The impacts of mining activities on the environment and the necessity for an environmental assessment strategy for such activity in South Africa
Mining activities disturb the earth’s geology and destabilise the geo-environment, with a consequent negative impact on sustainability. There is a close link between the mining sector, geology and urban development. A geo-environmental assessment (assessment of the spatial influence of geology on the environment), focusing on the regional geological character and setting, must therefore also lay the foundation for a long-term sustainable assessment of mining-related urban development. This must be done as a specialist study and be part of required environmental assessment on strategic level prior to development. Examples and historical cases of such developments indicate that this assessment must be based on the following three main aspects:
•Characterisation of the underlying geology and mining-related structures: Specific geological environments and mining-related structures result in destabilisation and sinkhole development, as well as earth movement enhanced by mining activity, with a negative impact on the sustainability of mining-related urban development.
•Characterisation of related natural resources: The physical character, long-term capacity, delineation and setting of all natural resources involved with mining activities affect the sustainability of related urban development. This includes water supply from groundwater resources, as well as the ore-body and natural resources needed to sustain the mining operation and urban development.
•Characterisation of geological waste and pollutants: The disturbances of the geology during mining activities give rise to an unnatural interaction with the atmosphere. This results in acid mine drainage, contaminating water resources and pollution of the atmosphere with negative impact on sustainability.
This article reviews the impacts of mining activities on the geo-environment and argues that the assessment thereof must be based on an integration of the legal required strategically environmental assessments, eco-efficient evaluations by the mining sector, and within the context of the global debate on sustainability.
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