7.17 Stakeholder involvement in the closure planning process at Ergo
AngloGold Ashanti continues to involve a range of stakeholders in the closure planning process in accordance with environmental legislation requirements. The Ergo operation was commissioned in 1977 to extract gold by reprocessing material from about 50 old residue deposits. These residue deposits were produced by the many historical mining operations in Gauteng.
Once processed, Ergo residue materials were then deposited on the Withok Tailings Storage Facility (TSF). In 1985 the introduction of new technology in the recovery process led to the construction and commissioning of a new repository for tailings residue
- the Brakpan TSF. This innovation in processing technology improved recovery to the point that reclamation of the material from the Withok TSF was profitable and, as a result, this material was also re-processed. Given that the Withok material, as well as payable material from other reclamation sites is almost depleted, Ergo is scheduled to close by the end of March 2005.
The Brakpan TSF is believed to be the largest gold tailings storage facility in the world. It covers an area of 860 hectares (equivalent to 866 rugby fields) and stands about 90 metres high (as high as a 30-storey building). The Brakpan TSF holds around 560 million tons of material.
In terms of the Ergo Environmental Management Plan, the Brakpan TSF and adjoining Withok footprint (the area where the original Withok dam stood) are to be rehabilitated when the operation closes. In accordance with the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), AngloGold Ashanti has prepared a formal Closure Plan which will be submitted to government for approval. Project leader Pieter Swart, currently acting environmental manager of land management, heads a team representing Environmental Management
- South Africa Region, Ergo and AngloGold Ashanti Corporate Office, as well as eight external consultants to compile the plan. The plan provides detailed information regarding the environmental remediation of the Brakpan TSF and its surrounding infrastructure.
The plan includes methods for:
- drying the surface and main body of the Brakpan TSF to ensure that any future impact on groundwater is minimised;
- ensuring that the TSF final landform is stable and rehabilitated according to environmental performance criteria;
- returning the Withok footprint to its natural state for potential agricultural grazing land use and also meeting environmental performance criteria; and
- ensuring that dust deposits and air quality emissions are within acceptable limits.
Several technical and scientific studies were conducted during preparation of the plan. This was compiled in consultation with national and provincial government departments as well as interested and affected parties (I&APs). The Department of Minerals and Energy (DME), acting as the lead agency in terms of mining legislation, obtained additional input from four other government departments, namely the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), the National Department of Agriculture (NDA); the Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Land Affairs (GDACEL) and the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). I&APs included both individuals and communities, many of whom were represented by the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan council, the Ergo Community Forum, the Klipriver Forum (comprising local government, private industry and other mining companies) and local farmers.
The technical and scientific studies served two purposes: the first was to identify and quantify the environmental risks posed by the closure of the Brakpan TSF. These evaluations included a dust generation and dispersal assessment; a radiation survey (gold ore in the area contains radioactive uranium); a surface and ground water quality impact assessment; and a study into vegetation methods for the side slopes and top surface of the TSF.
The second objective of the studies was to evaluate whether rehabilitation and mitigation methods which had been proposed would meet the required closure standards, and address issues raised by all stakeholders.
A number of concerns were raised during discussions with the various governmental bodies.
For example, the DME raised issues related to the long-term environmental impact of closure; the adequacy of the risk assessment process that had been followed; how the final land use had been determined and how closure costs had been calculated. The DWAF expressed concern about possible future contamination of ground and surface water while the NDA addressed issues related to vegetation, soil and general land conditions. GDACEL expressed concern about biodiversity issues.
Interested and affected parties were primarily concerned about the management of windblown dust, the possible safety risk posed by the central water pond (which will remain on the dam for a period) and the stability of the dam. Other concerns related to the TSF's surrounding infrastructure such as the return water pumping system. Farmers were particularly worried about the status of leased land after final closure. Regular stakeholder meetings, which are documented in the Closure Plan, addressed these concerns and how they would be handled.
Now that the consultation process is complete, the Closure Plan will be submitted to government for final approval. Once approved, a two-year rehabilitation programme will commence, followed by a regular maintenance and monitoring programme, until environmental performance objectives are achieved and a Closure Certificate granted
- a process which could take up to 10 years. Until such time, AngloGold Ashanti will be required to conduct ongoing performance assessments in consultation with the aforementioned government departments, and, in the interests of transparency and accountability, will continue to include I&APs in future discussions.
The closure plan for Ergo's other TSF (the Daggafontein TSF) has already been accepted by the regulators and is currently being implemented.