For the metal mining industry around the world, typically producing grades of less than five per cent, it is the management of waste rock and tailings (sand- and silt-sized particles of rock from around the grains of valuable mineral) that has the greatest potential impact on the environment.
And so it is the greatest point of concern for the public at large. The public is not concerned about commodity prices, mine productivity or even safety issues in mines, but it is concerned about our impact on the environment.
The only measure of success that counts is environmental performance, and we are failing.
In Canada, we can be proud of the fact that it was largely our consultants and their mining company clients that were responsible for developing the guidelines used to manage tailings management facilities (TMFs) around the world.
The banks that finance large mining projects require compliance with the Equator Principles, and these include the responsible operation of tailings management facilities.
There was a time when major mining companies could make the case that these issues were being adequately addressed by this framework of government regulation and operational practice. Times have changed.
Obtaining a government permit to conduct mining operations, including the TMF, is no longer sufficient to gain ‘social licence to operate’ from local communities.
In communities that have long been engaged in mining activity, or other kinds of industrial processes, compliance with regulatory requirements are often sufficient because social democratic processes ensure regulations largely address societal concerns.
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