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Teck Resources, Goldcorp and Hudbay Minerals are among the Canadian firms that are focusing on cutting their environmental impacts
Canada is in pole position to cash in on the clean energy economy, Clean Energy Canada said in a report this summer. The vast country is one of the world’s biggest producers to some of the crucial minerals in renewable energy systems, including 14 of 19 needed for solar PV panel production. Chief among these is copper, also used in wind turbines and electric cars. Canada is also a major exporter of metallurgical steel, needed to build wind turbines and light rail transport systems.
“The metals and minerals we produce are essential to build the technologies and infrastructure necessary for a low carbon economy, to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to the effects of climate change,” says Jeff Hanman, VP of corporate affairs at Teck Resources, Canada's largest diversified mining company.
But if Canadian mining companies are going to underpin the clean economy, companies like Teck realise they are going to have to have to manage their own greenhouse gas emissions and water use, particularly in an environment where they are increasingly exposed to climate-related risk.
Digging Deep, CDP's annual report ranking 12 of the world's largest mining companies on their ability to respond to the risks of the low-carbon transition put Teck, with US$10.8bn in capitalisation, at number eight, down from five last year, while the only other Canadian mining company big enough to make the list, $6.3bn First Quantum Resources, came in number 11, down from 10 in 2016.
Teck was marked down because of its heavy investment in oil and gas assets, with production due to start at its Forts Hill oil sands project late this year (see Can Alberta clean up the oil sands, ). It is also a big supplier of metallurgical coal for steel production. In 2016 Teck's scope 3 emissions, from downstream use of its products, at 80 million tonnes of CO2, was 28 times greater than its Scope 1 and 2 emissions from its own operations – the biggest gap of any of the tracked companies.
‘If Canadian mining companies are going to underpin the clean economy, they are going to have to have to manage their own greenhouse gas emissions’
However Teck was praised for sourcing 28% of energy needs from renewables and target to get to 100 MW renewable capacity by 2030.
CDP ranked Teck, which was a signatory to the Paris Pledge for Action, third on climate leadership, the first Canadian resource company to join the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, and for applying its own internal carbon price. According to the International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM), Teck’s steelmaking, coal and copper production are among the least carbon-intensive in the world.
Another Canadian mining company that has taken up the low-carbon challenge is Vancouver-headquartered Goldcorp. Last year Goldcorp, the world’s fourth largest gold producer by output, announced that it would open the world’s first fully electric underground mine in pristine wilderness at Chapleau in northern Ontario.
The mine will eliminate the use of diesel and propane fuel by using battery-operated drilling and blasting equipment, electric bolters, and in its transport, including personnel carriers and a 40 metric ton battery-powered haul truck.
“This technology is brand new; in fact, it doesn’t even exist in commercial applications yet. We have asked our technology partners and suppliers [Sweden’s Sandvik Mining and Canada’s MacLean Engineering] to push the limits, acting as a catalyst for further developments in battery technology,” David Garofalo, the company’s president and CEO, said in an interview.
Goldcorp also has a Towards Zero Water Strategy (H2Zero) to reduce fresh water consumption and eliminate slurry tailings [waste] over the next 10 years.
As the CDP report points out, 27% of mining production globally and up to US$50bn of revenues is likely to be exposed to high levels of water stress risk.
“Water, or the lack of it, is a growing concern that limits our ability as an industry to develop and expand mines, and it is also a major issue for communities surrounding mining operations,“ Garofalo said.
Garofalo said the programme would lower Goldcorp’s operating costs as it moves and manages more water than ore.
Hudbay Minerals, a Toronto-based mining company with business across the Americas, is innovating to reduce the water risks from its impoundments of tailings, the mineral waste left over after metals extraction, an issue of critical importance in places with dry climates and water shortages.
It is planning to use “dry stack” tailings in its Rosemont Project in Arizona, a proposed copper mine with a throughput of up to 90,000 tons of ore per day.
Dry stack tailings, which use filters to reduce moisture in the slurry, require 50-60% less water than operations using conventional wet tailings, but this project will push the known limits of filter plant capacity, and the compacted tailings will contain less than 18% moisture when stacked.
Teck’s steelmaking, coal and copper production are among the least carbon-intensive in the world
Hudbay won't impound water on the tailings facility, so they’ll have less chances of breach or failure, and the facility design also eliminates the chance for overtopping of process waters. “In fact, we will not discharge any water that has come into contact with process materials,” says Kathy Arnold, environmental director at Hudbay.
An industry-driven, government-delivered partnership approach to research and development has resulted in programmes such as the federal Green Mining Initiative, which looks at the entire mining life cycle through innovation in footprint reduction, mine waste management, mine closure and rehabilitation, and ecosystem risk management. “This programme will transform mining, especially in the areas of processing and water treatment, and energy use. Canada is a leader in this work,” says Anne Johnson, professor at the Robert M Buchan Department of Mining at Queen’s University.
One example is in the rehabilitation of mining waste. Natural Resources Canada is using waste from other industries – such as pulp, mill waste and municipal compost – to cover mining wastes, serving as a substrate to grow energy crops to harvest energy production.
“In the Sudbury area [Ontario’s mining heartland] where we have several field plots already established, we estimate that 1 million litres of biofuels could be produced per year from the harvesting of these energy crops,” says Janice Zinck, director of mineral and metallurgical processing at Natural Resources Canada.
The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) pioneered the Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative, a performance system that helps mining companies evaluate and manage their environmental and social responsibilities. TSM establishes site-level sustainability performance expectations that mining companies are increasingly integrating it in their operations.
Water, or the lack of it, is a growing concern that limits our ability as an industry to develop and expand mines”
Ben Chalmers, MAC’s VP of environment, said: “For the last decade, innovation advanced on a company basis, but lately we’ve seen the sector coming around together to collaborate on pioneer and innovative ideas, which has allowed the industry to move further and faster.”
Yet further acceleration is expected from later this year, when mines around the world will be able to apply for certification under the newly developed Standard for Responsible Mining. The global, multi-commodity assurance programme has been developed by the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, a coalition of NGOs (Earthworks and the International Boreal Conservation Campaign), labour organisations (United Steelworkers and IndustriALL), indigenous community activists (the Western Shoshone Defense Project), mining companies Anglo American and ArcelorMittal, and downstream purchasers Microsoft and Tiffany & Co
The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance’s coordinator, Aimee Boulanger, said the certification programme offers mines an opportunity to get recognition for their achievements in environmental and social responsibility, and signals to purchasers the mines that are leading in these areas.
The mining industry needs assurance that the changes asked of them will be recognised and rewarded, she said. “Many companies are ready to lead, but are waiting to see if complex supply chains can support recognition of practices that involve greater investment.”
This article is part of an indepth briefing on Canada and climate change. See alsoresource scarcity CDP Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition solar power copper electric cars Clean Energy Canada