Driving best-practice across the Group through the new water strategy

During 2012, the Gold Fields Group Technical Services (GTS) function started scoping activities for the development a new Group-wide water strategy. This is aimed at establishing consistent, best-practice water management standards, procedures and systems across all our operations. The process is being supported by a newly formed, team of water experts.

Water – including its availability, quality and stewardship – remains a key sustainability issue for Gold Fields, and water infrastructure scarcity ranks among our top-20 business risks. Environmental experts predict that clean water scarcity will become one of the most pressing global environmental challenges in coming decades. For example, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimates that by 2030, global demand for water could potentially outstrip supply by over 40%1.

In this context, legislation and compliance requirements governing the use, treatment and discharge of water are becoming increasingly stringent across the globe. Moreover, water management poses a particularly acute challenge for the mining sector. This is because, for example:

  • Water quality and availability of water infrastructure are among the most important issues affecting our relations with local communities – and thus our social licence to operate. In part, this is due to the reliance of local populations on agriculture for their living, as well as untreated water sources for their sustenance. Concerns are often exacerbated by misunderstandings over the impact of responsible mining on local water sources
  • Mining operations require relatively high levels of water use throughout their operational lifecycles. Although mines may ‘produce’ water as a result of mine dewatering processes, this process requires equally careful management
  • Mining companies are increasingly exploring new operating environments that are inherently more vulnerable to emerging social pressures such as overpopulation. These pressures can fuel resource competition, and place strain on existing water sources and infrastructure
  • Certain high-profile water-related issues pose potential reputational risks for the sector as a whole. This includes, for example, the issue of acid mine drainage in South Africa and the water-related social conflict Newmont has experienced in Peru

During 2012, Gold Fields Group Water team started to implement a range of water management initiatives as part of the ongoing development of a Group-wide water strategy. These included:

  • A review of water management practices at our Tarkwa mine in Ghana. This produced a mine water management ‘turnaround plan’ that will act as a model for similar reviews to be rolled out across the Group
  • Identification of new water management technologies for our operations, such as by-product recovery ion exchange and electro coagulation
  • The benchmarking of water use at our operations to identify additional opportunities for enhanced manageme

In addition, in the first half of 2012, we made our second submission to the CDP Water Disclosure for 2011. This places us among only 26 South African companies to voluntarily report on our water strategy, goals, usage and approach to water-related risk management.