In the United States, metal mining “creates nearly 30% of all the toxic releases measured annually by the EPA.”
This is changing, slowly, although political winds blow both ways. Public corporations are generally responsible “citizens” but worldwide — in some countries — the devastating effects of uncontrolled and unsupervised mining is seen everywhere, especially near mining sites. The wastewater of these mines pollute rivers and streams affecting the aquatic life and the nearby human population .
Fortunately, the increasing pressure on the mining industries by the ecological organizations has given birth to a whole new trend of “Green Mining”. According to the communications advisor for Natural Resources Canada (NRC) Jousha Kirkey,
“Green mining is defined as technologies, best practices and mine processes that are implemented as a means to reduce the environmental impacts associated with the extraction and processing of metals and minerals” .
Major Mining Companies Invest in Green
Major mining companies all over the world are investing in technologies that will make mining cleaner and safer. The mining companies are improving their environmental performance by using new technologies that can significantly reduce the water and energy usage. This practice can reduce environmental pollution and can help in remediating the sites after the mining operation is complete . The plan for increasing the efficiency while decreasing the environmental hazards associated with mining is broken down into the following categories :
- Shutting down of illegal mines
- Choosing a general mining process that is environmentally friendly
- Implementation of latest advances in green mining technology
- Cleaning up of shut down mines
- Reconsidering the cut-off grades
- Research and development of technologies associated with green mining.
Goldcorp is one of the major mining companies that has started changing the ways it operates. Accepting the new cleaner technologies and investing in their research and development, Goldcorp is moving rapidly towards the Green Mining.
Aiming to provide a safer work environment — reducing the energy usage and the environmental footprint — the company is teaming up with suppliers to provide them with battery powered drill equipment and underground vehicles. This electrification will not only reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by 50% it will also lower the mining costs significantly .
Rio Tinto is another example of major mining companies following the Green Mining trend. The company is testing green technologies at two of its sites. The first site is in New South Wales, Australia is testing methane capturing technology. In another site located in Victoria, Australia the company runs a successful carbon dioxide storage facility which has so far been able to store 60,000 metric tons of CO2. Barrick Gold is also a mining giant that is running 140 energy efficient projects and more than 19% of its electrical energy used in mining operations comes from renewable energy sources. Another great step by this company is the establishment of water management and recycling programs. As a result, 70% of Barrick Gold’s sites reuse recycled water which helps in saving valuable drinking water .
Mines Going Green Help Grow Other Industries
Another advantage that came with the whole Green Mining phenomenon was the sudden uplift that it provided to the water purification and recycling industry. According to a report by Frost and Sullivan (industry analysts) the mining water treatment industry grew from $2.29 billion in 2011 to $3.6 billion in 2016 . Although the main reason behind this growth is that the companies are becoming more eco-friendly, and the regulations are becoming stricter, there is another advantage of wastewater management — the metal recovery. With the metal recovery methods becoming more advanced and sophisticated — methods such as sulfide precipitation — companies are making a profit by recycling the water used during mining. The water after being treated with sulfide precipitation contains nickel level less than the allowed limit. The precious metals such as gold and copper can also be easily recovered using this process .
Clean Mining Alliance
This Green Mining trend gave birth to a nonprofit association called Clean Mining Alliance. According to the executive director of alliance, Dallas Kachan, the basic aim of the alliance is to help promote new technology developments that will make mining more environmentally responsible . The members of this alliance include companies that are working on innovative breakthroughs in the mining industry. They are also inviting more companies especially those who are working on new technologies in processing and core technology. The innovative new technologies that this alliance is calling Clean technologies or “Cleantech” include hydrometallurgical processes, membrane based water filtration, carbon capture, biologic remediation, closed loop systems, near zero emission processes and other such innovations .
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