News Article

Best Practices in Tailored Management and Mine Closure

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 09:57

Moderator: Luis Vera Morales, Partner at Vera & Asociados
Panelist: Rafael Dávila, Head of Mining Industry Latin America at ERM
Panelist: Arturo Rodriguez Abitia, Deputy Attorney for Industrial Inspection of PROFEPA
Panelist: Patrick Williamson, Principal Consultant and Manager of SRK Consulting Mexico
Panelist: Víctor del Castillo Alarcón, Director of Environment and Ecology at Grupo Mexico

Vera claimed that the environmental regulatory framework is functional and has been so for 40 years, although he indicated dissatisfaction with the Environmental Responsibility Law for aiming to take consequences beyond civil responsibility. He points out that the true scope of the law is unknown and compliance with environmental law is very expensive for most companies. The problems are created in day-to-day activities, he said, and the law does not address daily issues. For instance, the Environmental Responsibility Law indicates that the environment should be restored to the way it was before the accident or incident, a demand that ignores the nature of mining operations. Vera claimed that not having a reasonable law for environmental liabilities and externalities will result in high costs for everyone. “Previously, the law had a preventive nature,” he said and mentioned that the new law creates administrative confusion, is based on political reasons, has social costs, and separates law from science.

Davila talked about how environmental affairs related to mining are carried out in Peru, which adopted best practices from Canada. He said that management of residues can take down an entire mining operation, so attention should be out to this area. “Tailings dams receive residues from all stages of a mining process, so any procedure will affect the dams.” Davila went on to add this is also an energy issue, as technology has to be used to take and treat water in remote places. “Contention has to be environmentally and even economically sustainable,” claimed Davila.

Del Castillo commented the benefits of environmental discourses for political reasons, a position he does not condone. He stated that mining operations do not contaminate for the sake of it, since they produce something society needs. In his view, the media exaggerates mining related disasters without ever acknowledging the benefits of this industry. Del Castillo urged to change the general perspective of the mining industry, as this industry has an important social impact and should not be seen for its sporadic environmental accidents.

Williamson raised the question of what is acceptable when closing a mine, which should be agreed upon by mining companies and environmental authorities. He said Canadian companies constantly work on their closing plans, update these annually, and have funds contemplated for this purpose. He thinks it would be a good idea for mining companies elsewhere to adopt similar plans.

The moderator invited Rodriguez to talk about best practices, and the PROFEPA representative said the authorities are concerned about the environmental impact of mining. This industry, he commented, is seen as one of many economic activities in Mexico. This has an impact on the drafting of the regulations that govern the mining sector. One of the gaps that has not been covered in the environmental regulation is the closing of mining operations. Rodriguez said PROFEPA has inspected about 860 mining facilities, and 70% showed no deviations, which speaks well of the industry's compliance with the regulations. “Compliance might not be at 100%, but the figures are significant.” He said the behavior of the mining industry is similar to that of the chemical or the cement industry in terms of environmental compliance. The authorities, he told, not only interact with the mining industry through the law; it is also possible to negotiate and engage through voluntary programs. He concluded saying the mining industry complies with environmental regulations just as much as any other industry