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A Call to Responsible, Clean Mining

Responsible, clean mining is not a pipe dream. Employees of gold mining companies can enjoy better health, safety, and peace of mind if mining operations are conducted in a clean, safe, and sustainable manner.

The social contract around mining activity has evolved from a past focus centred around paying the relevant taxes to today’s more complex environmental, social, and governance (ESG) requirements in the current era of the Sustainable Development Goals. While the mining industry is invaluable to the socio-economic development of many countries, a lot of mining operations are located in remote, ecologically-sensitive areas. It is thus obvious that mining activities carried out without regard for socio-environmental concerns will cause harm to mining communities and the environment. 1

Many gold mining companies store their toxic mining waste in tailings facilities. 2 These structures, which are effectively embankments to contain toxic tailings such as cyanide, carry an inherent risk of overflow or leakage. 3 Tailings facilities in cold climates are not spared from stability risks either structural failure in such facilities may occur after repeated expansion and contraction of the permafrost layers that support the dam. 4

The recent rise in gold prices have driven interest in mining companies and has pushed mining operators’ valuations skyward. 5 Data from Bloomberg shows that precious-metals miners, once seen as too leveraged and high-risk for the typical investor, raised a whopping US$2.4 billion in secondary equity offerings during the second quarter of 2020. 6 The FTSE Gold Mines Index and the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index have also both gone up by a third in 2020. But projected financial gains must be reconciled with any damage to the environment by mining operations. 7 This is why the gold mining industry must work in a clean and sustainable manner to safeguard the environment and provide gainful employment to the millions of people who depend on it. 8

The International Council on Mining and Metals has introduced a set of standards to improve responsibility in mining practices. 9 Ten “mining principles” were promulgated, which incorporate robust site-level validation of performance expectations and credible assurance of corporate sustainability reports. 10 To be in line with sustainable development practices and drive positive change, regulatory frameworks must also ensure the fair, consistent, and transparent application of rules and procedures. 11 Multi-stakeholder partnerships will be key to achieving progress in this aspect. If greater emphasis is placed on sustainable development and clean mining practices, the gold mining industry can become a leading partner in contributing to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. 12

High environmental standards can be achieved if mining operators use Clean Mining’s cyanide-free and mercury-free gold recovery reagent. Clean Mining’s gold recovery reagent is non-toxic and effective across a wide variety of ores, and achieves a recovery rate comparable to that of cyanide. By employing an effective dewatering process, mining operators can produce dry tailings, reuse the reagent, and eliminate the need for tailing dams. This effectively eliminates the risk of cyanide leakage into groundwater and the catastrophic failure of tailings dams.

The positive socio-environmental, economic, and financial impacts of mercury-free and cyanide-free mining need to trickle down to the people who are most affected by mining operations. Mining companies will need to extract with responsibility, produce gold products with less waste, use safer processes, incorporate new sustainable technologies, promote the improved wellbeing of local communities, curb emissions, and improve environmental stewardship. This is where clean, responsible mining can make a real difference.

 

Clean Mining is part of the Clean Earth Technologies group.

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[1] Albert K. Mensah, Ishmail O. Mahiri, Obed Owusu, Okoree D. Mireku, Ishmael Wireko, and Evans A. Kissi, “Environmental Impacts of Mining: A Study of Mining Communities in Ghana.” Applied Ecology and Environmental Sciences, vol. 3, no. 3 (2015): 81-94. https://doi.org/10.12691/aees-3-3-3.; See also, Amponsah-Tawiah K., Tuokuu F.X.D. (2017) Effects of Dwindling Gold Prices on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Performance in Ghana’s Mining Sector. In: Idowu S., Vertigans S., Schiopoiu Burlea A. (eds) Corporate Social Responsibility in Times of Crisis. CSR, Sustainability, Ethics & Governance. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-52839-7_12.

[2] For more on how tailings dam are dangerous even if they do not catastrophically fail, see, Christopher Sergeant and Julian D. Olden, “Mine Waste Dams Threaten the Environment, Even When They Don’t Fail,” The Conversation (theconversation.com, April 20, 2020), https://theconversation.com/mine-waste-dams-threaten-the-environment-even-when-they-dont-fail-130770

[3] For more data on the world’s tailings facilities, see, Ally J. Levine, “The Looming Risk of Tailings Dams,” Reuters (Thomson Reuters, December 18, 2019), https://graphics.reuters.com/MINING-TAILINGS1/0100B4S72K1/index.html.

[4] James Wilt, “This Is the Looming Climate Change Disaster in Canada’s North That No One Is Talking About,” This is the Looming Climate Change Disaster in Canada’s North That No One is Talking About (Vice.com, January 13, 2016), https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/jma4ab/this-is-the-looming-climate-change-disaster-in-canadas-north-that-no-one-is-talking-about.

[5] Taha Lokhandwala, “Why the Gold Price Conundrum Will Have a Big Impact on Your Portfolio,” The Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group, July 16, 2020), https://www.telegraph.co.uk/investing/gold/gold-price-conundrum-will-have-big-impact-portfolio/.

[6] With the Covid-19 crisis threatening economies worldwide, precious-metals companies have become the darlings of the investment community and are now attracting a broad base of investors. For more, see, Yvonne Yue Li, Justina Vasquez, and Aoyon Ashraf, “Wall Street Is Throwing Billions at Once-Shunned Gold Miners,” Bloomberg.com (Bloomberg, July 20, 2020), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-20/wall-street-is-throwing-billions-at-once-shunned-gold-miners.

[7] Dan Stone, “Can Modern Gold Mining Be Sustainable?,” National Geographic Society Newsroom, December 15, 2017, https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2012/12/06/can-modern-gold-mining-be-sustainable/.

[8] Abraham Kumah, “Sustainability and Gold Mining in the Developing World,” Journal of Cleaner Production 14, no. 3-4 (2006): pp. 315-323, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2004.08.007.

[9] “A New ESG Mining Standard Will Help Drive Responsible Production,” ICMM • A new ESG mining standard will help drive responsible production, February 22, 2020, https://www.icmm.com/en-gb/news/2020/a-new-esg-mining-standard.

[10] “Mining Principles,” International Council on Mining and Metals; Mining Principles (International Council on Mining and Metals 2020, 2020), https://www.icmm.com/mining-principles.

[11] See, for more on the regulatory mechanisms and need to drive positive change in the mining industry, Chris Lo, “Where next for Mining’s Dominant Emerging Markets?,” Mining Technology | Mining News and Views Updated Daily, October 20, 2014, https://www.mining-technology.com/features/featurewhere-next-for-minings-dominant-emerging-markets-4401234/

[12] Golam Rasul, “Managing the Food, Water, and Energy Nexus for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in South Asia,” Environmental Development 18 (2016): pp. 14-25, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envdev.2015.12.001.

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