Modern Hard-rock mining is toxic no matter what any mining company says. The extraction process uses large amounts of toxic reagents, usually cyanide, and also liberates toxic heavy metals. The process produces so much toxic waste that storage at or near the mine, forever, is the only viable way to manage it. The waste tailings reservoirs invariably leak toxins into the environment and often fail…disastrously.
The process leaves this toxic legacy whether the mining is from an open pit or from tunnels under the ground. This is because only a few grams of gold are extracted from each tonne of rock and the rest becomes toxic waste.
We don’t even need more Gold. Some 31,000 tonnes of gold are held in reserve by central banks and the IMF. Another 2,000 tonnes is traded as bullion. This is enough to supply the world’s industries for more than 100 years.
A good example of Gold Mining in New Zealand can be found at Waihi, in the Coromandel. Mining in Waihi has a history that spans three centuries. Gold was discovered in the 1800s and mined underground in the first half of the 1900s. The last 24 years of the 1900s focused on exploration, development and mining of the Martha Mine open pit. In the 2000s the open pit continues to operate while the Favona underground mine was developed – at the end of 2004 – and the Trio underground mine began construction activities in 2010. However, mining operations today are very different to the historic underground mining days. Source:/http://www.waihigold.co.nz/about/history/
In spite of the changes in mining practices over the years a legacy of concern continues…
‘The historical legacy of gold mining is not only toxic contamination but the impoverishment & undermining of local communities.’ After a slip at Martha’s Mine (Coromandel April 2016) a number of people spoke out about their concerns. Waihi resident Collette Spalding spokeswoman for ‘Distressed Residents Action Team’, said there was concern in the town.
“For it to be an unstable industrial site in the centre of town with the potential to fall in like that is a bit of a concern, really,” Spalding said. She said the original design of the pit was poor, rock falls inevitable and the entire structure of the pit could be compromised. It’s been incorrectly designed right from the start,” she said.
Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty said the slip put the future of the Martha Mine in doubt. “It seems that OceanaGold are not managing it properly because it continues to slip. This is the second major slip on that north wall,” Delahunty said.
“Our concern is the people of this community have so much uncertainty being left with literally an unstable situation right at the heart of their town.”
Barry Road, Waihi Collapses into a 50 metre by 15 metre hole, December 2001
In 2010 the Martha mine was opencast, but an underground mine had operated until 1952. It was common to mine inclined veins of ore in step-like excavations (stopes) and back-fill them with waste rock. After 1914 stopes were no longer back-filled, and could become unstable. This Barry Road house collapsed into a 50-metre by 15-metre hole in December 2001. In the end, 26 people lost their homes. An expert report identified nearby streets that were also on top of unfilled voids; these areas were cleared and residents compensated.
Mining is never without incident no matter how good the technology. The following report from ABC dated 2012 highlights some New Zealand background prior to the Pike River Disaster in 2010. ‘New Zealand’s mining industry has claimed hundreds of lives since it began over a century ago.’ Below are some of the worst disasters in its history:
Sadly & respectfully to a life lost, this article was reported on the 29 July 2016: Miner found dead after front-end loader rolls in Waihi goldmine. The Correnso gold vein was discovered in 2006 and the mine is between 150 and 300 metres below residential properties in Waihi. Source: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/82597670/rescue-operation-underway-to-rescue-trapped-miner-in-waihi
OceanaGold has received a fine of $378,000 under the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2015. The fine comes after its acceptance of liability for the death of Tipiwai Stainton in July 2016, and reparations of $350,000. OceanaGold Waihi General Manager, Bernie O’Leary, says the company deeply regretted the loss of one of its staff and accepted that it was responsible for his death.
“Tip was our colleague, friend and a member of our Mines Rescue Team.
“He died at our mine, on our watch. We accept responsibility for what happened and have been working alongside his family to make sure that as a company, as workmates, and as friends we continue to do everything possible to support them and prevent this from ever happening again.”
Tipiwai Stainton was killed on 28 July 2016 when the loader he was driving entered an underground void at the company’s Correnso mine in Waihi.
Despite the efforts of OceanaGold’s Mines Rescue Team, he died at the scene.
OceanaGold Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Mick Wilkes, who attended the sentencing, says the loss of the company’s employee had been deeply felt.
“Tipiwai was a valued and respected member of our Waihi team, whose workmates describe him as ‘mighty kauri’.
“Our operations adhere to global best practice safety standards, but we will always strive to improve those standards to protect our greatest asset, our people,” he said.
“Bernie O’Leary and our team at Waihi have been working to make sure this sort of tragedy does not happen again to one of our own, or anybody in an underground mine. The new work practices that they developed following this accident will raise standards across our industry.”
Bernie O’Leary said Mr. Stainton was operating his 50 tonne machine according to established industry and company practices for underground mines.
“Despite being industry standard, those practices were not good enough,” says Bernie.
“Immediately after the accident we commenced an extensive investigation and have modified our work methods so staff no longer undertake this activity, eliminating the possibility of this happening again. While it’s a positive development, we are very aware it won’t bring our friend and colleague back.
“Our new Standard Operating Procedure has been shared across all our operations, and with our industry colleagues in underground mining.”
In making its judgement the Tauranga District Court acknowledged the actions OceanaGold took to provide care and reparations for the family of Tipiwai Stainton, immediately suspend operations, conduct a full investigation, cooperation with the regulatory authorities, and development of a permanent solution to a long-standing safety hazard for the mining industry.
– A final fine of $378,000 was imposed.
– Reparations of $350,000 were ordered.
– Voluntary reparations totalling $660,000 have already been paid.
– Costs of $3672 were ordered.
– Oceana Gold (New Zealand) Limited was charged under sections 36(1)(a), 48(1) and (2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
• Being a PCBU failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who work for the PCBU, while at work in the business or undertaking, namely working at the Waihi underground mine and that failure exposed workers, to a risk of death or serious injury arising from a fall from height. The maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding $1,500,000.
Waihi gold mine set to expand beneath residents’ houses: 28 March 2018
Waihi’s mining company announcement is still “sinking in” for Waihi residents.
OceanaGold Waihi announced today its plans for a new underground mine to start underneath the Martha pit and reach some of the residential areas of town near Gilmour, Kenny and Mueller Sts.
The proposal, called Project Martha, will see the mining company returning to the open pit for more gold.
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OceanaGold proposes new underground mine at Waihi