments we need," Schoeman said.
The WUC plan envisages the start of plant construction in 2010,
with generation of first product early in 2011. Direct and
indirect job creation in the construction phase is estimated at
3 100 jobs, and in the operational phase more than 300 jobs.
Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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