Mining

Mining: What’s the Impact?

Mining: What’s the Impact?

Mining in South Africa is old news; the African continent rests on some of the largest mineral deposits in the world and these deposits are where the country’s wealth lies. Economic studies show that South Africa’s mining activity has seen an incline in recent years and mining for minerals, such as coal, currently makes up over 10% of the economy’s exports. Ngwenya holds environmental conservation dear and all the recent mining-related activity got us to thinking; mining: what’s the impact?

To delve deeper into the industry and particularly to focus on the Ngwenya Lodge surrounding area, we first need to look into coal and its formation. Coal is formed over thousands of years, starting first as decomposable plant material, which is buried by sediment. The initial process results in peat; with the absence of oxygen, plant material cannot decompose completely and thus turns to a fibrous, watery substance. If peat is subjected to further pressure by being layered beneath sediments, lignite forms. Lignite is similar to peat in that traces of plants remain. The third stage of coal formation results in bituminous coal or “soft coal”. This form of coal is used across South Africa as a source of heat energy but is considered lower grade coal. Under extreme pressure and high temperatures, bituminous coal transforms into anthracite or “hard coal”. This form of coal is a high-grade source of heat energy and large deposits of it can be found in the area surrounding Ngwenya Lodge and the Kruger National Park.

It is estimated that approximately 77% of all South Africa’s energy is generated through coal, while 28% of all coal produced is exported.

WHILE AN ARGUMENT CAN BE MADE FOR THE ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF COAL MINING, THE IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT, ESPECIALLY NEAR A HERITAGE SITE SUCH AS THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, FAR OUTWEIGHS THE JUSTIFICATION FOR SUCH A MINE


THE IMPACT

1.    Disruption

The formation of a mine so close to the Kruger National Park and in close proximity to farmland and communities will drastically affect the quality of life from the start. Mining machinery and equipment creates noise pollution and has an impact on the roads: increasing traffic, placing risk to other motorists and deteriorating the roads commonly used by tourists and locals. This disruption will affect the Kruger, as well. Wildlife is affected by the noise and air pollution, which could result in diminished numbers of some species that are reliant on the environment, while tourism may see a decline which affects the Park’s ability to maintain standards. Many of these effects last throughout the operation of the mine.

2.    Trauma

As the mine continues to operate the effects deepen. The quality of the air will continue to diminish, as potentially hazardous particles from the mines become airborne and affect the health of human and wildlife populations, alike. Physical destruction to the land can deteriorate the plant life in the area, causing a reduction in the ecosystems which give support to a number of species and which increases the risk of soil erosion. These disruptions not only affect the Park but could cause a collapse in infrastructure as ground movements’ increase.  Mines impact water as well; leaching of heavy metals into groundwater can affect human and animal water-sources, including irrigation for crops and the Crocodile River. Siltation can also occur; a process whereby soil erosion caused by mines loosens sediment, which then travels across water sources and settles on riverbeds. This smothers the riverbed and drastically affects species in the River and the quality of the water source for the species dependant thereon.

A major concern for an area such as the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park is acid mine drainage (or AMD). AMD occurs when exposed rock outcrops from mining activity leach highly acidic sulphur into water sources over prolonged periods of time. This poisonous water contaminates rivers and dams and has detrimental effects on marine life, as well as species making use of the water source. AMD is easily recognisable as coppery or red water.

3.    Scars

Once mining operations cease and the company has extracted the last of the coal, life in the immediate area may never recover. Habitat loss, as a direct result of the destruction to land, affects various species and could critically endanger, or completely eradicate, smaller populations dependent on the ecosystem. Many species are hyper-sensitive to changing environments, which puts them at risk.

These effects only explore what could happen on the surface, should a mine be constructed near Ngwenya Lodge and the Kruger National Park. The extent of the damage could be far worse.

We know, Ngwenya Lodge holds a special place in the hearts of our visitors, as they arrive, each year, to experience the wonders of the South African bush and as we await further news on the current mining application, we will continue to do the best we can to play our part in preserving this rich ecosystem through environmental conservation.

Click here for more information on the current mining application for Tenbosch Farms.

Posted by Ngwenya Marketing in Environmental Conservation, 2 comments