The mining industry has let itself down with its tardy response to taking care of the environment. In most cases mining companies do what they have to in terms of environmental regulations but this has largely been a reactionary response rather than a proactive process. It is little wonder that environmental groups seem to have the upper hand in the increasingly important debate about preserving and enhancing the environment as not only has the mining industry been on the back foot, but it has also been poor in promoting what it is doing.
Community awareness about the environment is increasing on a global level not only in western nations such as Australia and New Zealand, but also in emerging economies such as Indonesia, Mongolia, the Philippines and Myanmar, and even Communist China. The green voice is becoming louder and politicians are taking notice as evidenced by introduction of policies aimed at protecting the environment.
Most mining companies are fully aware of the need to take care of the land on which they operate and restore it once mining has finished and while the majority do this in line with government regulations, unfortunately it only takes one black sheep or one mishap to give the entire industry bad publicity. It is also unfortunate that the actions of most illegal miners are questionable with little attention paid to the environment.
Some governments are taking a very heavy handed approach to the issue and in the Philippines it can be argued that they have gone a little too far, to the detriment of the industry’s future. New president Rodrigo Duterte has stated that the country can survive without revenue from mining companies and subsequently ordered an audit of all operating mines. He appointed anti-mining activist Gina Lopez as Environment Secretary with the intention of ‘cleaning up’ mining and she is quoted: “If they are killing our rivers, how can their business interest be more important than the lives of our people? I will not allow suffering.”
Since then 10 operations have been closed and the completed audit has more recently found that another 20 operations face suspension unless they can respond appropriately to shortcomings. Most are nickel mines with the Philippines being the world’s top nickel exporter, replacing Indonesia following that nation’s ban on raw mineral exports. The country has 41 mining operations, which means the audit has found shortcomings in almost 75% of the industry.
This is pretty difficult to comprehend, and raises questions about the objectiveness of the audits but should also send signals to the rest of the world’s mining industry that due attention must be paid to the environment. Other governments, including Indonesia, are taking keen interest in the Philippines and mining companies are facing increased compliance risks. The industry as a whole will be in big trouble if little or no notice is taken of these messages.
In China, the government plans to raise environmental standards in its highly-polluting mining sector, which is generally positive. The mining sector has been a crucial part of China’s rapid economic expansion, but poor regulation and weak enforcement of standards has contaminated much of the country’s soil and left parts of its land and water supplies unfit for human use, not to mention the chronic air pollution.
According to draft rules, miners will be forced to treat more than 85% of their wastewater, and must put systems in place to achieve comprehensive utilisation of tailings and other solid waste. Firms will also be forced to implement measures to remediate land and minimise emissions while mines are still in operation.
This edition focuses on exploration, development and mining in Papua New Guinea and in China with special emphasis on gold, which is a real success story in difficult times.