Climate change and the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emission rates are huge environmental challenges. However, it is not just emissions that have to be monitored.
Minesites are tackling other environmental challenges on a daily basis including water management, rehabilitation and biodiversity.
According to the Minerals Council of Australia environmental policy assistant director Jason Cummings environmental management is not a mining industry ‘fad’ and should not be treated as such.
The latest trends and technologies in environmental management are incremental developments in practices, tools and technology that have developed over the past two decades of performance improvements.
“Key recent developments would include noise abatement techniques, the use of risk-based approaches to identifying and managing community and environmental health impacts, improvements in minesite environmental rehabilitation techniques, the use of biodiversity offsets where companies improve the landscape in other areas through active management, and improved engagement with local communities to identify appropriate land management techniques,” Cummings told Australian Mining.
Environmental management techniques have progressed significantly over the last few decades perhaps the greatest change, however, is the change in industry attitude.
The industry’s attitude towards environmental management has altered significantly since the 1980s.
According to Cummings, mining companies are now acutely aware environmental performance is linked to share value through reputational risk and maintaining a ‘social license to operate’.
“In the past, offsets were unheard of,” he said.
“Most sites did not have dedicated environmental officers, regulation was thin and the carbon economy wasn’t even envisaged as part of a brave new world. Now in many instances voluntary initiatives by industry have moved beyond regulation and are more effective and efficient.”
Leaving a mark
Minesites and mining companies across Australia are employing various initiatives in an attempt to reduce their environmental footprint.
Geraldton Iron Ore Alliance chairperson Clive Brown told Australian Mining the Mid West was working closely with the Western Australia Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority to rehabilitate flora and fauna affected by mining practices.
“A survey of the area to be mined can often show a restricted number of species in that area and if mining was to be carried out there is a concern about the species survival,” he said.
“In those circumstances the research and recovery program is implemented which involves taking endangered species and regenerating them in an area stipulated by the mining lease.”
“A number of companies are putting money aside for the research and recovery program. To ensure impact is minimised, money is set aside for a number of years to translocate species.”
Successful rehabilitation and regeneration of various species and their habitat proves the mining industry has the ability to operate in harmony with the local environment.
Xstrata Coal has also been employing a variety of innovative techniques in order to reduce their greenhouse footprint.
In 2005, Xstrata Coal signed up as a trial company for the Australian Government’s Energy Efficiency Opportunities Program (EEO).
Xstrata achieved energy efficiencies by promoting cultural change in energy management.
Individual sites were given ownership of the process and the responsibility for identifying and implementing energy efficient projects.
Xstrata Coal communications manager James Rickards told Australian Mining the EEO program provided Xstrata with the ability to achieve its environmental goals.
“By reducing our greenhouse footprint we are not only reducing our greenhouse gas emissions but we are also reducing our reliance on electricity,” Rickards said.
“The savings that will be achieved through the EEO process specifically relate to lights, technology and computer usage on-site. What we are trying to do is ensure our sites effectively manage how they use electricity.
“Energy efficiency is one of the big wins we know we can have on the ground in every operation. By making changes in the behaviour of our employees, to the technology, how we use that technology and how we use our power onsite it will ensure we meet our CO2 emission targets,” he said.
Xstrata Coal will be delivering a full statistical report on their energy savings later in the year.
According to Rickards, the company is also employing a variety of other initiatives to help reduce their greenhouse footprint.
Dust suppression techniques, water sharing pipelines, rehabilitation and reforestation are just a few of the techniques currently being employed.
“we are always tweaking our environmental and biodiversity plans to ensure that we are getting greater and more improved results and learning from the past,” Rickards said.
“We want to leave the land in better condition than we found it.”
Xstrata Coal is also employing the methane capture method. Methane gas is collected and converted into electricity. This technology was first implemented by BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal two decades ago.
Further consolidating this commitment to greenhouse gas abatement, BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal developed what is now known as the WestVAMP plant in cooperation with technology provider MEGTEC Systems AB, and BHP Billiton Technology.
Officially opened in September 2007, the plant converts low concentration methane in the mine ventilation air to carbon dioxide and water vapour through a flameless combustion process.
Heat exchangers recover large levels of thermal energy released to produce steam.
The steam is then used to drive a turbine which can generate 6 MW of electricity.
According to the company, BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 each year for five years with existing methane capture technology, and WestVAMP has said it will make a further reduction of 250,000 tonnes.
This makes the company one of the largest single contributors to greenhouse gas emission reduction in NSW.
Cummings told Australian Mining the future of environmental management will present new challenges and opportunities.
“The future will place more responsibility on site managers for environmental performance as we move towards co-regulatory arrangements, increased uncertainty in our environment due to climate change, and heightened public debate about environmental issues,” he said.
“As an industry we need to move further beyond regulatory compliance to maintain our social licence to operate and consolidate our developing image as responsible environmental resource stewards.”
Minerals Council of Australia
Environmental Policy Assistant Director
Geraldton Iron Ore Alliance
WestVAMP Project Manager