#MineAlert exposes never-before seen data on abandoned mines
Organisation: Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism (South Africa)
Publication Date: 04/10/2017
DescriptionOxpeckers investigative journalist Mark Olalde spent 19 months prying open secret information on mine closures and financial provisions for mine rehabilitation across South Africa. He submitted applications under the Public Access to Information Act (SA's version of FOIA) to nine different provincial authorities, in addition to the national Department of Mineral Resources, and had to harangue the officials for the data. He also had to decipher a complicated, shifting legal system surrounding who is responsible for mine closures and financial provisions for rehabilitation. When he finally received this never-before-seen data and analysed it, he was able to show that since at least 2011 no large coal mines operating in South Africa have been granted closure. This means the mines have not been rehabilitated and are simply abandoned, leaving a legacy of local and global pollution. The data also shows the largest mining companies hold the majority of financial provisions for rehabilitation (trust funds, bank guarantees). But these large operations rarely apply for closure certificates and almost never receive them. Without a closure certificate, liability cannot transfer from a mining company to the government and a mine is not considered legally closed. Further, as some extractive industries plateau or contract, junior miners that operate on slim profit margins are taking over the mines from the larger companies without sufficient funds for rehabilitation. This data journalism project was part of a series of investigations called AlertME undertaken by#MineAlert, a web-based mobile app that alerts users to mining developments in their back yards. #MineAlert aims to promote public- and private-sector accountability in the extractives sector, to advance civil society and socio-economic rights, to protect the free flow of information, and to strengthen justice and equality. Our first abandoned mines investigation, published on 12/15/2016, released data on mine closure applications and licences in three provinces: Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. Titled "Mine closures: what's happening in your back yard?", it shed light for the first time on South Africa’s secretive system of mine closures. Transparency and compliance monitoring have become increasingly pressing in South Africa's extractives sector with the growth of coal mining and the spectre of large-scale mining for shale gas, or fracking, in water-scarce, sensitive ecosystems. #MineAlert is a data- and geo-journalism project launched by Oxpeckers in April 2016, with the support of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa and Code for Africa. It is one of our innovative online platforms that combine traditional investigative reporting with data analysis and geo-mapping tools to expose eco-offences and track organised criminal syndicates in Southern Africa.
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