Dec '15/Jan '16

Industry at a glance

By Kate Sheridan and Katelyn Spidle

Lorena Tere (paddle 21), a chemical engineer-in-training, bids at the Women Who Rock auction with her sister, Konstanca Tere (left of 21), a chemical engineering student from Ryerson. They were sponsored by Pear Tree Securities and won an hour of mentorship with David Garofalo, CEO of Hudbay | Courtesy of Women Who Rock

Bidding on the future

How valuable is an hour-long conversation with a mining CEO? Twenty-three women in the early stages of their career got to name their price as they bid on an hour of mentorship with one of 13 C-level executives during Women Who Rock’s (WWR) second annual Auction for Action at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel on Oct. 28.

This year, Carol Banducci, CFO of IAMGOLD; Rob McEwen, CEO of McEwen Mining; and David Garofalo, president and CEO of Hudbay Minerals, were among the 13 mentors. While the organization actively recruits female mentors – and three participated this year – WWR president and founder Elena Mayer noted that men also have a role to play to increase women’s participation in the industry.

“We do believe that to have a meaningful dialogue, we need to have both male and female leaders,” she said. “Our industry is still predominantly male, so we need to make sure that our male stakeholders are also a part of this dialogue.”

One of the mentees from last year’s auction, Sandra Meng, said she believed the mentorship would help her succeed. “As a woman, I feel we are often not proactive enough to seek a mentor. I thank WWR for providing me with the opportunity to gain insight in the mining industry, and meet and talk to someone as successful as [Kinross president and CEO] Paul Rollinson.” Meng was a student at York University’s Schulich School of Business when she took part in last year’s event. Rollinson was back this year to provide his insight to another young mining professional.

Front and centre among the bidders were six students from across the country who won an essay competition to have their bids for mentors sponsored by companies.

All of the profits from the event were donated to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, chosen because of the economic development support provided by the federal government for indigenous women in mining.

CIM partnered with WWR to support the event and donated copies of the Women of Impact book (published by CIM), which profiles 18 women who have risen to prominence in the materials, metallurgy and mining fields.

– Kate Sheridan

Vale under investigation for decades of waste seepage in Sudbury

Environment Canada and the RCMP collected documents and information from Vale’s Sudbury offices on Oct. 9 as part of an ongoing investigation into an alleged leak from the company’s smelter facility. Accusations listed as part of the search warrant filed in the Ontario Court of Justice include that waste material has been seeping from Vale’s site into local streams for decades and that the company has been aware of the seepage since 1997.

“We have reviewed the warrant documents filed with the court by Environment Canada and disagree with the conclusions being drawn,” stated a Vale press release.

A resident of the area around Vale’s Sudbury plant reported a green runoff from the site into a nearby creek in 2012, which spurred Environment Canada to investigate, according to the warrant. Testing later revealed that the material had high levels of nickel and copper, according to a recent statement issued by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

The provincial ministry stated that in 2012 they required Vale to upgrade their seepage collection system, to redirect all smelting waste to a water treatment plant prior to discharging them. “The ministry continues to oversee operations at the site and can confirm that the treatment plant is in full compliance with ministry standards,” wrote environment ministry media relations officer Lindsay Davidson in a statement to CIM Magazine.

“Vale acted swiftly to address the issue raised in 2012 when the matter came to our attention and at no time was the community at risk as the water had no connection to any of the City’s drinking water sources,” Vale’s statement said.

While copper and nickel can be normally found in the environment, high levels can have a negative impact on plants and animals, said Environment Canada spokesperson Natalie Huneault. “For example, excess copper and nickel concentrations in water or soil have been shown to inhibit growth of plants and algae, to decrease the life span of organisms such as crustaceans, and to affect the development of fish and amphibians at early life-stages.”

Because the investigation is ongoing, Environment Canada refused to confirm if the department verified what Vale did in 2012 to fix the leak, or what the department’s next step would be to confirm the issue was permanently fixed.

– K. Sheridan

Creating a win-win situation

Modern treaties appear to be facilitating contracts between mining companies and First Nations, speeding up the development of projects on treaty-affected land, according to a study by the C.D. Howe Institute published in October.

The report, entitled The Effect of First Nations Modern Treaties on Local Income, reveals that these treaties have increased the real income in First Nations communities by 17 per cent, and incomes for extractive sector workers have risen by 40 per cent. Real income refers to income after adjusting for changes in cost of living.

“By clarifying property rights, treaties reduce the transaction costs for extractive industries, such as mining, and facilitate their development,” wrote Fernando M. Aragón, author of the report. “Such clarification paves the way for more mining projects that may increase demand for local workers.”

The study examined 15 modern treaties implemented by 27 bands in British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Yukon since 1990.

According to the study, bands with a modern treaty are more likely to hold a mining contract. In 2012, the average number of mining contracts held by a treaty band was one, while non-treaty bands had just 0.2. It also claims that although the overall number of First Nations mining agreements has increased since the mid-1990s, the number has risen much faster among treaty bands.

The Nisga’a Lisims Nation of northern British Columbia, included in the study, has not conducted a formal analysis on the treaty’s economic impact. However, its spokesperson and president H. Mitchell Stevens confirmed that the nation’s relationship with the mining sector has drastically improved since implementing the Nisga’a Final Agreement in 2000.

“Our treaty has an environmental chapter which sets out legal requirements in addition to federal and provincial legislation which has ensured that we can agree to projects while protecting our human and marine water habitats,” Stevens said. He noted that the Nisga’a Final Agreement has enabled the successful negotiation of contracts with Avanti Mining, Seabridge Gold and Pretium Resources, whose operations will collectively cover 26,000 square kilometres of Nisga’a land.

– Katelyn Spidle

University of Toronto students place first at mining competition

World Mining Competition winners photo
Matthew Hart, Daryl Li, Seung Young Baek, and Peter Miszkiel (left to right) pose with their award from the World Mining Competition | Courtesy of David Stobbe, World Mining Competition

Imagine a junior miner’s project has caught the eye of an executive at a major mining company, but developing the site would require a dam as well as the diversion of a river. Should the company buy the site? Should the river be diverted to develop the site? What is the best solution?

This challenge was tackled by 13 teams of four students at the World Mining Competition’s fourth annual undergraduate case competition in Saskatoon on Nov. 1. The winning team from the University of Toronto’s Lassonde Institute of Mining – which included Peter Miszkiel, Daryl Li, Matthew Hart and Seung Young Baek – won gold by rejecting the deal and choosing to do nothing.

“We took into account a lot of scenarios that we’ve seen in the current mining atmosphere with projects that involve water, as well as the environmental and social impacts,” said Li. “That was the big driver for us, to come up with our decision, the [corporate social responsibility] issues, as well as the social license to operate.”

Teams from the University of Waterloo and Queen’s University came in second and third place, respectively.

The competition is Canada’s first undergraduate mining case competition. The name of the event changed this year, from the National Mining Competition to the World Mining Competition, to acknowledge four participating international teams from the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology in Germany, the University of Exeter in England, and the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.

A panel of seven executives, including some from K+S Potash and Cameco, judged the teams’ submissions.

The convergence of social, economic and technical concerns is what makes the competition special, said Ben Copeland, the chair of the competition and a student at the University of Saskatchewan, which hosted the event. “It’s the only competition that I know of that brings together the engineering and the business side of the mining industry.”

Success at case competition is helpful for the visibility of the students’ programs, said Brent Sleep, head of the Lassonde Institute. It will also be a valuable credential for the students themselves, showing that “not only do they have the skills needed to participate but they have the skills needed to come first,” he said. “That’s a good thing to put on a resume.”

– K. Sheridan

Two Australian mines move to all-driverless truck fleet

Komatsu trucks
Rio Tinto is replacing many of their trucks with autonomous Komatsu trucks. Ore at their Nammuldi and Yandicoogina iron mines are exclusively hauled by these driverless trucks | Courtesy of Rio Tinto

Over 20 million tonnes of material at Rio Tinto’s Australian iron ore mines are being moved by trucks every month – but at two mines, there has not been a driver behind the wheel since October.

The company operates a fleet of 69 driverless Komatsu trucks across three operations. The Nammuldi and Yandicoogina mines, both in Western Australia’s Pilbara belt, are now the first two in the world to use only driverless trucks. Hope Downs 4, also in the Pilbara, has a mix of driver-operated and driverless trucks. The company has 15 mines in the Pilbara region, where much of the workforce is fly-in, fly-out.

The initiative is part of the company’s Mine of the Future program, said James Petty, the general manager of mine fleet management and technology at Rio Tinto’s iron ore division. The trucks are managed from an operations centre in Perth, about 1,500 kilometres away.

The trucks have been online since pilot projects began in December 2008. Since then, productivity has increased by 12 per cent, while load and haul operating costs have decreased by about 13 per cent, according to Rio Tinto. Over the next three years, the company has reported it expects to save US$200 million a year by phasing in other automated equipment as part of its Mine of the Future program, including unmanned drills and trains.

The company is the largest owner and operator of autonomous haulage systems in the world, Petty said, but there are still plans for additional growth. The trucks will arrive at additional sites in the Pilbara belt in the coming years.

– K. Sheridan

Eleven dead after catastrophic Brazilian tailings dam failure

Samarco mine dam failure
The dam failure at Samarco’s mine in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais spread muddy tailings water through 11 communities | Antônio Cruz/Agência Brasil via Wikimedia Commons

The numbers used to describe the tailings dam failure at Samarco Mineração’s Germano iron ore mine on Nov. 5 make it clear that there will be social, environmental and financial ramifications. At least 11 people were killed and 600 residents were displaced after 62 million cubic metres of tailings spread over 440 kilometres downstream through 11 local communities, reaching the Brazilian coast by late November. By comparison, the Mount Polley tailings dam breach released 17 million cubic metres of water and 8 million cubic metres of tailings.

Less clear are the scale of the impacts and the next steps for the Brazilian government, Samarco and its parent companies, Vale and BHP Billiton.

The tailings dam complex in question was a three-tiered system. One dam completely failed and another was “affected,” according to a BHP Billiton press release a few days after the event. The companies have monitored the third dam since the incident.

In the days following the failure, the Brazilian government revoked Samarco’s mining license and ordered the company to provide helicopters to aid rescue efforts and search for people still in the area. The government also announced Samarco would have to pay BRL$250 million (about CAD$88 million) in fines for the environmental impact. The company will also put BRL$1 billion (about CAD$350 million) into an emergency fund, to be used for compensation, solutions for the failure and potential future issues, or other expenses. BRL$500 million must be deposited by Nov. 26. Vale and BHP Billiton vowed to help Samarco create an emergency fund for affected families, communities and infrastructure.

A plan to deal with the environmental impact of the incident is also being developed. According to BHP Billiton, the tailings are inert, but the suspended solids from the tailings have flowed into the Rio Doce and made water supplies for drinking and industry unusable. BHP Billiton president and CEO Andrew Mackenzie told analysts and investors the company did not yet know how long it would be before the water improved.

“We are deeply sorry, so sorry, to everyone who has and will suffer from this terrible tragedy,” Mackenzie said at a press conference in Brazil. “We are 100 per cent committed to do everything we can do to support Samarco and make this right.”

– K. Sheridan

FinnMin adopts MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining initiative

The Finnish Mining Association (FinnMin) adopted the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative on Nov. 3. The program was embraced following a national dialogue, led by FinnMin, about how to encourage social acceptance of Finland’s mining sector.

Markus Ekberg, the chair of FinnMin, said the organization chose to implement TSM because it had “proven its effectiveness” in Canada. “We believe it will be a useful tool for Finnish mining companies when the companies develop their sustainability reporting in the future,” he said.

Created in 2004, TSM outlines six protocols – each with a set of indicators – that provide a framework for mining companies to measure the performance of their facility-level management systems. Canadian mining companies are required to publicly report their results in the annual TSM Progress Reports to retain their memberships with MAC. Every three years, participating companies are audited by third-party verifiers to determine if the self-reported performance ratings are accurate.

Since TSM was developed within the Canadian context, Ben Chalmers, who leads the program for MAC, noted that Finland will need to adapt the initiative to fit its unique needs. So far, Finland has developed a water management protocol and a mine closure protocol – two things that are missing from TSM.

“I think what we will see as this develops over time is that it will evolve in each country, but we will each be able to benefit from the other’s successes and progress,” Chalmers said.

Chalmers also confirmed that Norway, Sweden and Denmark have also shown interest in adopting TSM, having recently engaged in discussion with MAC. According to the association, Botswana also unofficially follows its guidelines.

– K. Spidle

Late changes undermine Peel Watershed plan

Hart River
The Peel Watershed and the rivers within it, like the Hart River (pictured) are the subject of a court battle between the Yukon territorial government and environmental and First Nations groups who want to protect more of the watershed from development | Courtesy of Marten Berkman-Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

The Yukon Court of Appeal ordered the territory’s government to redo some of the consultation process for the Peel Watershed land use plan. The court upheld a December 2014 Yukon Supreme Court ruling because “Yukon failed to honour the letter and spirit of its treaty obligations,” according to the appeal court’s decision published on Nov. 4.

The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal agreed with the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit, first launched in January 2014. The Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Yukon Conservation Society, and the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nations argued the territorial government had deprived First Nations of effectively exercising their role in land use planning. Agreements with the territory entitled the First Nations to consult on land use planning processes through an independent planning commission.

There are about 9,000 mineral claims in the Peel Watershed region. The territorial government estimated that $47 million has been spent on exploration since 2002.

The Yukon Geological Survey estimated that companies spent $700 to $750 million on exploration and $500 million on development in Yukon as a whole from 2010 to 2014.

During the final stages of the planning process, the government reduced the amount set aside for conservation to about 30 per cent, down from 80 per cent, which the appellate court declared were “new and substantive modifications that were neither consulted on nor put to the [independent Peel Watershed Regional Planning] Commission for consideration.”

Now, everything completed after February 2011, including some consultations, will have to be redone.

“The Yukon government will review the court’s decision and consider the implications of today’s judgement. The government’s initial assessment is that we are satisfied with the court’s direction to go back to an earlier stage in the planning process,” the government stated in a press release.

Some of the plaintiffs expressed their concern that the ruling would not translate into more protected space, instead allowing the government to repeat the consultation process with its preferred plan. “The Appeal Court’s ruling supports our constitutional rights under the UFA, but does little to ensure the Yukon Government respectfully listens to what we have to say,” said First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Chief Simon Mervyn in a press release. “Our trust has been seriously breached and we had hoped the Court would rule more decisively in our favour.”

– K. Sheridan

New university chair works on mine site reclamation in northern Quebec

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     Cover story: The year ahead      Project Profile: Drakelands mine     Upfront: Information technology     Technology: 3D modelling
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