A study by an environmental rights group revealed coal mining companies in Mpumalanga did not comply with the conditions in their water licences. File picture: Reuters/Jason Lee

Johannesburg - A study by an environmental rights group, released on Wednesday, revealed several coal mining companies in Mpumalanga did not comply with the conditions in their water licences.

The report, compiled by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), was compiled following an investigation into compliance at eight large coal mining operations in the province.

"The report, which forms part of the CER’s Full Disclosure series, reveals complete failure by the Department of Water & Sanitation to monitor compliance with water use licences for the eight coal mines and to take enforcement action where violations are patently obvious, painting a picture of a broken national department unable to fulfil its statutory mandate of water resource protection," the group said in a statement.

The CER said the lack of compliance was found "despite the fact that the Upper Olifants Catchment, where the eight coal mines are situated, has been identified by that department as one of South Africa’s most stressed catchment areas in relation to both water quantity and quality". 

Collectively, six of the mining companies use approximately 8 million cubic metres of water per year. 

Coal mining, the CER report said, was particularly harmful to water resources due to acid mine drainage that pollutes surface and groundwater, with acid, metals and salts. 

The Upper Olifants Catchment is composed of many active and abandoned coal mines, coal fired power stations and acid mine water discharge sites, which contributes to the deterioration of the water quality in the catchment. 

A few of the mines that were assessed were; The Tweefontein South (Glencore Operations South Africa (Pty) Ltd), The Leeuwpan Coal Mine(Exxaro Resources Limited), The Vanggatfontein Colliery (Wescoal Mining (Pty) Ltd), as well as the Goedgevonden Colliery (Glencore Operations South Africa (Pty) Ltd), among others.

The report also cited independent environmental auditors as having failed to conduct surveys to assess compliance with license conditions, in an impartial manner. In many instances, the CER report said, unsubstantiated conclusions were reached. Sometimes, there was failure to report pollution and violation of license conditions.

“These audits are supposed to be a safety net for regulators, picking up violations and risks that may have been missed in regular compliance monitoring by inspectors,” says Leanne Govindsamy, head of CER’s Corporate Accountability Programme. 

“Instead, they have become the only compliance monitoring that takes place, creating a massive loophole for violations never to be reported or acted upon.”

The CER said it had sent its report to the department of water and sanitation and that numerous attempts had been made to meet with senior officials before the report was published. However, a meeting with officials was yet to be confirmed.

"South Africa’s water resources are already under threat, and this threat is only going to get worse with the predicted changes to our climate,” said Govindsamy. 

“This report provides evidence of the shocking disregard with which both the state and industry treat our water resources, and the way in which so-called independent professionals are propping up this broken system. We call on legislators, regulators, industry, financiers and investors to use their spheres of influence to take immediate action for meaningful reform.”

African News Agency (ANA)