Critical steps remain before TGME can resume mining

Frieda Paton

An open day was held on December 4th during which members of the public could review, ask questions from the environmental specialists, and raise further issues about Theta Gold Mining’s proposed Theta Project. The review period and date for final comments was extended to 20 January and, if the amended mining permit is granted, work on the project would commence towards the end of 2020 or early 2021.

The Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIA) and the Draft Environmental Management Programme (EMPr) for the project were undertaken by Batho Earth. These reports were made available for review from November 13th. Following specialist studies and two public participation processes, after the release of the draft and final scoping reports, several changes were incorporated into the draft EIA and EMPr.

Transvaal Gold Mining Estates (TGME), the subsidiary of Theta Gold Mining based in Pilgrim’s Rest, has been engaged in planning and development since 2016. After digitalisation of nearly 100 years’ worth of historical mining data and extensive exploration drilling, three locations were identified for modified terrace mining. The locations are unsuitable for underground mining but have gold deposits that can be mined at low cost. Because current mining rights only provide for underground mining, TGME had to apply for an amendment to the environmental authorisation for the Theta project.

This project will only last for an estimated five years but is anticipated to provide profits that can be invested in future underground mining. The project will have a positive socio-economic impact on Pilgrim’s Rest, including with the creation of over 250 direct jobs in a town with an unemployment rate of about 75%. There will also be some remediation of the past environmental impact of historical mining and human activities.

The most significant downsides are that the proposed sites are of high biodiversity importance and that there is also a potential risk to sensitive water sources. Furthermore, the sites will be visible from Pilgrim’s Rest and some other areas.

Solutions and practical management measures are included in the EMPr to mitigate the impact of the mining operations. For example, there is an extensive rehabilitation plan which includes storage of rock for backfill and of topsoil which can then be replaced during the rehabilitation phase. Water used at the site and also storm water will be piped to collection dams from where it can be reused in the mining operations.

The mine is also already in discussion with the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency over a biodiversity offset and compensation plan. This is based on the principle of restoring another, larger, area to offset the loss of biodiversity at the mining site.

Once the EIA and EMPr are finalized, after further input by interested and affected parties, legislation requires that it has to be approved by several different government departments before the mining permit is granted. The Draft EIA and EMPr are available at https://www.bathoearth.co.za/cp/31362/public-documents

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