3. Notes on the analysis and evaluation of environmental impacts

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The principal regulations governing mining activities and pertinent environmental protection in Germany are the Bundesberggesetz BBergG [Federal mining law] dated August 13, 1980, and the UVP-VBergbau (ordinance on the environmental impact assessment of mining projects) dated July 13, 1990, the TA-Luft (Technical Instructions on Air Quality Control), the TA-Lärm (Technical Instructions on Noise Abatement), the BImSchG (Federal Immission Control Act) and its various implementing provisions, as well as the respective mining regulations of the various states and their laws governing landscape, preservation of nature and excavation. In addition, the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (Association of German Engineers) has issued a number of guidelines dealing primarily with the relevant mechanical equipment.

Other industrialized countries like the USA, Canada and Great Britain have similar, in part more stringent, laws and regulations - including, for example, the U.S. "Clean Water Act" (1977) and the "Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act" (public law 95/87, 1977), with supplementary provisions drawn up by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) and by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

A precommencement status quo study with thorough investigation of all matters relevant to the physical, biological and social environment provides a crucial basis for evaluating the environmental consequences of surface mines and planning recultivation measures; cf. environmental brief Reconnaissance, Prospection and Exploration of Geological Resources.

Growing awareness of the environment and the will to protect it is emerging in many parts of the world. To some extent, however, that new awareness has not yet found its expression in appropriate national laws. But even where laws protecting the environment already are in place, their enforcement is frequently neglected for a lack of control and monitoring options. The absence of an appropriate legal basis and/or of its proper implementation has serious large-scale and small-scale consequences for the environment, whereas mining regulations could be adopted with which to hold mine operators responsible for the consequences of their own mining activities. For small mines that are difficult to monitor, a pertinent recommendation was proposed at the UN-sponsored International Round Table on Mining and the Environment Congress in Berlin: recultivation guarantee funds can be set up, e.g., included in the concession fee. If the mine operator fails to rectify substantial environmental damage when he leaves his concession, financial reserves will be available to pay for recultivation. Otherwise, the withheld funds could be returned to the mine operator following satisfactory inspection of the properly recultivated areas.

Illegal mining is the biggest problem with regard to environmental destruction and recultivation. When large numbers of gem seekers and gold diggers intrude into and begin working an area in a completely uncontrolled manner - especially in developing countries - their activities are bound to cause areal destruction, often accompanied by pollution of the soil and rivers (with mercury and cyanide in the case of gold diggers). Legal measures have proven totally inadequate as a means of control, because the form of mining involved requires very little equipment, thus promoting a high level of mobility and, hence, good chances of evading control. Moreover, supervision becomes nearly impossible when large numbers of such people converge on an area and are willing to use force in defense of their interests. Consequently, damage to the physical and biological environment is accompanied by pronounced social tensions between the various interest groups.


4. Interaction with other sectors

In sparsely populated and undeveloped regions, mining tends to serve as a pacemaker for infrastructural development. Frequently, mining projects have to carry the major share of the relevant cost of building access roads and establishing rail links to deposits for hauling away the mineral products and of building homes for the miners and their families, including all the requisite supply and disposal facilities. The new infrastructure can act as a catalyst for extensively uncontrolled settlement and economic development of the area in question.

Ore mines in particular tend to include an initial processing stage for local first-step product enrichment. Frequently, the purchaser and the mine operator agree to share the storage and supply facilities. In many brown-coal and hard-coal strip mines, the raw (possibly upgraded) coal is used directly for fueling thermal power plants. Accordingly, power generating facilities and distribution systems tend to be installed near such mines. Storage grounds for disposing of residues can be established in worked-out parts of the mine for some future use. Fly ash from power plants, for example, is often used for consolidating mine roads.

Land-use conflicts can quickly arise due to the space requirements of surface mining. The various interests must be reconciled within the context of appropriate regional planning.

While land-use problems occur less frequently in sparsely populated countries, legal problems nonetheless may arise. Property rights, for example, may not have been duly registered, and the boundaries may have been inaccurately mapped. Such problems intensify when those concerned happen to be groups of people with no lobby and a life-style and social status that afford them few options for preserving their traditional habitat. The very existence of such groups can be threatened. What is needed is a form of regional and development planning that duly accounts for ecological and ethnic concerns alongside of economic interests.

The following sectors, the environmental consequences of which are described in other environmental briefs, can be affected by surface mining activities and therefore require consideration:

Spatial and Regional Planning
Planning of Locations for Trade and Industry
Overall Energy Planning
Water Framework Planning
Wastewater Disposal
Transport Planning and Traffic
Reconnaissance, Prospection and Exploration of Geological Resources
Underground Mining
Minerals - Handling and Processing
Thermal Power Stations.


5. Summary assessment of environmental relevance

Surface mining of mineral resources involves different methods: wet and dry, marine and terrestrial. Common to all, however, is that they have serious environmental consequences.

Although most mining activities are temporary by nature (approx. 20 - 50 years), they often cause permanent damage to the environment through irreversible disruption. The earth's surface and the groundwater and surface-water regimens tend to sustain the most serious direct damage. Mineral extraction by surface mining methods also causes air pollution, noise nuisance, alteration of the soil, flora and fauna, and social problems arising from land-use conflicts, resettlement, etc. Such impacts are invariably dependent on the area involved, the location and the climate. Additionally, points of law and control options play major roles in determining the extent of environmental damage caused by surface mining activities and/or its limitation by such means as recultivation or renaturation. Recultivation, however, always amounts to substituting a new ecosystem for the original one in the affected area. Moreover, the ultimate success of such measures can rarely be guaranteed, especially in locations for which no relevant empirical data is available.

The extent of damage can be limited through careful planning, preparation and implementation of the mining activities. A thorough analysis of the actual situation in the region is an indispensable prerequisite and basis for planning with due consideration of the mining activities' anticipated effects in the form of environmental impacts and structural modification of the subject region. This must include the regulation of compensation and the planning of resettlement measures as well as the elaboration of recultivation plans.

As a flanking measure, concerned organizations, institutions and individuals must be sensitized and informed to prepare the way for the ecologically oriented implementation of the project.

The need to minimize costs must not be allowed to induce the promotors and others responsible for the project into cutting back on expenditures for environmental protection. Consequently, project desk officers should see to it at the project appraisal and authorization stage that the project encompasses adequate landscape and environmental protection measures, including the optimal use of resources, and that a sustainable structure with the appropriate control and regulatory functions is in place.


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No Single Author

Bundesberggesetz (BBergG) und Verordnung über die Umweltverträglichkeitsprüfung bergbaulicher Vorhaben (UVP-V Bergbau - federal mining law and ordinance on the environmental impact assessment of mining projects), Verlag Glückauf GmbH, Essen 1991.

Environmental Aspects of Selected Non-ferrous Metals (Cu, Ni, Pb, Zn, Au) Ore Mining: A Technical Guide, Draft Report, unpublished UNEP/IEO.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USA 1986.

Part 11 - Natural Resource Damage Assessment
Part 23 - Surface Exploration, Mining and Reclamation of Lands
Part 434, Subpart E - Post Mining Acres

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World Bank Environmental Guidelines: Mining and Mineral Processing, Draft Report.

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