Aug/Sept 2015

Industry at a glance

News briefs

By Christopher Pollon, Kelsey Rolfe, Katelyn Spidle, Michael Yang

Oil sands pipeline ruptures

Nexen Spill Aerial
A rupture along Nexen Energy’s pipeline in northern Alberta spilled emulsion over an area of wetlands the size of two CFL football fields | Courtesy of Nexen Energy

Nexen Energy has traced the time of a pipeline rupture at one of its oil sands sites to a two-week period starting in late June, the company re­vealed in July.

The spill at its Long Lake project, located 35 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, could have occurred any time between June 29, when crews finished a cleaning, and July 15, the day a contractor discovered it.

The rupture spilled five million litres of emulsion – bitumen, sand and produced water – over a 16,000-square-metre area of wetlands, the size of about two CFL football fields.

Once aware of the spill, Nexen shut in the line to stop any further leaking, according to Riley Bender, a spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator. “They had equipment mobilized within the first few hours to start to build containment around the im­pacted area,” he said.

The regulator issued an environmental protection order days after Nexen stopped the leak, directing Nexen to develop plans for water body management, wildlife mitigation and site remediation. The regulator’s investigation into the breach is ongoing.

The company has since shut down both the pipeline and its Kinosis site, where the emulsion originated. Bitumen ex­tracted at Kinosis is piped to the Long Lake plant for processing and upgrading.

The pipeline was installed last year. Its computerized warning system failed to detect the spill, which the company said it is investigating.

The incident occurred in an isolated area of Alberta; the nearest town to the spill is 15 km away from the site. There is a small lake about 100 metres from the site that is being monitored, although Nexen reported there is no visible sign of water contamination.

About 130 workers are on site to contain and vacuum the spill. It is unclear how long the cleanup will take. 

– Kelsey Rolfe

Restricted reopening at Mount Polley

Mount Polley Mine
The main processing plant at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine | Courtesy of Imperial Metals

Imperial Metals restarted production at its Mount Polley mine in early August, one year after it experienced a tailings dam breach last summer.

The copper and gold mine, located near Williams Lake in British Columbia, is initially operating at half capacity, with up to 220 workers on site, under the restrictions of a conditional permit issued in early July by the provincial government.

According to B.C.’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett, the conditional permit is the first step owner Imperial Metals must take before the mine can return to full capacity. It allows the mine to operate for about a month before a second permit, dealing with short-term water treatment and discharge, is needed in September.

In order to ramp up to full production, the mine must submit a long-term water treatment and discharge plan by next June. “Our choice was: do we wait for them for a year to do absolutely everything that shows that they have a long-term plan, or do we let them operate for a few months and get people working again, given there’s no negative impact to the environment,” said Bennett in a released statement.

The restrictions mandate that the existing tailings storage facility cannot be used, and liquid waste must be dumped into the unused Springer pit at the mine site. By mid-fall, the pit will likely be filled, and the second permit must be granted before water can be treated and discharged into Hazelton Creek, which bore the brunt of last year’s breach. Imperial Metals must also pay an additional $6.1 million reclamation security to the government.

Imperial Metals’ vice-president of corporate affairs, Steve Robertson, said the conditional permit fits with the company’s intention to have Mount Polley operating at permanent, full capacity by next summer.

“We expect to be able to go back to the government in the fall with a proposal for a full-time restart of the mine,” he said. 

– Michael Yang

Kitimat smelter upgraded and extra efficient

Kitimat smelter
The upgrades at Rio Tinto’s modernized aluminum smelter in Kitimat, B.C., will cut overall emissions in half and reduce power consumption by 36 per cent | Courtesy of Rio Tinto Alcan

Rio Tinto Alcan began shipping the first batches of aluminum from its newly reopened smelter in Kitimat, British Columbia, in early July, following the completion of the facility’s extensive US$4.8-billion upgrade a month earlier.

The modernization project, which began in December 2011, is expected to increase aluminum production to 420,000 per day from 282,000 tonnes, when the facility ramps up to full production next year. The metal will mostly be shipped to customers within the Pacific Rim from Kitimat’s city port on the north coast of the province.

According to the company, the upgrades will also cut overall emissions in half and reduce power consumption at the 60-year-old smelter by 36 per cent, making it one of the most economical plants in the world.

All of that is made possible by the company’s proprietary AP40 reduction cell technology, said company spokesperson Kevin Dobbin. As part of the expansion, Rio Tinto installed 384 of the improved electrolysis pots in six buildings along the potline, replacing 900 smaller pots.

“Operating above 400,000 amps, the pots have the lowest energy consumption – below 12,500 kilowatt hours per tonne – and unequalled productivity at over three tonnes per pot per day,” said Dobbin.

The smelter also uses a number of other solutions from Rio Tinto’s AP Technology throughout its extraction process such as the ALPSYS pot process control system and new anode baking systems. 

– M.Y.

Sudbury to host safety conference in October

logo icsmriThe International Conference of Safety in Mines Research Institutes (ICSMRI) is coming to Canada this fall for the first time in its 84-year history.

The 36th edition of the conference is set to take place in Sudbury from Oct. 25 to 27 and will feature extensive technical sessions and a plenary that covers a wide variety of topics in the mining safety world – from research to new approaches and technologies.

“This year’s theme is challenges and opportunities,” said conference chair Vic Pakalnis, president and CEO of MIRARCO. “At the end of the day, the conference will really be about identifying areas where we are lacking, and finding ways to disseminate information we have globally and more effectively.”

One of the sessions he highlighted will outline a potential program to build a global mining safety network, presented by those spearheading the initiative including University of Alberta’s Gord Winkel and Jim Joy from the International Council on Mining and Metals. The proposed network would focus on connecting miners that are interested in safety and research around the world, especially in countries that may lag behind in the field.

“It was important for us that Canada gets its due turn to host the symposium,” said Pakalnis, pointing out that it is one of the safest jurisdictions for miners to work in and a world leader in the mining industry.

To register for the event, visit

– M.Y.

European Union launches Real Time Mining project

A project to develop a real-time monitoring framework for the mining process, led by a consortium of 13 European partners from five countries, began in mid-April.

The venture is “a control platform for exploiting geologically difficult deposits,” according to Jörg Benndorf, an assistant professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and one of the project leads. The platform will use existing sensor technology to gather material characterization and georeference extraction data – such as machine performance, ore size distribution, geochemistry and mineralogy – using positioning systems. This data will be wirelessly transferred to a “central data integration and visualization platform,” Benndorf said.

The €6.5-million (C$9.25 million) Real Time Mining project is funded primarily by Horizon 2020, an EU program that finances research and innovation, and led by the Resource Engineering Section at Delft.

One of the major aims is to give mining companies more knowledge to make better production control decisions and increase resource efficiency. “We’ll try to integrate [that] data or feed it back into the resource model to continuously update in real time,” ­Benndorf said, “and having a real time model available, we want to optimize the production control decisions.”

The project is also expected to help companies eliminate waste material early in the logistical chain, which ­Benndorf said will reduce the environmental impact because “we won’t [need] so much material to get the same amount of product.”

Real Time Mining will develop and integrate technologies that have until now only been lab-tested. “The big push is to close the gap between theory and practice to offer smart solutions to the industry ready for full-scale application,” said Benndorf. These include automated sensor-based material characterization, online performance measurements of machines, underground navigation and positioning, underground mining system simulation, and state-of-the-art updating techniques for resource models.

The consortium will be assisted by an international external expert advisory board, which is led by Roussos Dimitrakopoulos, a mining engineering professor at McGill University.

A prototype of Real Time Mining is expected to be completed for 2019, and will go through a two-year phase of testing and preparation for market entry before it launches in 2021. The consortium will test the prototype at a Delft-owned lead-zinc mine in Freiberg, Germany, among several other mine sites throughout Europe. 

– K.R.

Teck temporarily closes coal mines

Teck Resources is suspending operations at its six Canadian coal mines over the summer, as the company continues to struggle with the slumping metallurgical coal market.

The mines are being temporarily shuttered for at least three weeks each on a staggered schedule throughout July, August and September. The move will cut Teck’s third-quarter production by roughly 1.5 million tonnes, or 22 per cent of the originally forecasted total for the year, while leaving room for it to meet all of its contracted coal sales.

“Rather than push incremental tonnes into an over-supplied market, we are taking a disciplined approach to managing our mine production in line with market conditions,” said Teck CEO Don Lindsay in a released statement.

The Vancouver-based miner had already slashed its dividend by two-thirds earlier this year, cut 600 jobs and shelved plans to restart its Quintette coal mine in northeast British Columbia in an attempt to offset weak commodity prices and a glut of supply.

Metallurgical coal prices have dropped 70 per cent over the past four years to $85 a tonne this year from US$300 a tonne in 2011. The situation is compounded by a global surplus of nearly 20 million tonnes of met coal jamming up the market.

The bleak market conditions have taken their toll on other coal miners, as well. Last year Walter Energy shut down its Wolverine and Brazion mines in northeastern B.C., and Anglo American froze work at its Tumbler Ridge operation in the same region. More recently, Grande Cache Coal announced it will be slashing jobs in Alberta over the rest of this year. 

– M.Y.

Barrick sells assets to clear debts

Barrick Gold has taken several steps this summer to meet its debt-reduction target of US$3 billion for 2015.

The company announced July 30 it would sell half its interest in the Zaldívar copper mine in Chile to Antofagasta for a total consideration of about US$1 billion.

“The sale of 50 per cent of Zaldívar is consistent with our strategy to create long-term value for our shareholders,” said Barrick co-president Kelvin Dushnisky in a press release. “By selling a stake in this non-core asset, we strengthen our balance sheet while maintaining significant exposure to a strong cash-generating operation.”

With the sale of Zaldívar, Barrick has reduced its debt by about US$1.85 billion so far in 2015, which represents close to two thirds of its target for this year.

Earlier in the year, Barrick announced the sale of two other non-core assets. The company announced May 24 it would sell its Cowal mine in Australia to Evolution Mining – an Australian mid-tier gold producer – for US$550 million in cash. The sale will also bring about the closure of Barrick’s office in Perth, Australia, reducing costs further.

Two days later, the company also revealed the sale of 50 per cent of Barrick Niugini, a subsidiary that owns 95 per cent of the Porgera gold mine in Papua New Guinea, to Zijin Mining Group, one of the largest gold producers in China. The sale, finalized at US$298 million in cash, marks the first step in a long-term strategic cooperation agreement recently established between the two companies.

As of last December, Barrick was US$13 billion in debt. In February the company reported a net loss of US$2.91 billion (US$2.50 per share) for fiscal 2014. 

– Katelyn Spidle

Changes coming to B.C. mining code

The British Columbia government announced in late June a process to determine how to implement the seven recommendations made by an independent panel probing the Mount Polley tailings pond breach of August 2014.

B.C.’s Energy and Mines Minister, Bill Bennett, revealed the creation of a Code Review Committee led by Al Hoffman, B.C.’s chief inspector of mines. The committee will focus on three of the panel’s recommendations: the need to implement the best available technology and practices (including the use of filtered “dry stack” tailings technology), the strengthening of safety and regulation during all life phases of a tailings storage facility (TSF), and the upgrading and improvement of existing dam safety guidelines.

The committee consists of representatives nominated by various B.C. First Nations, mine labour unions and industry. Two subcommittees will support the overarching body, providing technical reviews for the work on TSFs and improvements to health and safety practices. The committee will begin meeting on a regular basis in September, said David Haslam, a spokesperson for the ministry of energy and mines.

The technical TSF subcommittee’s sections of the review are expected to be completed in early 2016, with changes legally in force as early as mid-2016. Revisions to the current rules concerning health and safety will likely be implemented as soon as spring 2017. 

– Christopher Pollon

Cost going up for Alberta’s large emitters

Largest CO2 emitters infographicAlberta’s New Democratic Party government announced on June 25 a plan to update and raise the cost of greenhouse gas emissions for large industrial emitters.

The changes will see Alberta renew the Specific Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER), which was set to expire at the end of June, and aim to reduce emission intensity to 15 per cent in 2016, and 20 per cent in 2017, against the current target of 12 per cent. At the same time, the cost of carbon for the province’s Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund (CCEMF) – a fund companies can pay into if they fail to achieve their targets – will rise to $20/tonne in 2016 and $30/tonne in 2017, up from the current $15/tonne.

Under SGER, originally passed in 2007, facilities emitting at least 100,000 annual tonnes of greenhouse gases must reduce emissions by improving facility efficiency, purchasing Alberta-based carbon offset credits, contributing to CCEMF, or earning emission performance credits. Oil sands mining operations rate among the province’s heaviest emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Chelsie Klassen, spokesperson at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the organization remains committed to developing solutions for a “cleaner energy future,” but is urging caution on the part of government.

“Policies to increase the price on carbon must spur direct investments into GHG-reducing technologies to address climate change,” she said, noting that the revised SGER and Alberta’s recently announced corporate tax increase have the potential to add almost $800 million to industry costs over the next two years. “It is critical that government provide a competitive fiscal environment in order to remain attractive for investment and develop policies that keep Alberta competitive in a global market.”

The same day, the Alberta government also announced the creation of a review panel to examine the province’s existing climate change policy. The panel will be led by Andrew Leach, a professor at the University of Alberta School of Business, and report back to government in the fall on its findings, which will include next steps to reduce emissions from all sectors.

“Today we are taking two very meaningful steps toward crafting a solution to deal with climate change,” said Shannon Phillips, Al­berta’s environment and parks minister. “For years, the previous government failed to develop a meaningful strategy to deal with the important issue of climate change, and we are going to do things differently.”

– C.P.

Supporting the local economy

Engineers Without Borders and Mining Shared Value released a report in May on trends in public reporting of local procurement in the mining industry for the period 2012-13. The report’s Cana­dian mining industry sup­­plement looked at the top 50 Canadian mining comp­anies’ public reports to determine their level of reporting on local procurement – a practice meant to improve the economic impact of mining operations on surrounding communities. The report could not confirm if local pro­curement is actually on the rise, but it did determine that the reporting of it is. Among its findings, the report indicated that the percentage of Canadian companies mentioning local procurement in their public reports increased to 72 per cent in 2013, up from 62 per cent in 2012. Here are some additional findings:

               Public-reporting-local-procurement-infographic-1   Public-reporting-local-procurement-infographic-.png

– K.R.

Abitibi Royalties uses the Internet to connect with struggling juniors

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