Mining. Clean water. Healthy ecosystems. Believe it or not, these things do indeed go together.
The mining industry, like other industries in Canada, produces waste that has negative impacts on the environment.
However, mining companies have made and continue to make important changes and investments in R&D to modernize past practices.
The industry is proactive and demonstrates strong environmental leadership.
To maintain licence to operate, companies must consider and address social issues and environmental concerns
throughout the life cycle of the project - from design to closure and beyond.
The Green Mining Initiative, led by Natural Resources Canada, in close partnership with provincial/territorial governments,
industry, academia, NGOs and other interested stakeholders such as the Canada Mining Innovation Council,
aims to improve the mining sector’s environmental performance and create green technology opportunities.
The Initiative looks at the entire mining life cycle through four research and innovation pillars:
The goal of the first pillar, Footprint Reduction, is straightforward. Minimize the quantity of waste produced,
improve energy-efficient methods, and extract valuable minerals and metals using minimum amounts of water and noxious chemicals.
In Alberta, researchers are working on reducing the environmental impacts of oil sands tailings through new, innovative technologies.
Dr. Murray Gray
"One of the biggest problems that the industry faces is using fresh water to extract the bitumen from the oil sands, which generates wet tailings.
Our approach to non-aqueous extraction is not to use water in the first place.
We're looking at solvents and other chemicals to try to extract the bitumen without water
giving nice dry material that can go right back into the mine."
“Here in Val-d’Or, we are applying some very special and exciting technologies in order to make Mining a lot greener underground, a lot more energy efficient.
Within the context of the international explosive-free rock breakage, we’re using microwave technology, ultrasonic technology,
and plasma torch technology in order to weaken the rock, and use non-explosive means,
such as disc cutting machines, like tunnel boring machines, in order to make the underground, create the underground openings.”
A Canadian mining equipment manufacturer, in collaboration with NRCan's CANMET Mining and Mineral Sciences Laboratories staff,
is developing the first worldwide underground hybrid vehicle that has clear benefits on
air quality underground and ventilation requirements to dissipate pollutants.
The Saskatchewan Research Council's Pipe Flow Technology Group has developed energy-efficient pipeline applications to enable remote mining.
The 2nd pillar, Mine Waste Management works towards preventing and alleviating impacts created by mineral processing.
This includes minimizing and reprocessing waste and developing alternative waste disposal technologies to leave behind healthy ecosystems.
Work being led by NRCan replaces cement that produces large GHG emissions by slag in backfill material, which increases mine stability while reducing the amount of smelter waste disposed on surface.
In the third pillar, Mine Closure and Rehabilitation, research is being undertaken to reduce long-term liability.
What used to be the end of the mining process can now be a new beginning.
Rehabilitating mine sites means we can continue to benefit from the land at the end of the mining cycle.
“In Ontario and across the country, we are working with the provinces, the mining industry and other partners
to develop options to rehabilitate mining waste and mining tailings.
For example, we are utilizing waste from other industries, such as pulp and paper mill waste and municipal compost, to apply as a cover over top
of these mining wastes and ultimately serves as a substrate to grow energy crops to harvest energy production.
In the Sudbury area where we have several field plots already established, we estimate that one million litres of biofuels
could be produced per year in this area alone from the harvesting of these energy crops.”
In Quebec, with the financial support of the ministry, a new mine will use an abandoned mine site for its waste disposal, reducing the footprint of its operation.
“In order to have the smallest possible impact on the community and on our footprint, it was decided to re-use previously used areas
from old mining operations to put our tailings pond and our waste stockpiles.“
In British Columbia, a mining company has developed a new way to rehabilitate the hill sites that had been affected by the mining operations over the years.
“So what we do here is take pulp mill biosolids from the pulp mill just up the road in Castlegar, and
we take that and slurry it up in a tank, and put it in a hydroseeder,
we also can get waste lime from the pulp mill, and that can be mixed together, and when you put this high organic,
slightly basic material on this acidic sandy soil, you get an instant soil, and pretty much instant growth in that season.”
Finally, the Ecosystem Risk Management pillar is about understanding the impacts on the fauna and flora.
Stakeholders are developing a more holistic study of the biochemical reactions created by metals released after processing and their interactions with ecosystems.
A consulting firm is now applying its innovative technologies towards reducing the environmental impact
of wastewater due to mine tailings – a practical solution that will mean a healthier ecosystem.
A mining company is using bacteria instead of chemicals to clean their water and then re-use it.
“In this plant, 10% of the water from the mill is treated; 90% of the water used on the complex is re-circulated.
Also, phosphates are removed from the effluents from the plant.”
A lot is being done and more is coming to achieve green mining.
Moving forward, the GMI will align its priorities with industry and academia through the Canada Mining Innovation Council and with provincial and territorial authorities.
This is the only way for Canada to be a global leader in mining and to reach our goal to produce minerals and metals
and leave behind clean soils, clean water, and healthy ecosystems for future generations.