The Cadastre of Mining Waste will help Serbia supervise mining waste management, as it will provide a proper database with information on the location of a mining waste facility, its operator and size, as well as the volume and type of waste it contains, Peter Bayer, team leader of the Cadastre of Mining Waste project, says in an interview with Balkan Green Energy News.
In the interview, Bayer summarizes the first phase of the project, during which a total of 250 abandoned mining waste sites were visited, while 41 locations were selected for further investigation, and reveals what will be done in the second phase of the 3-year project which started in 2017.
The project is carried out by the Ministry of Mining and Energy in cooperation with the EU Delegation to Serbia and implemented by German companies Plejades GmbH Independent Experts and DMT in cooperation with the local partner, the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Bor.
Why is proper management of mining waste important? Can you name some situations when the requirements were not fulfilled and what were the consequences?
Mining means moving large volumes of rock. These are removed to get to the ore, as the ore represents only a small percentage of the rock. This means that large quantities of rock cannot be used and they are dumped including residues from ore processing. In the old times, until some 50 years ago, this was not done according to the standards applicable today and these materials were simply dumped into a valley.
Serbia in 2015 amended the Mining Law and introduced EU regulations into Serbian mining legislation and will implement EU standards regarding mining waste management
There are two major issues with mining waste: one is that mining waste from metal mines still contains residual metal contents which can be released into the environment, thus contaminating surface water or groundwater. This is quite common with old mining waste dumps from the period of 50 years ago or older. The other issue is stability: if the slopes are very steep or very high then the entire mining waste facility could become unstable, and unfortunately this happened a couple of times in the past, for example, the mining waste accidents in 1998 in Aznalcollar, Spain, or Baia Mare, Romania, in 2000, when a tailings pond dam breached and the tailings flowed out into rivers.
These were major accidents because of inappropriate construction and operation and this is the reason why the European Union adopted a directive giving a framework for proper operation and construction of mining waste facilities, the so-called Mining Waste Directive. This framework is now implemented in all EU member states.
The major accidents caused by inappropriate construction and operation of the mining waste facilities are the reason why the EU adopted a Mining Waste Directive
Serbia in 2015 amended the Mining Law and introduced EU regulations into Serbian mining legislation and will implement EU standards regarding mining waste management.
The goal of the project Cadastre of Mining Waste is the further development and improvement of the mining waste management system in Serbia. What needs to be done to achieve this goal?
Serbian mining legislation is now in line with the EU’s technical standards and directives. The aim is to improve mining waste management and to introduce up-to-date technical, operational, and construction standards, and this includes supervision of mining waste management by the Ministry of Mining and Energy. In order to supervise that, you have to have a proper database containing information on the location of a mining waste facility, its operator and size, as well as the volume and type of waste it contains. That is the basic tool to gain insight into mining waste facilities all over Serbia and make it possible to control and supervise operations in this area. That is one of the major goals of the project.
The aim of the project is to improve mining waste management and to introduce up-to-date technical, operational, and construction standards, including supervision of mining waste management by the state
This database or cadastre will include data on active mines, which are still operating. We collected data with questionnaires sent to mining companies concerning the active sites and these data are already in the cadastre.
The cadastre will also contain data on abandoned mines, where production stopped 10, 20 or even 50 years ago and which have been abandoned, meaning there is no accountable mining company any longer. As a consequence, they are under the state’s responsibility. As part of the project we visited 250 abandoned sites. This will help provide a complete picture of mining waste in Serbia, which is ultimately the goal of the project.
The cadastre will contain data on active and abandoned mines
The database has been programmed, it is operative and we are already filling in data. Since we are still doing site investigation there will be more data to collect and entered into the cadastre. This will take until 2019. At the end of the project, planned for January 2020, all this data will be in the cadastre.
Why is the cadastre so important? What elements is it to feature?
The cadastre is the first comprehensive collection and compilation of mining waste facilities in Serbia. There has been various information in a variety of sources, we compiled all that and, along with the outcomes of our own investigation, systematically put it in a scheme and assessed it. The cadastre is very important for the Ministry of Mining and Energy and its task to supervise these operations. It is a practical tool for the ministry.
Certain information from the cadastre will be available to the public. The cadastre is in the form of a web application available though the internet. Therefore, it is also a tool for the interested public to get information on mining waste management.
Certain information from the cadastre will be available to the public
This is a requirement from the Mining Waste Directive, which obliges the countries to make an inventory of closed and abandoned facilities and make this information available to the public.
What have been the project’s achievements so far and what is yet to be done?
In the first project phase, we collected information on mining and mining waste sites from all available information sources and put that systematically together in a very short period of time and identified possible mining and mining waste locations. Out of these, we visited 250 locations. These locations were in all parts of Serbia. We worked in parallel with 8 teams, systematically collecting and documenting information, making maps, and photo documentation, and putting together comprehensive reporting on these 250 locations.
250 mining and mining waste locations were visited
From these 250 locations, we identified 105 sites which have large volumes of mining waste, in total some 24 million cubic meters. We assessed the data in more detail and identified sites which should go into further investigation as to assess potential environmental impact or stability risks. We discussed that with representatives of the Ministry of Mining and Energy and identified 41 sites, in eastern, southern, and western Serbia, comprising some 80% of the overall volume identified previously. For these sites, we are doing detailed site investigation.
What does that mean?
Detailed site investigation is aimed at assessing environmental impact on, for example, groundwater and surface water contamination. Investigation also assesses stability risks for old tailings ponds. We have a detailed investigation plan for each of these 41 sites. This comprises samples of all relevant environmental compartments like soil, mining waste, surface water and groundwater, chemical analyses and geotechnical tests. All that is assessed in the light of environmental impact and stability.
A detailed investigation is underway for 41 sites comprising some 80% of the overall mining waste volume identified previously
We started this site investigation in July this year, we will have a winter break for field work and start field work again when weather permits, probably in February 2019. We will continue field work until late spring or early summer 2019. In parallel, we will conduct analyses, assess the data, produce the reports, create maps and this will continue until the end of 2019.
This is a multi-stakeholder project. Can you tell us more about the synergies achieved?
We are working closely together with the Ministry of Mining and Energy. The experts there will later use the cadastre as a tool. There is a constant exchange of information. There, of course, is expertise in the ministry which is included in the project and at the same time, the ministry’s representatives gather additional know-how on mining waste management. Another feature of the project is that we will organize study tours for representatives of the ministry to Germany and another EU country, to visit various mines and to see how mining waste management is done there. There will be two study tours of five days each. So, there is transfer of information and the synergy is that you put together all this experience and make it available.
We will organize study tours for representatives of the ministry to Germany and another EU country
Another very important aspect is that we are working closely on the project with our Serbian partner, the Mining and Metallurgy Institute Bor. So, we combine local Serbian expertise with international expertise, and again we have synergy, know-how transfer, and we can put together knowledge from both worlds for the benefit of the project.
Something which is also very important in my opinion, is, for example, this public presentation we’ve done in Raška. We provided information to the interested public through the media and make them aware of what the potential problem with mining waste is and why mining waste management is important because, in the long run, it will contribute to the improvement of environmental protection. There is also know-how transfer and synergies for people who are not experts, but who are interested because they live in the municipality where there were mining activities.