Manuel speaks out on acid mine drainage

[] — MINISTER in the Presidency Trevor Manuel has hit out at critics of his stance towards a potential acid mine water crisis, saying his detractors are part of a campaign to sow panic.

In a letter published on Sunday in Sake24, Manuel took umbrage at criticism over his response in August to a parliamentary question, in which he said the idea that acid mine drainage would run through the streets of Johannesburg “next week” was totally ludicrous.

“(This is an image) which I exaggerated for effect in my response to Hon Greyling (Independent Democrats Chief Whip Lance Greyling) during the Members’ Statements in parliament. The almost-daily parliamentary event called Members’ Statements has the questions or statements unsighted, and ministers are required to respond off-the-cuff.”

As reported previously in Miningmx, acid mine drainage will, according to a scientific model, rise to the ecologically perilous level of 150 metres below the surface by 2012 – and after the end of October 2010 nothing humanly could be done to avoid this.

From February 2012 onwards, acid mine effluent will rapidly start to erode dolomite structures in Johannesburg and the near East Rand, and shortly thereafter the water will poison boreholes and fountains – as has been happening on the West Rand in the Cradle of Humankind, the Krugersdorp Game Reserve and the Sterkfontein caves since September 2002.

Manuel summed his understanding of the issue as follow: “There is indisputable proof that there is an accumulation of vast quantities of underground water in voids left by mining in the Witwatersrand complex and that acid mine drainage mainly manifests after a mine has closed its operations.

“As a consequence of contact with pyrites in the ore body and oxygen, there has been an increased formation of acids in the water. Added to this is the problem of disused and abandoned mines, poor past legislation which did not require mining companies to take responsibility for mines after they had profited from extraction, and negligent behaviour from some companies that currently have mining licences and yet are not pumping water.

“So the risks increase. The risks are essentially that if left unattended, this water will decant out of mineshafts in the lower-lying parts of the Witwatersrand. There is similarly no dispute that such an occurence will do untold damage to the environment. I have known all of this for some time, and I was certainly consciously aware of this when I made that statement in parliament on August 10. I also knew then as I can confirm again, that this matter is receiving the ongoing attention of government.”

Manuel said some companies are advocating certain approaches to the issue to serve their own interest.

“There is one in particular that is punting an unsolicited bid for their proposal. In fact, the sense is that this company would want everybody to believe that theirs is the only solution possible, when in truth it is one among many, and also the most expensive proposal around.”

In December, a team of experts advising an inter-ministerial committee on acid mine drainage, in which Manuel takes part, recommended a series of short-term measures to help address the problem. The report would be presented to cabinet early in January.