Sept/Oct 2009

Part of the "green" plan

Suppliers are helping the coal and oil sands industries to address environmental concerns

By M. Sabourin

Employees from EBA Engineering Consultants Ltd. monitor water quality to assess if there are any environmental impacts from mining-related activities.

Mining companies active in the oil sands and coal sectors have long been concerned about and doing much to mitigate their impact on the environment. Assisting them greatly in their endeavours is a growing number of “green” suppliers — vendors and consultants who are working diligently with industry and government to reduce, or even eliminate, potentially negative environmental impacts. They offer a plethora of generally applicable and highly specialized products and services that help mining companies work towards a cleaner, greener and more sustainable future.

Water: protection and management

The Canadian coal and oil sands industries operate in one of the world’s most stringent environmental regulatory frameworks. These regulations exist to ensure that our energy resources are developed safely, responsibly and efficiently. Protecting water supplies and aquatic life are among their primary objectives.

Monitoring and permits

Companies like EBA Engineering Consultants Ltd. help mining companies comply with strict environmental regulations and assist them in obtaining the necessary permits. Among EBA’s expansive list of environmental services is environmental baseline data acquisition. Before any development on a project occurs, natural sciences teams collect comprehensive ecological data such as surface and groundwater quality and chemistry, fish and aquatic resources, and stream and river flows. “That way, when you’re monitoring during construction and operations, you have the baseline background data to compare with operational data,” explains Martin Jarman, EBA’s senior project manager and market director of mining environmental services.

“This helps ensure that you’re maintaining status quo as much as possible.”

The baseline data can also help weave mitigation measures into the mine design. Roads and buildings can be constructed to avoid disrupting stream or river flows, particularly near sensitive wetlands. Tailings ponds can be designed and located for minimal environmental impact.

EBA also develops and conducts environmental effects monitoring programs to establish, for example, whether effluents from a mine are affecting aquatic environments. Hydrocarbons and heavy metals are of concern with discharges from oil sands, whereas with coal mining, the selenium content of waste must be monitored.

Numerous regulatory standards accompany any government approvals for effluent discharges from mines. However, as Rick Hoos, a principal consultant at EBA, points out, meeting those standards is not always enough. “When it comes to regulatory concentrations, the numbers themselves are designed to protect the environment. But sometimes, those numbers might not be safe enough,” he explains. “That’s why we do additional monitoring to confirm that even if the requirements are met, the effluents still cause no problems downstream.”

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