Maintaining Environmental Integrity in Solid Mineral Exploration in Nigeria

There is no gainsaying that the diversification of the economy initiatives of the government is a step in the right direction. Long overdue though, the renewed efforts, proper planning, and the incentives available now will boost the confidence of entrepreneurs and investors to maximize the opportunities in the non-oil sector. The Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals Development has particularly articulated action plans that have begun to spur up activities in the solid minerals sector including the issuance and/or review of reconnaissance permit, exploration licenses and other leases.

With numerous mineral resources that are not only found in virtually every state but also in economic quantity including Gold, Lead/Zinc Ores, Barite, Iron Ore, Granite, Tourmaline, Aquamarine, Coal, Limestone, Gemstones, Cassiterite, Bitumen, Clay amongst many more, Nigeria is no doubt endowed with immense mining potentials. However, the economic benefits from the exploration and development of these resources are important but not at the risk of environmental degradation. Essential to the consideration of environmental sustainability is the understanding that man’s interactions with the environment is intricately complex, often difficult to predict with dire consequences on the survival of man and quality of life.

To state the obvious is to note that solid mineral extraction and mining activities leads to air pollution from gaseous pollutants, particulate matters, and hazardous air pollutants; loss of fertile agricultural lands; landscape degradation; water pollution from mine water with heavy and toxic contaminants; waste generation; radiological effect of liquid and solid wastes; noise etc. It is important to create the necessary awareness on the environmental impacts of solid mineral exploration, cleaner production/exploration technologies, and mitigation and/or remediation measures through relevant stakeholders such as the regulatory agencies and mining professional associations. 

The mandate of the Federal Ministry of Environment and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) to protect the environment will be achieved by monitoring and enforcing compliance with the National Environmental (Mining and Processing of Coals, Ores, and Industrial Minerals) Regulations of 2009 and other environmental laws relevant to the mining sector. Continual stakeholder’s engagement on environmental protection with the Nigerian Society of Mining Engineers, Nigerian Mining Geoscientist Society, Nigerian Metallurgical Society and the artisanal miners (informal miners) whom are now being organized into cooperatives will be an important step at maintaining the environmental integrity of exploration sites.

We certainly cannot afford the re-occurrence of the environmental degradation associated with oil and gas exploration in the Niger Delta in the solid mineral sector where poor environmental performance were recorded vis-à-vis air pollution; damage to water hydrology, fisheries, and agriculture; social conflicts and loss of livelihoods; and now the attendant huge cost of cleanup of the Niger Delta.

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