THE BLOG

A Global View on Responsible Mining - a reality in the 21st century

14/07/2014 13:03 BST | Updated 10/09/2014 10:59 BST

In the past years, there has been a massive movement against mining in general and against gold mining throughout the world. The voices that stand against mining claim that companies and countries use mineral resources without regard for the environment, cultural heritage or the local community.

However, I'm looking at the countries that are constantly on the top of the world's economic growth and development charts, and I cannot but see that some of these top performers rely on responsible, modern gold and silver mining as part of their success. Responsible mining upholds respect towards both the environment and the local communities and these mines in Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the US, to name but a few countries, are examples of how modern mining protects the environment and how local community partnerships work.

This report creates a picture of how Rosia Montana could grow and thrive with the start of the proposed mining project and proves that mining can be done responsibly in the 21st century.

Past, Present and Future in Victor, Colorado

Nestled in the heart of Colorado's gold country, near the town of Victor, the Cripple Creek mining district has seen mining ever since gold was first discovered there in the 1890s. The Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company started operations in the District in 1976 and in 1993 it began engineering for the current, modern Cresson Mine. The process of obtaining all of its necessary permits and ensuring compliance with local, state and federal requirements took until 1994.

The mining operation at Cresson is a low-grade, surface operation using a valley-type, conventional heap-leach process using cyanide to extract the gold from the crushed rock and activated carbon to recover the gold from solution. Dore buttons resulting from the treatment process are shipped to refineries for final processing. The leaching facilities at Cresson are compliant with strict water quality regulations and function as a zero-discharge facility, as all solution is continually re-circulated. Their advanced design includes double and triple lined containments and extensive environmental monitoring systems. Coupled with a permanent and ubiquitous involvement of the people working there, they assure that the environment is protected.

As a living, functioning part of the community's mining heritage, the operators of the Cresson mine have coordinated relocation and refurbishment efforts for over 25 historic structures in Victor and the surrounding Cripple Creek area. This serves both as recognition of the value of historic mining resources in terms of heritage and to the local communities, and as a way of giving back to the community.

Looking to the future, mining at current production rates in Cresson will continue until about 2026, when the mine will enter a phase of declining production, followed by the final reclamation and returning the land to the productive and natural circuits. However, new discoveries made during exploration in the Cripple Creek area have set up the possibility of extending mining areas, along with new, high-tech facilities.

Modern Technology and Involvement in Kittila, Finland

Finland comes to mind when I think of strong economic and social development, as well as a healthy concern for the environment. Finland is also home to one of Europe's largest known gold deposits and Europe's largest producing gold mine, where Agnico Eagle operates the Kittila mine. The mine is located 55 km north of the town of Kittila, 900 km north of Helsinki and sees around 1.1 million tonnes of ore extracted each year.

The ore from the Kittila mine is then processed in-situ using cyanide to separate the gold, in complete safety and full compliance with the latest EU regulations and uses an INCO-licensed method to eliminate the cyanide. What's more, the water from the carbon-in-leach (CIL)  tanks is then completely recycled back into the mineral processing plant, so that it never comes into contact with the environment. The entire system is continuously sampled and analysed and automatic alerts are issued should disruptions take place. This method used at the Kittila mine is classified as a Best Available Technique and all new mines in the EU must use such methods in order to remain as best practice operations.

In addition to operating with the utmost concern for safety and the environment, the Kittila mine is also a great contributor to the local community. The municipality of Kittila sees around $3.5 million each year enter its coffers thanks to taxes and fees in the mining sector, and the community benefits from the numerous jobs created by the industry. Besides the direct benefits from mining, tourism was developed in parallel and in partnership with the mining company, creating an industry which currently employs 1100 people.

The Levi Tourist Office, which is responsible for Kittila, has worked in partnership with the operator of the Kittila mine ever since the mine was established. The partnership came naturally thanks to shared values such as concern for the environment and for people's safety. Both the mining company and the tourism office find the partnership mutually beneficial and is currently being expanded to be more goal oriented.

Sweden: Bringing new life to Storuman through mining

Pautrask is a small rural village in the middle of wilderness, in the Swedish municipality of Storuman, some seventy kilometres west of Lycksele, one of the country's best known gold mining areas. Pautrask and its neighbourhood had long been considered a depopulated area, until three geologists discovered gold there in 1994. That's when things took a positive turn for Pautrask.

The Svartliden Production Centre, operated by Dragon Mining, has been operating since 2005 in the municipality of Storuman. The Centre is located around 700 km north of Stockholm and west of the Skellefte Mining District. The Production Centre is the first example of an integrated mine and treatment plant developed under Sweden's new Environment and Mining Act. Since then, the Centre has produced over 350,000 ounces of gold.

The ore, of which close to 3 million tonnes has been processed so far, is passed through a conventional CIL plant which has a designed capacity of 300,000 tonnes per year. One of the mining company's main goals is to have as little environmental impact as possible. This is achieved by minimizing operational emissions and impact and through an ongoing monitoring and sampling process, such as water sampling at different points in the water system. The measurements are continuously reported to local authorities. A restoration program will be put in place once mining operations have ceased.

Local authorities say that mining has brought many benefits to the community, including jobs, improvement of living standards, vocational training for people working in the field, all of which contributed to an increase in population. Given the community's trend before mining had arrived there, one could say that mining also brought hope and perspective.

Innovation and a return to nature in Waihi, New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Waitekauri Valley saw mining take place near the town of Waihi via underground methods between 1895 and 1920. Gold and silver were then mined there using both underground and open pit methods from 1991 to 1998 at the Golden Cross mine. In this time, the mixed-method mine produced around 20.5 tonnes of gold and around 52 tonnes of silver. Production of the minerals ceased in April 1998 and the mine then shifted to the reclamation phase, which saw the area returned to its natural state over a period of three years.

The rehabilitation phase was a regulatory requirement; however this was strengthened by a commitment made by the joint venture operating the mine to return the site to nature through a sustainable land use designed to last in perpetuity. The rehabilitation was made successful by six key design features, which included the controlled placement of acid-generating waste rock into selected disposal sites, sealing layers over these waste rock disposal sites, diversion drains, a recovery circuit for cyanide recycling prior to disposal, managed re-vegetation over the rehabilitation layers, as well as a partial capping of the tailings, which accelerated consolidation.

Cyanide management was an important issue, as was community consultation, and planning the management of these issues commenced before the closure planning and continued throughout the closure phase. The earliest stages of the mine development saw an R&D program implemented which developed a system to recover cyanide directly from the tailings stream before being discharged to the tailings impoundment, leading to a global innovation in the sector.

This commitment to innovation, coupled with dedication to protecting and securing the environment and constant consultations with the community led to a world-class rehabilitation project, the first truly modern metal mine closure in New Zealand which also set standards for closure at an industry level.

Taking action on all sides in Rosia Montana

Colorado's gold mine saw a rich historical heritage which it sought to protect and invest in, as well as plan for the future of the community, together with it.

Finland's Kittila mine partnered with local authorities and people living there to not only bring direct economic benefits, but also develop the tourism sector, creating additional jobs and benefits.

In Sweden, a former depopulated area saw people moving in once again in a busy and growing mine.

In New Zealand, Waihi saw a global standard-setting reclamation and rehabilitation plan which brought the former mining site back to nature.

In Romania, the Rosia Montana mine seeks to protect the environment and work for the benefit of the local community. The tourism industry will be boosted and supported both through infrastructure and through planned tours and investments. The rich historic mining heritage will be included in these tourist routes after extensive investments to bring it back to its former glory. The community will once again thrive thanks to jobs in its traditional industry. Mining and cyanide management will be done in strictest compliance with EU directives and standards and using industry best practices and the reclamation phase will see the area returned to nature.

Responsible mining is already part of the plan so there should be nothing standing in the way of a project that is compliant and would set new standards of responsibility for the gold mining industry.