Environmental management in a global economy

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 1091, 2006

S. Vézina

The file is a zipped PDF document.The environmental management of mining operations has evolved considerably over the last two decades. Factors such as changing values of modern societies, globalization of trade, climate change, and regulations oriented towards sustainability have led to the introduction of environmental management systems (EMSs).Cambior is a medium-size gold mining company, incorporated in 1986. A rapid growth in its northwestern Quebec-based operations and its geographical expansion in the early nineties to the United States and South America, combined with the financing of the Omai project in Guyana in 1991, necessitated the consolidation of its environmental activities at the corporate level.In 1992, Cambior’s board of directors created an Environmental Committee and assigned a champion to develop and implement an environmental management system (EMS). Roles and responsibilities were defined, a manual of procedures related to environmental legal obligations was developed, and third-party environmental audits were initiated. The EMS was fully implemented at all Canadian operations and it was expanded to Omai.In 1996, the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) issued an Environmental Policy and Management Framework, which coincided with the publication of the ISO 14001 Standard for Environmental Management System. Cambior adopted the MAC Environmental Policy and Framework, which was consistent with the basic requirements of ISO 14001 for conformance, prevention of pollution, and continual improvement of environmental performance. In 1998, Cambior was the first gold mining company to obtain its EMS ISO 14001 certification, which has been maintained annually since then.The system is built on a database incorporating the operation activities, their descriptions, and the significance of their impacts or risks on the environment. The operational procedures maintain control on activities with significant impacts or risks. The system is designed to provide continual improvement to the environmental performance through programs with objectives and targets. Existing processes are being improved to reduce or eliminate the significance of impacts or risks. Emergency response plans and closure plans for reclamation are also prepared. Since 1998, a total of nearly $10 million has been spent to reclaim 99% of the company’s inactive sites. For these initiatives, Cambior received the US Bureau of Land Management “Health of the Land” award for the reclamation of its Valdez Creek project in Alaska. In Quebec, the reclaimed Solbec minesite, located in the municipality of Stratford, was converted into an ecotourism attraction in partnership with Ducks Canada Unlimited.The EMS also includes procedures for various functions of the system itself, monitoring and controlling procedures to detect nonconformities, external review consultants (ERC) for geotechnical audits, system or internal audits, performance audits, organizational structure, awareness and training of employees, legal requirements, and relations with stakeholders.Cambior’s expansion to Guyana presented new challenges to the environmental management, where neither a Guyanese mining act nor an environmental protection act existed. When and where applicable, the company adopted to apply the existing Quebec regulatory requirements for environmental protection. The lack of authorized waste repositories, the absence of local expertise and certified laboratories, as well as the lack of governmental expertise for monitoring had to be addressed. Training and technology transfer programs were initiated. The financing of a project in a foreign country such as Guyana was also a new issue for Cambior. Dealing with organizations such as the World Bank and/or the Export Development Corporation of Canada was essential in the review process.The mining industry’s challenge is not only to meet the market demand for minerals but also the requirements for transition to sustainable development. As a mining company, Cambior must integrate its economic activities with environmental integrity, social concerns, and effective governance. In addition, the company has to address other challenges, which include: the viability of the industry, land uses, benefits to local communities, global environmental issues, and public access to information.