Comparative Mining Challenges of Countries
The mining sector in Ghana, in particular gold mining, is one of Africa’s oldest. Ghana is a key player in the international gold market, as the country is Africa’s second-largest producer. In 2013, 86.6% of export revenue from the mining sector came from gold, making the metal the top export and source of foreign currency. Gold generated $4.2bn in 2013, compared with $3.2bn from oil and $1.3bn from cocoa.
Ghana faces similar environmental issues with mining38 as Nigeria. These include: water pollution, loss of agricultural land and vegetation, depletion of agricultural resources as well as long-term health impacts such as cancers and respiratory conditions, including silicosis, asbestosis and pneumoconiosis, kidney and skin diseases.
Almost 31,237 square kilometers of Ghana’s land area (13.1%) is under concession to mining companies. The 4,379.93 hectares of the Bogoso/Prestea concession over a 20-year period (1986–2006) saw Agricultural land use decrease by 661.54 hectares within that period, representing a 15.45% reduction.
This was due to the conversion of 325.83 hectares for mining activities (mine pits and mine waste dumps) and 335.71 hectares into other land uses, including settlements and roads to facilitate mining activities.
Pollution of water bodies occurs due to dredging and washing and treatment of ore by large scale operators and the use of chemicals such as mercury by small scale miners. Dust form in-pit operations, gaseous emissions from the roasting of ore, solid suspensions from ore crushing all cause air pollution while machinery in use cause extreme noise pollution. Ground degradation including the destruction of forests, food and cash crops at mining sites continues.
Mining in Ghana is controlled by the Minerals and Mining Act of 2006 and regulated by the Minerals Commission, which is part of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources (MLNR). Another state-owned company, the Precious Minerals Marketing Company (PMMC), acts as a buyer of gold and diamonds mined by artisanal miners, known as galamsey. While these institutions govern mining and mine trade, not much appears to be done about safeguarding the environment from mining operations.
While the existing legal and institutional framework require the provision of environmental impact assessment by new mining companies and environmental action plans by existing ones to ensure environmentally acceptable mining practices, there is no efficient policing capacity. Some remedial measures include that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Mines Department who are responsible for policing and monitoring of mining activities be provided with the necessary logistics and incentives to work.
Their efforts should be complemented by the District Assemblies, chiefs and other identifiable bodies. Furthermore, to encourage large mines to observe proper environmental issues, some incentive packages such as tax relief, reduced profit tax or reduced loyalty rate may be worked out.
Educational campaigns be mounted for both miners and people in the locality to create awareness of the environmental damage caused by mining. Encouraging financial institutions to extend credit to small scale miners may also enable such miners afford more technically efficient and environmentally friendly mining practices.
South Africa has numerous environmental laws and policies in place which are frequently amended for effective and efficient management and protection of the environment.
One of the principal legislation is the Mineral Act 50 of 1991. The Mineral Act 50 of 1991 (MA) came into force on 1 January 1992. The goal of the MA was to achieve uniform regulation of minerals. As opposed to the previous system of regulatory control through conferral of rights.
The MA aimed to achieve the regulatory objectives of the state by imposing a system of authorization. It simplified the complex multiplicity of the prospecting, mining and surface right forms that had existed before its commencement. It also consolidated the rules regarding the exercise of mineral rights and those regarding the achievement of prescribed health and safety standards.
Furthermore, it dealt with rehabilitation, surface use and acquisition of land and payment of compensation in respect to open-cast mining operations, as well as underground mining operations and prospecting or mineral recovery operations in respect of tailings.
Rehabilitation was a factor considered in determining whether additional prospecting permits on mining authorizations could be issued in respect of land permits or authorizations that had already been issued.
Moreover, non-compliance with the rehabilitation duties will result in the compulsory suspension or cancellation of the prospecting permit or authorization. The rehabilitation provisions in the MA exhaustively regulated the discretion of the officials assigned with considering applications for prospecting permits and mining authorizations to make environmentally sound decisions.
The devastating impact of mining on land; the impact of air, water and soil pollution on farming activities and human health; mining companies’ poor compliance with legal and regulatory requirements for environmental protection. The almost total lack of compliance monitoring and enforcement by the Department of Mineral resources and the extremely cavalier attitude of the South African mining industry towards the closure of mines and the rehabilitation of the environment is what causes these small communities to suffer the fate imposed upon them by the mining companies. In some cases, the environment will be toxic to the extent that people in the communities are forced to evacuate their homes as the conditions of the degraded environment and land worsen.
THE UNITED STATES
In the United States, the General Mining Law of 1872 (30 USC §§ 21-54, 611-615), as amended, is the principal law governing locatable minerals on federal lands. The General Mining Law gives US citizens the opportunity to explore for, discover and purchase certain valuable mineral deposits on federal lands open for mineral exploitation.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 USC §§ 1701-1787) governs federal land use, including access to, and exercise of, General Mining Law rights on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act recognises the public interest in domestic sources of minerals (43 USC § 1701(a) (12)), and provides that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act does not impair General Mining Law rights, such as rights of entry and exit (43 USC § 1732(b)).
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However, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act also provides that mining authorisations must not result in unnecessary or undue degradation of public lands (43 CFR § 3809.411(d)(3)(iii) and 43 USC § 1732(b)). The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have promulgated extensive Federal Land Policy and Management Act mining regulations (for example, 36 CFR §§ 228.1-228.116 and 43 CFR §§ 3000.0-5-3936.).
The National Environmental Policy Act (42 USC §§ 4321-4370m-12) requires federal agencies to prepare an environmental impact statement for all major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. Mining operations on federal lands or with a federal nexus generally involve an environmental impact statement or a less intensive environmental assessment. The National Environmental Policy Act process involves consideration of other substantive environmental statutes as well.
The US Energy Information Administration41 notes that The Clean Air Act (42 USC §§ 7401-7671q) and The Clean Water Act (33 USC §§ 1251-1388) require industries to reduce pollutants released into the air and water. These two laws are the main environmental statutes in the US. The Clean Air Act is administered by the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US states with delegated authority. It regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. The Clean Water Act is administered by EPA, the US Army Corps of Engineers and US states with delegated authority. It regulates pollutant discharges into the waters of the US and US territorial waters.
There is also the Endangered Species Act (16 USC §§ 1531-1544). This is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. It requires federal agencies to ensure their actions are not likely to jeopardise the continued existence of any threatened or endangered species or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitats. It also prohibits the unauthorised taking of such species.
Mining remains one of the most hazardous occupations in the world although substantial progress has been made, there remains room for further risk reduction.