A non-profit sustainability consulting company for the mining industry
December 12, 2019

Toronto, Canada

Toronto, ON L4G6H8

Environmental Sustainability

Solving environmental challenges through collaboration and innovation

41 per cent of mining stakeholders believe that climate change is already having a negative impact on their operations

The mining sector is taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation, the most common action being taken to address global warming.

mine-forest

Mining

Environment Landscape

Better Water and Energy Management

Operators can reduce their energy consumption by 15-20 percent in existing mines, and up to 50 percent for new mines

Water Shortages

Approximately 25 percent of mining production will be vulnerable to climate–related risks such as water shortages by 2030

Zero Water Footprint

Innovative technologies and wastewater reclamation approaches may help companies operate a mine without any water

Tailings and other by-products of mining are the by-products that remain following the extraction and recovery of valuable minerals from mine operations. They are generated by a milling process and are a mixture of finely ground sand-to silt-sized rock particles, water and processing reagents.

Tailings Management is a fundamental component in the design and operation of mining projects in Canada. Potential environmental and socio-economic considerations need to be balanced to ensure disposal and storage of tailings occurs in a sustainable and responsible manner.

The objective of tailings management is to confine the mine tailings and provide for their safe, long-term disposal. Tailings are stored in engineered structures called tailings impoundment areas, which can be created through the use of dams, berms and natural features of the mine site such as valleys, hillsides or depressions.

Based on the site-specific conditions and the type of tailings, there are methods of long-term management, using either wet or dry covers:

  • Wet covers require site-specific conditions that allow the tailings to be continuously submerged by water.
  • Dry covers employ the use of a solid material such as soil or a membrane to physically separate the tailings from the environment.
  • Additional tailings management strategies include thickened tailings (mechanical dewatering of tailings) backfilling of tailings underground, desulphurization of tailings (reduction of their acid-generating capability), or the co-disposal of tailings and waste rock (minimize pore spacing and reaction of tailings).

(Reference National Research Council of Canada)

Water is essential to life on our planet. A prerequisite of sustainable development must be to ensure uncontaminated streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. Mining affects fresh water through heavy use of water in processing ore, and through water pollution from discharged mine effluent and seepage from tailings and waste rock impoundments.

The use of water is a critical component in all parts of the mining process. In half of the world, the scarcity of water is driving programs to minimize water use, and recycling to make water a closed cycle resource.

Possible sources of water supply for mining are lakes, rivers, aquifers and sea water. Low rainfall in desert environments makes it difficult to predict recharge to aquifer systems. Water supply for mining projects is increasing a major consideration on mine development and operation.

While there have been significant improvements to mining practices in recent years, environmental risks remain. Negative impacts can vary from the sedimentation caused by poorly built roads during exploration and disturbance of water during mine construction. Water pollution from mine waste rock and tailings may need to be managed for decades, if not centuries, after closure.

Wastewater treatment is a process used to convert wastewater into an effluent (outflowing of water to a receiving body of water) that can be returned to the water cycle with minimal impact on the environment or directly reused. The latter is called water reclamation because treated wastewater can then be used for other purposes.

The Canadian mineral industry generates more than 650 million tonnes of waste per year. After being removed, waste rock, which often contains acid-generating sulphides, heavy metals and other contaminants, is usually stored above ground in large free-draining piles. This waste rock and the exposed bedrock walls from which it is excavated are the source of most of the metals pollution caused by mining.

Solution

The management of mining’s environmental practice and its physical footprint is the most visible area of mining’s sustainability focus. We are aligning with several of the major pursuits that are ongoing in this regard and will offer the skills of our platform of practitioners.

We are a strong advocate of United Nations Climate Change initiatives to align with the expectations of society in regard to carbon reduction. There are many solar, wind, energy capture, and other technology solutions that we will promote on our platform as they become more mature.

We are building a program to measure sustainability practice from corporate through to mine sites by focusing on personnel driven programs and the culture of the challenge. This grass roots approach builds value in our social engagement and generation Z themes as they will ultimately drive the value that the industry creates.

"With a constant knowledge of how every drop of water is being used, and an understanding of all the parameters associated with its use, mining companies can manage water in the way they have begun to manage electricity, as a valuable resource."

Patricia Muricy, Mining & Metals Leader at Deloitte Brazil

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