Mining and the Environment – A Green News Story

Mining - A green News Story

Climate change solutions, water security and preservation, and wildlife habitat protection are top of mind for most people when they think about the use and management of the natural resources in our province. So what does mining have to do with any of this?

Many Manitobans may be surprised to learn…a lot! Manitoba has some of the most stringent environmental and safety regulatory standards in the world, covering all aspects of mining operations from exploration to processing, and progressive waste management treatment.

Mines of today a whole different picture

Neil Richardson, Director of Exploration for Hudbay Minerals, points out that people often react negatively to mining because they equate it to what they may have seen in other less developed countries. “I think when people are scared and saying ‘Not in my backyard,’ they should realize that we are doing it (mining) in a more environmentally sustainable and manageable way here in Manitoba and in Canada.”

Green tech industries are creating a new economy and employment opportunities for Manitoba. Minerals that are mined in Manitoba are fundamental ingredients in the green technologies that will contribute to a higher quality and more environmentally sustainable life for future generations —solar panels, hybrid vehicles, wind turbines and the like. This is just the beginning of a checklist of positive environmental considerations that most Manitobans don’t know about mining: 


      • Green technologies are now present in all new mining operations and have advanced dramatically in the last several decades. The industry is committed to progress towards net-zero emissions, with the rest of Canada, by 2050. 

      • Most mining operations have access to a cleaner energy sources with Manitoba’s hydro-electric power grid, and their fleets are transitioning away from fossil fuel sources and increasing use of electric-powered mining equipment and processing facilities.

      • Permits are not given without substantial assessments to determine the viability of a site, the meeting of stringent requirements for operating the mine safely and sustainably in adherence to all existing and future regulations, and having plans and funding in place at the outset for reclamation of the site at the end of the mine’s operational life. 

      • Indigenous communities, including Elders, are consulted at every stage of mining. The goal is to reduce the mine’s footprint as much as possible, respect the land and resources during its operation, and return the environment to its natural state at the end of the mine’s life. 

    Feeding the green economy

    Jack Winram is Executive Director for the Manitoba Environmental Industries Association (MEIA), which represents companies and organizations that buy and sell goods or services that improve our environmental footprint. He notes that companies from around the world are looking at Manitoba as an opportunity to find critical minerals while taking advantage of our renewable energy.

    “We have a high number of critical minerals here in Manitoba that can feed our new green economy, and we have a regulated monopoly that delivers electricity in a renewable form,” Winram says. “That breeds opportunity not only on the supply chain from the critical mineral side through exploration and extraction, but also attracts businesses who are looking to improve their carbon footprint and improve their energy needs from renewable sources.”

    Doing it right through Indigenous knowledge and engagement

    According to Winram the mining industry is striving to get this right in another important way, by engaging First Nations communities in development of the mining sector. “I think this is very important because they know better than anyone about the impacts on the environment. In Manitoba, the opportunity is to involve these communities right from the start, even before you’re looking at taking out permits. It’s talking to that community and consulting with them in a meaningful way, so they are a part of the process and a part of the business opportunity. Not just the jobs, but the business opportunity. I think that’s where Manitoba can have an advantage going forward.”

    Joey Champagne, Operations Director of Tantalum Mining Corporation of Canada Ltd. (TANCO) in Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, emphasizes that mining industry responsiveness goes beyond regulations. “Manitoba’s mining industry is filled with hard-working individuals who want to make sure they’re doing the right things for the communities and the regions where they work and live,” he says. “Mining is an extremely important field to be in, and the operators in Manitoba are all very responsible in their approach to taking care of the environment and creating a sustainable future for us as well.”  

    Everybody wins in environmental stewardship

    Winram also credits technology which, he says, has come a long way. “[The mining industry] is ahead of the curve in terms of using electrification as a way to improve its carbon footprint and improve its sustainability in the long term. There are also manufacturers here in Manitoba who are involved in electrification of that machinery. I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”

    People are most concerned about water quality and preservation, and Winram points to some of the advancements the mining industry has used in what he calls the “latest sustainability tactics and policies and procedures.” 

    One has to do with mining tailings, which are the leftover materials from the extracting and processing of minerals. Tailings consist of ground rock and what were once considered unrecoverable and uneconomic metals, chemicals, organic matter and effluent from the process used to extract the desired products.

    Winram explains: “Some of the tailings that weren’t critical back in the fifties and sixties are critical now with this new oncoming green economy, especially for battery storage. Lithium is a perfect example. There are tailings out there that contain an amount of lithium that makes it economical to go back and work through.”

    Ed Huebert, a long time mining executive who previously served with the Manitoba government as an advisor on mining policy, has more to say about tailings management. “The government of Canada, through the Mine Environment Neutral Drainage program, has been working very hard to advance what we can do to recover metals and minerals out of the old tailings. There are also new technologies for dealing with them in what is called dry stack tailings, so you don’t even put them in water anymore.”

    Huebert’s 30 years in the sector has made him an encyclopedia for how government and industry have worked together to reduce mining’s carbon footprint. He references other new technologies for things like the “destruction of cyanide” in gold production and “circuits to avoid taking heavily concentrated sulfur locations.” 

    “I’ve watched the federal government work with provinces and industry and non-government organizations over the last 30 years, and it’s a constantly evolving series of standards and targets. The metal mine effluent regulations, which are now the metal and diamond mine effluent regulations have more stringent requirements before water can be discharged back into the environment. It’s tighter than it’s ever been in terms of airborne emissions. Canada has always been looking for continuous improvements. We’ve got very strong standards, and I would say Manitoba, like Canada, is as tight on environmental standards as anywhere in the world.”

    He points out that one driving factor for the industry itself is not wanting to lose competitiveness by hanging onto old technology. “When you move towards some of these technologies, you actually improve the bottom line.”

    Big picture, small footprint

    Stacy Kennedy, president of the Mining Association of Manitoba Inc. (MAMI) and Director of Manitoba Operations for Vale in Thompson, adds how even she had to get over some of her own misconceptions when she first joined the industry. “I met this individual who took me through our flow of water. I was blown away at the controls and the regulation that were in place to make sure that we were having no negative impact on the environment. So I was very proud to be part of that business, and I am still proud today.”

    Community involvement occurs along the way

    Vale has been operating for more than 60 years in Manitoba and is now proactively restoring segments of its operation to its natural state. Stacy notes that creates opportunities for community partnerships. “We have a local beekeeper, and we opened our property to him to help with reclamation; the wildflowers benefit the bees, and then the bees pollinate the flowers, creating more growth to restore the natural vegetation. This year alone, we’re going to get 700 bottles of honey to give to our employees from bees on our property that are contributing to the site’s reclamation to its natural state. It’s an amazing relationship.”

    This process of reclamation is a critical stage of all mines in Manitoba at the end of their productive life. Kennedy says, “In some cases, you can’t even tell a mine was ever there.”

    Kennedy goes on to describe how electric vehicles and semi-autonomous functions on drills and different pieces of equipment are allowing for efficiencies of operations, increased productivity, and more.

    “The electric vehicles are probably the biggest change right up front. It’s really interesting because historically you would hear loud vehicles coming. And with combustion engines, you would have air quality challenges within mines, but it’s not that at all anymore. When we drive around, there’s no noise, it’s quiet. There are now these beautiful vehicles that have no emissions in our underground work environment.”

    Again, who would have thought? 

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