The world is shrouded in a cloud of smoke as countries continue to manufacture and industrialise while polar bears die in the Arctic Circle and scientists try to figure out how to avoid our planet’s temperature from increasing with yet another degree in the next couple of years.

Despite these realities, coal is still one of the biggest sources of energy used worldwide and it is clear that it is not going anywhere anytime soon.

It was interesting to learn about the steps being taken in modern mining operations to effectively minimise harm to the environment and address areas of concern when it comes to coal mining during a site visit to Canyon Coal’s open-cast Phalanndwa Colliery in Delmas.

General Manager at the mine, Alan Mabbett, explained the processes they follow to rehabilitate a mined area. Once an area has been mined, the layers of soil that were removed have to be replaced. According to Mabbett, “Grass and seedlings have to be planted back not trees.” Despite this, the land doesn’t produce the same as it would have initially. Where a farmer could have produced five tonnes of produce per hectare, this decreases to two tonnes per hectare.

The mine is also constantly monitoring levels of dust to avoid air pollution. “We have dust buckets around the mine that are monitored by consultants – both air-borne dust and dangerous dust,” Mabbett says. They rely on rain and an extended sprinkler system to control the levels of dust as was evidenced by the water sprinklers operating across the mine during our site visit.

The mine is also preventing polluted water from seeping into the soil and polluting ground water. Large sheets of heavy duty industrial plastic sheets could be seen in areas where polluted water is being pumped.

It was refreshing to see steps being taken to minimise harm to the environment and human health. While we may still have a way to go, for now we can at least keep the lights on while actively pondering the future of our planet.

By Sanet Oberholzer

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