South Africa is probing a potential catastrophe lurking in its richest city – illegal gold miners are digging and exploding within 30 centimeters of pipelines under some of Johannesburg's vital infrastructure, increasing the risk of explosions.
The government was called up after the Sunday Times reported on activity that could create hell.
Some of the illegal miners are digging just below the 94,000-person FNB Stadium, while others are active under major highways such as M1 and M2, the newspaper reported, citing Conel Mackay, head of the infrastructure protection unit structure of Johannesburg.
Johannesburg lies in the middle of the Witwatersrand basin, the source of a third of all the gold that was produced in the world.
Most of his former mining work is shallow, with illegal mining being conducted tens of meters from the surface. What makes the situation even more dangerous is that illegal operators have very little understanding of underground rock formations, said Raymond Durrheim, a professor of geosciences at the University of the Witwatersrand.
"The mines around Johannesburg are very shallow and illegal miners are not taking any precautions, so there is risk of collapse and affect the surface," Durrheim said. "Activities in the area pose a danger to people."
The Department of Mineral Resources has asked the Council for Geosciences to assess whether there is any long-term damage to critical infrastructure, it said in a statement.
A breach of gas pipelines would result in a "disaster, with major damage to infrastructure," according to Transnet. State ports and the pipeline operator do not know how illegal miners are close to their infrastructure, the paper reported.
The pipelines carry highly flammable methane-rich gas, Sasol, who imports gas from Mozambique to South Africa, told the Sunday Times.
Companies that left the sites decades ago after the depletion of commercial ore may have closed some mine openings, but illegal operators are still able to access them and policing is difficult because of the large area where mining used to occur, he said. Durrheim.
"These things can be opened again because companies that have done something absolutely impenetrable is difficult," he said.
* Sign up for the top Fin24 news in your inbox:SUBSCRIBE FOR FIN24 NEWSLETTER
Follow Fin24 on Twitter and Facebook. 24.com encourages comments sent via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.