MOSCOW, May 17. /TASS/. Russian mining companies will have to introduce new technologies in coming years to restore soil at depleted deposits instead of using ineffective practices. Today the total area of the so-called ‘moon landscapes’ unfit for living, building or planting in Russia is equal to the territory of the Republic of North Ossetia (some 8,000 sq m).
A number of experts told TASS that it is necessary not only to alter approaches to land restoration but also to set aside funds for these purposes.
Land restoration consists of several phases. At first, mined lands are covered with topsoil and then vegetation is planted there.
Without land restoration these territories are unfit for post-mining use. Meanwhile, land is considered an important resource and its restoration is a requirement of the Russian Land Code.
Andrei Kupriyanov, the head of the Kuzbass Botanical Garden, told TASS that mined lands are spreading to fertile soils by one meter annually.
This problem is vital for surface coal mining. Russia accounts for 12% of global coal production, and coal mining centers are located in the Kemerovo Region, Krasnoyarsk Territory, the Komi Republic and Yakutia’s south.
According to the Russian environmental watchdog, the total area of damaged lands was 873,400 hectares in the beginning of 2016 and three quarters of them were damaged by mining.
"As far as I know, only 4-5% of damaged lands are restored in Russia. This is not much," said Alexander Fokin, a member of the State Duma committee for natural resources and environment.
Only 2-3% percent of damaged lands are restored in the Kemerovo Region, which produces some 60% of Russia’s coal, Oksana Kalugina, a local prosecutor, told TASS.
Sergei Vysotsky, the head of the regional environmental department, said that the area of damaged lands in the Kemerovo Region had decreased from 62,300 hectares in 2007 to 35,800 hectares in 2016.
Under the current legislation, land restoration should be performed by mining companies. Coal producers will be forced to alter approaches to this problem in the near future. In 2019, Russia will start introducing best available technologies and those companies that will not invest in them are to face fines.
The planting of vegetation, mainly pine trees and buckhorn, currently remains one of the most popular methods of land restoration introduced in the Soviet time.
Fires are another problem of abandoned mines. In 2007-2009, land was restored at six former mines near Vorkuta, the coal mining center of the Komi Republic. However, unsanctioned mining caused fires at these sites some years later.
Roman Polshvedkin, the republic’d first deputy minister for industry, natural resources, energy and transport, said this problem had not been eventually solved for Vorkuta region.
"We hope the development of the program of environmental damage recovery in the Arctic zone will help us get funding to resolve this problem," the official said.
Siberian scientists working in the project of the UN, Global Environment Fund and the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources on the preservation of biological diversity in coal-mining regions have developed new methods of land restoration.
Regional project coordinator Yuri Manakov said these methods were proposed to be added to the list of best available technologies.
"Methodical recommendations have been prepared on the regional level and submitted to the administration. Their approval at the regional level will give coal mining companies a legal basis to use new methods," he said. "If a company decides to use these new restoration technologies today, it will have no legal grounds. If this is done, the Kemerovo region will become the first region in Russia to endorse new land renovation technologies."
The restoration of landscape is one of the new methods of land rehabilitation. The Soviet-era practice implied only the restoration of soil fertility.
According to Kupriyanov, this is a problem of Russia’s coal industry.
"Why does the US have a few surface mines? Under its laws, if you work at prairie lands, you should restore them after the mine’s closure. Russia followed a different path, the restoration of fertility of damaged lands, planting forests or fields," he said.
The restoration of landscape alters this approach. The technology that implies planting the vegetation that had grown on the site before mining was practiced at the Vinogradovsky mine using a similar land plot as a ‘donor’. The two-year experiment has proved that the plant strike roots and the technology can be put into massive use.
This method may help restore the biological diversity that existed here before coal mining and prevent the extinction of species.
The accelerated soil restoration is another technology that is being practiced today.
According to experts, funding is the main problem of land restoration. The draft law obliging mining companies to set aside funds for these purposes was developed in 2013. However, the work was suspended.
The Russian Ministry of Natural Resources told TASS that the work on the draft law will resume in 2017.
State Duma deputy Alexander Fokin told TASS that the bill requires owners obtaining licenses to develop deposits to transfer certain sums to a reclamation fund to facilitate eventual land restoration. According to the lawmaker, this measure will help avoid problems with land restoration, if a company launches a bankruptcy procedure after developing the deposit.
"It is very difficult to find a mechanism of attracting finances to resolve this problem without reclamation funds," he added. "Today the federal and regional governments find ways to resolve this problem. But this spending should be shifted from federal and regional budgets to owners."
Oksana Kalugina, a senior prosecutor of the Kemerovo region, also told TASS of this problem.
"When it’s time for restoration, some companies go bankrupt and the local authorities assume these obligations as land owners. This spending is unsustainable and as a result we get moon landscapes," she said.