More studies on phosphate mining needed

13 Jun 2016 18:10pm
WINDHOEK, 13 JUN (NAMPA) - Government still needs to conduct a strategic environment assessment (SEA) to determine the impact of phosphate mining on Namibia’s fisheries resources.
The moratorium on phosphate mining ended last year.
Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Bernard Esau told Nampa on Monday the mining licenses issued by the Ministry of Mines and Energy so far for phosphate activities in Namibian waters, first need input from his ministry.
Only two companies, Namibian Marine Phosphate and LL Namibia Phosphates, have been granted mining licenses for marine phosphate mining so far. However, Government imposed an 18-month moratorium in 2013, which expired in 2015.
“The moratorium has come to an end, but we still have to conduct a strategic environment assessment in order to determine the impact this activity will have on our fisheries resources. The mining licenses that were applied for by the companies need input from the ministry, and this is where we are now. We cannot in fact give input until we have carried out the SEA,” he explained.
NMP, a joint partnership between Australia’s Minemakers and Union Resources Limited, and Namibia’s Tungeni Investments is the only company that has so far conducted a study, the results of which have been released.
It said in a report titled ‘Sandpiper Project, Verification Programme, Volume 1: Main Report, November 2014’ that there “is not enough evidence that phosphate mining and processing in Namibian waters will cause irreversible destruction to the marine ecosystems.”
It stated that there are no identified ecological risks of a significant nature that would preclude the project from being authorised. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Jeremy Midgley and Associates in South Africa compiled the report.
CSIR independent reviewer and process quality controller Patrick Morant in the report said there are no objective scientific reasons why an environmental clearance certificate should not be issued and the project permitted to proceed.
“I believe that the information now available and the enhanced confidence in their assessment of impacts as a result of the verification programme demonstrate that there are no objective scientific reasons why an environmental clearance certificate should not be issued and the project permitted to proceed,” said Morant.
The Sandpiper project is located about 120 kilometres south-west of Walvis Bay in the Erongo Region. NMP is developing the world's first marine phosphate project off the coast of Namibia and say it will support crop production through the provision of phosphorus for fertiliser.
Commenting on the NMP study, Esau said his ministry needs to investigate and study the report before Government can comment on it. To comment on a 1 000-page document will take some time, but government will pronounce its case at a later stage, he said.
“We want to take reasonable steps as a government and as a ministry before we say yes or no. We need to carry out studies objectively from an objective perspective. Our comments must be substantiated and supported by empirical studies that have been carried out,” he noted.
Environmental Commissioner Teofilus Nghitila also confirmed that government is yet to take a decision on the future of phosphate mining in Namibia.
With an estimate of three million tonnes of marketable rock phosphate concentrate to be extracted by NMP from the seabed annually, an environmental group, Swakopmund Matters at the coast has questioned the impact such mining would have on the quality of seawater and thus marine life.