What is AMD?
Acid mine drainage (AMD) occurs when water flows over exposed sulphide minerals, which oxidise in the presence of water and oxygen, causing the water to become acidic, which then dissolves other toxic metals. Exposure and oxidation of pyrite and other sulphide minerals occur in mine wall rocks, backfill, waste rock piles, low grade ore stockpiles and tailings deposits. In and around South African gold mines, pyrite (FeS2) present in gold ore dissolves on oxidation and releases iron and sulphuric acids.
AMD has been described as the largest single environmental problem facing the mining industry, particularly because it is persistent and costly, and tends to be a liability for mines long after they cease to operate. AMD is a worldwide problem.
The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Acid Mine Drainage
In August 2010, Cabinet convened an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Acid Mine Drainage, consisting of the Ministers of Water & Environmental Affairs, Mineral Resources, Finance, Science & Technology and the Minister in the Presidency for National Planning. See more about this Task Team at the following links:
- Task Team to report on solutions to acid mine drainage threats within 6 weeks, Business Report, 29 October 2010
- Acid water plan due in December, Business Day, 28 October 2010
- Mine water report under wraps for now, Business Report, 22 October 2010
- Mining: Acid drainage a PPP problem, Business Report, 30 September 2010
- Time is short to save Jozi from deluge, Business Report, 6 September 2010
- Acid mine water reports ridiculous, MiningMX, 11 August 2010
Read some questions and answers about AMD and the work of the IMC in the National Assembly here.
Civil society advocacy on AMD
Read the Statement by Civil Society Organisations on the Issue of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in the Witwatersrand Basin issued on 14 December 2009 here.
You can read a letter from the Centre for Environmental Rights to the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, dated 2 September 2010, regarding the IMC here. This letter also contains a list of eminent academic and other publications on AMD.
On 25 January 2011, the Centre for Environmental Rights and over 40 other civil society organisations and individuals addressed a letter to the IMC. Read the letter here and the civil society statement here. On 27 January 2011, the CER submitted an application for access to the Team of Experts’ report in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA) on behalf of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE).
On 3 February 2011 the Centre for Environmental Rights addressed a follow-up letter to the IMC again requesting a response as a matter of urgency. Read the follow-up letter here.
On 9 February 2011, the group of civil society organisations appealed to Parliament to intervene and assist in getting the Team of Experts’ report released to the public. Download a copy of the letter here.
On 22 February 2011, government announced in a Cabinet briefing that it had accepted the Team of Experts’ report and that Finance Minister Gordhan would detail funds allocated for interventions in his Budget Speech the next day. On 23 February 2011, Minister Gordhan announced to a joint session of Parliament that R225 million would be set aside in 2012 budget for this purpose.
The AMD report was finally published on the DWA’s website on 24 February 2011, the last day of the 30-day period for government to respond to the PAIA application submitted by the CER on behalf of FSE.
In June 2011, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs held public hearings on the progress made with AMD. The CER, together with Prof Tracy Humby from the Wits Law School, made written submissions to the Portfolio Committee on the historial liability for AMD. Download a copy of those submissions here.
Here is a selection of media coverage on the events of January and February 2011:
- Acid water clean-up to cost billions, Business Report, 25 February 2011
- R225 million for acid water clean-up too little, Business Report, 24 February 2011
- Cabinet delays the release of acid water report, Business Report, 21 February 2011
- Acid water report in cabinet today, Business Report, 16 February 2011
- “Show us acid mine report”, Times Live, 12 February 2011
- NGOs urge MPs to act on acid water, Fin24.com, 9 February 2011
- Parly asked to intervene in acid mine drainage, Mail & Guardian, 9 February 2011
- Parliament asked to intervene in acid mine drainage, The Citizen, 9 February 2011
- Cabinet Given Acid Ultimatum, Business Report, 4 February 2011
- Acid Mine Ultimatum, Sowetan, 28 January 2011
- Cabinet mum on acid mine drainage report, Pretoria News, 27 January 2011
- Govt. given a week to speak about acid mine worries, Eye Witness News, 26 January 2011
- Govt. given deadline to deal with acid mine drainage, Eye Witness News, 25 January 2011
See a full set of media reports on AMD since 2005 at the following website: http://acidminedrainage.wordpress.com/
You can read a Special Report on Acid Mine Drainage in the Mail & Guardian, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa’s Media Fellowship Programme, here.
“Acid mine drainage for Witwatersrand Gold Mines: Environmental law remedies available to regulators and civil society” – Presentation by Melissa Fourie, CER at Wits School of Law Mandela Institute, October 2009
The most notable court judgement on the legal obligations around acid mine drainage is Harmony Gold Mining Co Ltd v Regional Director: Free State, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry 2006 SCA 65 RSA. In this case, the SCA upheld a directive under the National Water Act’s section 19 requiring the pumping of polluted mine water to continue and to be funded by two mining companies.