Why is water a big issue for Anglo American?
We need large volumes of the right quality of water for our mineral processing activities – as well as for mining operations. Yet more than 70% of our mines are in water-stressed areas where the water that we need is just as important to local people for domestic, agriculture and sanitation uses.
Although climate change might seem a long-term issue, there is expected to be a 40% shortfall in global fresh water resources as early as 2030 – a combination of rainfall variability and increasing demand. Our typical mining project lifespan falls well within this time frame, so we need to design operations today that can cope with the expected challenges of tomorrow.
Is mining a 'bad guy' in water usage?
Globally, no. Agriculture is by far the biggest user of water.
But mining tends to be clustered around resource rich areas, and in those areas – such as central Queensland in Australia, and South Africa's Mpumalanga Highveld and the Limpopo platinum belt – mining is the main water user. In these places it is essential that we take a leadership role in managing water to protect other users and their rights.
This is not just a matter of water volume. Water quality is every bit as important. It is essential in ensuring that river systems have the correct level of health to support wetlands and fisheries that are in turn used by society. Mining is one of those industries where we influence not only the amount of surface and ground water, but also its chemistry. It is for this very reason that we must ensure that water is fit-for-purpose for other users – which includes the environment, by the way.
How does Anglo American compare with other miners?
Pretty well – and we're getting better at it according to the people who measure these things, such as key stock market indices like Dow Jones and Business in the Community.
But it is ‘on-the-ground’ where the difference is important. And by playing to our strengths, such as infrastructure development and water treatment, we will be able to make the most difference. This is exactly why our water strategy focuses on the following four main areas:
- Making our operations water independent
- Investing in water treatment and relevant technology innovation
- Building water infrastructure for mutual benefit
- Partnering with other stakeholders
What do these mean in practice?
Making our operations water independent refers to the kind of things that the platinum mines in Rustenburg are doing - such as switching over to treated sewage effluent for our industrial processing rather than using high quality water.
Investing in water treatment and relevant technology innovation speaks to the development and installation of some of the largest mobile water treatment units in the southern hemisphere by Thermal Coal at New Vaal Colliery. The Mantoverde water desalination plant in Chile is another example.
Building water infrastructure for mutual benefit is well illustrated by Platinum’s coordination of the construction of two dams and over 600 km of pipeline in South Africa's impoverished Limpopo province to support the needs of up to 1.8 million South Africans. In Brazil, at our Minas-Rio project, developing our 500 km product pipeline has included the delivery of water and sanitation to a number of families along the route.
Many of these success stories were not done in isolation. We partnered with NGOs, communities, other industries, competitors and both local and national governments to achieve them.
How can Anglo American do better?
We have our water policy, strategy, standards and water targets in place. The key now is to physically deliver on the programmes, recognising and communicating the benefit delivered both for our business and society. We want to show society that Anglo American is serious about our environmental and social commitments and that we do what we say we will do.
We all need to be involved, however. It is not just the environmental practitioner on your site that can do this. In fact it is very much like safety – it is everyone's responsibility to make a difference, however small.
What would you like to achieve in 2012?
Above all else I want to make sure we deliver on WETT, the water target commitments we have made.
WETT stands for Water Efficiency Target Tool, and by the end of last year, every part of the business had identified and committed to water saving projects. This year, we have to deliver on these commitments and hence water savings.