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16.1. Site Environmental Considerations

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  • 1. CHAPTER 16.1Site EnvironmentalConsiderationsMichael G. NelsonINTRODUCTION(ISO) Standard 14001. The second example gives a descrip-Activities associated with mining have direct and lasting tion of surface coal mining regulations in the United States,effects on both the physical and the human environments. Theprobably some of the most detailed and specific regulationssocial, economic, and political effects in the latter categoryin existence. The third example describes the permitting andare often considered sustainability issues and are discussedapproval process for the Safford mine, located in a historicbriefly in this chapter. Also in the latter category are issues mining area in southern Arizona (United States), and includesof worker health and safety, which are discussed in Part 15 ofdescriptions of the public input to this process. The fourththis handbook.example describes a successful approach to early involvement Mining includes the following activities, all of which of local communities in mine planning and permitting at thehave distinct impacts on the environment: Diavik diamond mine, which operates in a pristine northernenvironment where no mining had previously occurred. Exploration. Economic deposits are identified and theircharacteristics are determined to allow recovery.HISTORIC MINING PRACTICES Development. Preparations are made for mining.In the recent past, mining was done with little knowledge of Extraction. Valuable material is removed for sale orits effects on the environment and, from a modern perspective,processing.with little concern for the effects that were known. The conse- Reclamation. Disturbances caused by any of the preced-quences of this approach often resulted in significant damageing activities are corrected or ameliorated.to the natural environment, including (but not limited to) Closure. Activity ceases and the area is abandoned orreturned to another use. Unreclaimed mine pits, shafts, tunnels, and waste pilesthat may result in landslides and large amounts of blow-This chapter will address the environmental consider-ing dust;ations incumbent in the development and extraction in some Surface and groundwater that may be contaminated bydetail, including the permitting process required (in almost allsolid particulates and chemical contaminants released byjurisdictions) before mining activities begin.active and abandoned workings, or by waste piles;Environmental regulations vary among the countries Abandoned pits, shafts, and tunnels that may create poten-of the world. Most large mining companies endeavor to fol-tial falling hazards to humans, livestock, and wildlife;low uniform practices at all their mines, regardless of loca- Similarly, release of particulates and chemical con-tion, and have publicly committed to follow well-articulatedtaminants from mine workings or waste and spoil pilesstandards of sustainability, such as those described underthat may cause direct injury to or damage the health ofSustainable Practices in this chapter. However, because ofhumans or animals;the variations in regulations, it is difficult to give a detailed Erosion, with its consequent loss of soil and vegetation indescription of environmental requirements and practices thatand around unreclaimed workings, that may be a signifi-applies worldwide. Thus, the focus of this chapter is to givecant problem; anda general description of environmentally sound practices and Underground workings, current or abandoned, that mayprocedures. Some of the most important are illustrated by spe-cause surface subsidence, which can result in damagedcific examples. The first example shows the approach to envi-surface structures, and in fissures or escarpments that areronmental risk assessment taken by CODELCO (Corporacinhazardous to humans and animals (Craig et al. 2001).Nacional del Cobre de Chile), the national copper corpora-tion of Chile, as part of its environmental management plan Examples of these kinds of mining-induced damages areunder the International Organization for Standardizationreadily found in any historic mining district. In fact, water Michael G. Nelson, Department Chair, Mining Engineering, College of Mines & Earth Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA1643

2. 1644SME Mining Engineering Handbookcontamination and abandoned waste piles left by ancient Seek to identify and internalize environmental and socialRoman mining activity in Spain resulted in rediscovery of thecosts.ore body on which Rio Tinto, one of the largest mining com- Maintain and enhance the conditions for viable enterprise.panies in the world, was founded (Raymond 1986). Social sphere In most cases, the environmental damage caused by miningwas not well understood. There were some notable exceptions, Ensure a fair distribution of the costs and benefits ofsuch as the lawsuit in 1884 by downstream farmers against min- development for all those alive today.ing companies in Californias Mother Lode district. By that Respect and reinforce the fundamental rights of humantime (well after the initial gold rush of 1849) those companiesbeings, including civil and political liberties, culturalused a method called hydraulicking, in which entire hillsidesautonomy, social and economic freedoms, and personalwere washed away with a powerful stream of water so thesecurity.gold-bearing gravels could be processed. The resulting debris Seek to sustain improvements over time; ensure thatclogged streams and rivers and flooded meadows and fields, depletion of natural resources will not deprive futurecausing serious damage to agriculture (Hill et al. 2001). Othergenerations through replacement with other forms ofearly environmental lawsuits related to the mining industrycapital.were directed at smelter operators by farmers who alleged that Environmental spheresmelter gases were damaging their crops. Such suits were filedin England in 1865 (Brubaker 1995), and in the United States in Promote responsible stewardship of natural resources andKansas in the 1880s (Junge and Bean 2006) and in Utah in 1903the environment, including remediation of past damage.(Lamborn and Peterson 1985). While these lawsuits may have Minimize waste and environmental damage along thebeen driven more by economic concerns than by a pure concern whole of the supply chain.for the environment in the abstract, they certainly addressed Exercise prudence where impacts are unknown orwhat today would be considered environmental issues. uncertain. The publics expectations of the mining industry began to Operate within ecological limits and protect critical natu-change in the 1950s, and by the end of the 1970s, governmentsral capital.in developed countries had enacted broad environmental laws Governance spherethat had direct bearing on all industrial activities, includingmining (Kaas and Parr 1992). Although environmental stan- Support representative democracy, including participa-dards still vary among countries, almost all major miningtory decision making.companies now state as policy that they will operate all their Encourage free enterprise within a system of clear andmines, regardless of location, to first-world standards of envi- fair rules and incentives.ronmental protection and worker health and safety. Avoid excessive concentration of power through appro- priate checks and balances.SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES Ensure transparency through providing all stakeholdersLeading mining companies have recently formulated, and with access to relevant and accurate information.pledged to follow, standards and principles for sustainable Ensure accountability for decisions and actions, whichdevelopment of mineral resources worldwide. While not allare based on comprehensive and reliable analysis.of these principles relate directly to environmental practices, Encourage cooperation in order to build trust and sharedthey represent a significant change in approach for the min- goals and values.ing industry as a whole, a change that has already affected Ensure that decisions are made at the appropriate level,environmental practices in the industry. For that reason, theadhering to the principle of subsidiarity where possible.principles of sustainable development (as applied to mineralIn 2001, the board of the metals industrys representa-extraction) are discussed here. tive organization, the International Council on Metals and the In 1999, nine of the largest mining companies decided Environment agreed to broaden the groups mandate and trans-to embark on a new initiative intended to achieve a serious form itself into the International Council on Mining and Metalschange in the way industry approached todays problems. (ICMM).They called this the Global Mining Initiative. It included aIn 2002, ICMM member companies signed the Torontoprogram of internal reform, a review of the various associa- Declaration committing ICMM to continue the work startedtions the companies belonged to, and a rigorous study of the by the MMSD project and engage in constructive dialoguesocietal issues they had to face. As a result, the International with key stakeholders, and in 2003, the International CouncilInstitute for Environment and Development was commis- on Mining and Metals committed corporate members to imple-sioned to undertake the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable ment and measure their performance against the ten principlesDevelopment (MMSD) project. shown in Table 16.1-1 (ICMM 2006). Between 2000 and 2002, the MMSD project identi-Initially there was considerable debate in the min-fied critical issues associated with development of mineral ing community regarding the concepts of sustainability asresources in four spheres: applied to mineral extraction (NWMA 2002). Some argued that, because mineral resources are by nature finite, mineralEconomic sphere extraction can never be truly sustainable. However, these Maximize human well-being. concepts have in general been adopted by most of