Principal applicable environmental laws

What are the principal environmental laws applicable to the mining industry? What are the principal regulatory bodies that administer those laws?

The principal environmental health and safety laws applicable to the mining industry are:

  • the Environmental Act;
  • the Occupational Health and Safety Act No. 36 of 2010;
  • the Mines and Minerals (Environmental) Regulations No. 29 of 1997; and
  • the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations SI No. 28 of 1997 (EIA Regulations).

The principal regulatory bodies responsible for administration of the environmental, health and safety protection regulatory framework are:

  • ZEMA;
  • the Ministry (Mines Safety Department); and
  • the Occupational Health and Safety Institute.
Environmental review and permitting process

What is the environmental review and permitting process for a mining project? How long does it normally take to obtain the necessary permits?

The EIA Regulations specify that any person who, or entity that, proposes to undertake a new project which under the EIA Regulations requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be undertaken must have an EIA conducted before the commencement of the project. The EIA Regulations provide that mining operations require an EIA to be undertaken. The nature of the project will determine whether the developer should prepare an environmental project brief (EPB) or an environmental impact statement. The EPB should set out the objectives and nature of the project, the main activities to be undertaken before, during and after the commencement of the project, the socio-economic impact of the project on the people that will be affected, and also the perceived socio-economic impact of the particular project on the environment, following the procedures set out in the EIA Regulations.

Where an EPB is submitted, it is considered by the ZEMA, which determines whether the project is likely to have a significant impact on the environment, and shall, within 40 days of receiving the EPB, approve it if satisfied that there will be no significant impact on the environment or that the EPB discloses sufficient mitigation measures to ensure the acceptability of the anticipated impact. If ZEMA determines that the project is likely to have a significant impact on the environment, it will require the developer to prepare an EIS. ZEMA shall assess the EIS in accordance with the procedures in the EIA Regulations and eventually issue a decision stating that the project is approved, rejected or approved subject to the developer meeting certain conditions.

The process of obtaining the approval of the mining project can take between six weeks and several months owing to the time required for public hearings and the relevant notifications and waiting periods related to it.

Closure and remediation process

What is the closure and remediation process for a mining project? What performance bonds, guarantees and other financial assurances are required?

The closure procedure of a mining project is fully set out in the Mines and Minerals (Environmental) Regulations (the Regulations). Under the Regulations, closure of a mine can only occur where the applicant has applied to the Director of Mines safety for a partial or complete closure of a mine. The application must include an audit report on the environment surrounding the mine site prepared by an independent person.

A mine site should stand closed within 60 days of an application. Once all the conditions of closure under the Regulations have been met, the Director of Mines safety is required to issue a closure certificate for any mine closed and the mining right or permit or part thereof is to be cancelled by the Minister.

The Mines and Minerals (Environmental Protection Fund) Regulations provide for refunds to holders of licences, on application, when a mine site is closed. In accordance with the Regulations, this amount would be less any monies owing. The Director of Mines Safety may use any part of the contribution to the fund of a licence holder for the purposes of rehabilitating the site.

Restrictions on building tailings or waste dams

What are the restrictions for building tailings or waste dams?

A licence from ZEMA is required as provided under the Environmental Management (Licensing Regulations) 2013 before building tailings or waste dams. The site upon which a dam is constructed should be solid ground. In the case of tailings, the Department of Mines Safety under the Ministry of Mines would not approve construction near wetlands to avoid contamination of surface and underground water bodies in an area. There are no specific professional qualifications required for the professionals in charge and management of the dam waste. The facilities are routinely inspected by the Department of Mine Safety. The installation of an alarm is mandatory to prevent unauthorised entry to the dam site. Dams are supposed to be constructed away from human settlement. In case of an emergency, there are drills; however, these are mainly for staff members. There are also mandatory reporting obligations in the case of an accident. Moreover, there are no expressly stated responsibilities to rescue people in case of a dam failure.