100 mines don’t have water-use licences – Minister

Public hearings are underway at Parliament on the acid mine drainage crisis.

A hundred mines around the country are operating without a water-use licence, Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said on Wednesday.

This comes amid increasing scrutiny of the mining sector as an acid mine drainage crisis threatens the Witwatersrand.

In tables contained in a written reply to a parliamentary question, Molewa indicated that applications for a water-use license had been received from 94 of the mines.

She said 41 of the mines were located in Mpumalanga, 24 in Gauteng, 12 in KwaZulu-Natal, nine in North West, six each in Limpopo and the Northern Cape, and two in the Free State.

The six mines operating without a water-use license, and which had also not applied for one, were:

— Arnot Colliery and the Sumo Coal Kopermyne Colliery in Mpumalanga;

— Gold Fields in Welkom in the Free State;

— PMG Mine in the Northern Cape; and

— Thutsi Colliery and Vunene Colliery in Gauteng.

Molewa said her department’s Letsema Project was aimed at clearing the backlog of water-use license applications, and there had been a “concerted effort” to ensure the process was fast-tracked.

A high priority was being given to collieries which supplied electricity utility Eskom.

“Specific focus has been given to Eskom license applications for energy generation. This includes the prioritisation of applications for coal mines as feeders to power generation for Eskom.

“The aim is to ensure that all applications are dealt with by the end of October [this year], subject to the submission of all required information by clients,” she said.

However, according to one of the tables in her reply, Molewa’s department has issued 17 water-use licenses to mines over the past 12 months.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question in August last year, she said her department “anticipates finalising the water-use license application backlog by March 2011”.

Public hearings are underway at Parliament on the acid mine drainage crisis, the legacy of decades of mining with little regard for the environment.

At the hearings on Monday, water and environmental affairs portfolio committee chairman Johnny de Lange focused his attention on three mines in the region, which department experts identified as “the problem”.

These were Rand Uranium, ERPM and Grootvlei.

The Chamber of Mines and the owners of the mines operating in the areas affected by acid mine drainage are to appear before the committee on Tuesday next week.

In her reply, Molewa also identified four coal mines that her department has served with so-called pre-directives for “contravention of license conditions”.

These were Nkomati Anthracite, Black Wattle Colliery and Xstrata plc Boschmans Colliery in Mpumalanga; and the New Vaal Colliery in Gauteng.

The New Vaal Colliery had also been issued with a “directive”, the final step by the department to obtain compliance before taking legal action.

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