(314f) Sustainability Assessment Water Resources Use Mining in Colombia, By the Emergy Analysis

Authors: 
Cano, N. A., Universidad Nacional de colombia
Velásquez, H. I., Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Bustamente, O., Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Due of its great climate diversity, Colombia has an abundance of natural resources and possesses a wide range of mining products, including coal, gold, platinum, nickel, emerald, limestone, among others that are extracted at a smaller scale. This extraction is carried out in two ways: a formal large-scale extraction and other smaller-scale, traditional and artisanal; the latter lacks adequate and defined technology, usually in some cases it is considered an illegal activity, making it unsafe, unprofitable, uncompetitive and environmentally unsustainable.

In the last decade, there has been a significant increase in both the volume and value of production of primary goods, particularly in the mining and hydrocarbons sector, which has positively and significantly affected the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) (FEDESARROLLO, 2012), currently being one of the most dynamic of the Colombian economy. The GDP from this sector has grown from 5.2 to 10.3 trillion pesos between 2000 and 2011 (Colombian Ombudsman, 2010), although in the last two years (2013 - 2014) this activity has gone into recess.

Thus, according to the large-scale mining sector (LSM), in 2011 mining represented 24.2% of exports; 2.4% of GDP; 20% of the total foreign direct investment; 650 billion pesos in construction of infrastructure; 2.6 trillion pesos in purchases from domestic suppliers, 65 billion pesos of investment in social responsibility and 178 billion pesos in environmental responsibility (LSM, 2012). This constitutes evidence for the mining sector in Colombia to be considered one of the main economic engines, since it does not only contribute with employment creation (there were 836000 in 2011, between direct and indirect jobs), but also with investments in infrastructure, public utilities, and social and environmental management (LSM, 2012). In royalties, the mining sector contribution to the country is 16.5%; 13% of it comes from coal companies (1.2 trillion pesos a year).

This constitutes evidence for the mining sector in Colombia to be considered one of the main economic engines, since it does not only contribute with employment creation (there were 836000 in 2011, between direct and indirect jobs), but also with investments in infrastructure, public utilities, and social and environmental management (LSM, 2012).

However, it is impossible to avoid discrepancies and political, economic, environmental and social polemics around this productive activity in the country, since mishandled mining practices lead to: social impacts, since many of these unformalized activities allow child labor, make use of intensive techniques in unskilled labor, generating poor quality jobs with low levels of industrial, social, and health security for miners, it is usually developed in remote and deprived areas; furthermore, it generates conflicts between large mining industries due to concession contracts awarding. Regarding political and economic impacts, a minimum working capital and scarce financial resources for investment are evidenced, and therefore an improper handling of inputs and royalties from this activity is presented. In a greater relevance, there are the irreversible environmental impacts such as destruction of ecosystems, damage to protected areas, air pollution, and pollution and impact on the availability of water resources. Globally, water demand is driven primarily by the population and economic growth, and it is anticipated that in the coming decades, it will increase considerably, while supplies will remain almost constant or decreasing by factors such as climate change, overpumping and pollution of aquifers (Drelich, 2012). It is not unknown that the primary input in gold extraction is water; the water that is used in this sector comes from a variety of sources, and sources and quality are the main areas of controversy and debate in this productive sector. The main problem of the mining industry is to generate confidence in the development of a responsible, sustainable and transparent strategy in the use of water (Drelich, 2012).

Undoubtedly, the flow of resources from this activity is increasing and projections show that the growing trend will continue, since the international scene shows an important dynamism of the mining market. This situation could be exploited by Colombia, given its geographical location and its geological potential (FEDESARROLLO, 2012); it is estimated that US$250 billion will be invested in mining projects in Latin America between now and 2020. Thus, the mining sector gains importance among public policies, not only due to the high revenues generated by its operation, but also because of the social and environmental impact of the sector activity. Hence the importance of seeking for solutions, methodologies and sustainable alternatives to assimilate the challenge of turning the mineral wealth in an opportunity for development, and thus respond to future generations about how resources from non-renewable assets were invested without affecting renewable resources.

This highlights the fact that, despite the importance that the mining sector has taken, the debate about the true benefits and costs, or the environmental, economic, energy and social problems of the sector's activity has intensified. It is misleading to decide whether mining offers a significant potential or a threat to society without a methodological tool that allows predicting how sustainable is this productive activity, which represents a profitable business for many, which provides social and economic welfare (ultimate goal of the implementation of development projects of this magnitude), and for other sectors of the society symbolizes the opposite, considering as innefective and undervalued all corrective and preventive measures that have been implemented by the government agencies or those regulatory entities that have some kind of control in the field of sustainable management of the processes of extraction and use of non-renewable resources, including products that are generated in such activity, in response to the environmental awareness that has been growing in recent years.

Based on the concept of sustainability as "the compatibility between energy, economics (maximum performance) and environmental aspects" (Redclif, 1987), all development projects especially those that threaten the environmental integrity such as the exploitation of natural resources and mining processes, should be focused on being an economic use alternative that provides an energy yield with acceptable environmental burden. That is, this highly demanding production activity in the country (including byproducts generated in it) should be given a particular management by means of methodological tools to harmonize the economic with the energy and environmental aspects; since these three factors can not be assessed independently, but they must be analyzed together and in an interrelated way, in order to give management on a sustainable basis, which avoids the discrepancies noted above. In addition to these tools, it is possible to identify where the weaknesses lie, which apparently make this activity a threat to some sectors of the society.

It is then necessary to establish, among the many valuation methodologies available, those that allow a sustainable assessment of the current management and mining process in Colombia in both artisanal and large-scale mining; likewise identify the gaps in it, whose purpose is to make mining a lever for development not only with good labor, industrial and environmental safety practices, but also going further in its commitment to the country and the city that hosts it. That is, for the management of mining resources, a valuation method should be used thereof, which is bearable and balanced from the economic, energy and environmental levels, as in the current regulations governing this sector a large imbalance is evident between these aspects. That is to say, in many situations mining is presented with a great economic benefit, but it entails irreversible environmental damage or major social problems that trigger collective chaos; or on the contrary, many mining licenses are denied impeding economic growth because of an environmental impact that may be acceptable, discrepancies caused by non-uniformity of a regulatory framework for the mining sector and the lack of methodological tools to assess the sustainability of different productive sectors of society, which and/or balance economic, energy and environmental aspects.

Globally, the possibility of quantifying the sustainability of different production sectors (agriculture, energy, legislative, sanitation) has been subject of study using the method of emergy which allow not only to quantify parameters, but also to analyze the implications and interrelationships of economic and environmental aspects of these long-term processes.

Thus, this research aims to develop a methodological tool; emergy analysis to assess and compare the sustainability of the current small and large scale mining systems in Colombia, including byproducts generated in this process, emphasizing on the use of water resources, gaps in these systems which may not make them sustainable, and a uniform methodology that can be used as a road map to regulate that productive sector in a sustainable way, because without doubt, regulation constitutes the source of many of the limitations of the mining sector