Environmental Measures Can Avoid a Disastrous Mining ScenarioBy Andrea Villar | Wed, 06/10/2020 - 16:24
Q: How does an event like COVID-19 play into the design of environmental risk matrixes in the future?
A: When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit Mexico, the government decided to remove industries like automotive, construction and mining from the list of essential activities and ordered a shutdown of all operations. This not only caused economic losses and operational supply chain issues but also created environmental risks.
Mining companies must comply with the environmental measures imposed by Mexican authorities to avoid accidents that not only could cause damage to ecosystems but also the loss of human life. For instance, when a company is building a tailings dam, it has to comply with regulation 141, which requires a freeboard to provide security against spillage. In the face of COVID-19 crisis, the authorities should consider taking precautions to avoid spillages in tailings dams. I think that an important lesson we should all learn from this pandemic is that companies must be prepared to face unforeseen situations.
However, we are confident that many of the current tailings dams being built are developed to the highest safety standards. Tailings are no longer considered a high risk in Mexico as they are in other countries. In Mexico, we do not have the levels of rainfall and poor water management as in countries like Brazil, where major disasters have occurred. For instance, in 2019, a tailings dam at the Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine in Brazil suffered a catastrophic failure that killed 270 people.
Q: Which services do you offer and what problems do you solve throughout the lifespan of a mining project?
A: The first stage in which we get involved is when companies need to obtain permits for their new projects, whether they are federal authorizations or environmental permits, all of which are required by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). These could be for environmental impact and land-use changes, for example. At CESCA, we first identify the project and any problems that may develop based on the location of the mine and the type of operation.
Fortunately, for medium and large mining companies in Mexico there is already extensive environmental policy knowledge. Nevertheless, our work is backed by years of experience in the mining industry and this has allowed us to identify environmental problems that could hinder a company’s project. Once studies and permits are in effect, the authorities ask companies for the technical-economic study to comply with mitigation measures, which are calculated in all stages of the project. Most of the companies we work with ask us to provide them with the technical-economic study to calculate the guarantee amount. We do this calculation to assure costs and prevent high-risk situations.
The second study requested by the authorities is the environmental monitoring or management program, which goes hand in hand with the third requirement, which are the environmental management subprograms aimed at rescuing the flora and fauna. CESCA can elaborate the environmental management program, which includes supervision and associated programs. Once all permits are authorized, a mining company can start operating.
When operations have started, authorities require environmental supervision from companies, which may be in-house or done by a third party, and this is where we come in. SEMARNAT has requested that the environmental supervision be carried out by a third party to guarantee compliance.
Q: What services does CESCA offer once a mine concludes its operations?
A: We have participated in the conceptual work to close some mining operations. An example is the case of waste deposits at Industrial Minera México’s (IMMSA) zinc plant in the state of San Luis Potosi. CESCA designed the waste management for the entire life of the project until its closure. We wanted to understand the dam capacity and devise a strategy that would accommodate the waste in the available space. This plant is near the city of San Luis Potosi and emissions could pollute the area, affecting the population. To prevent any pollution, we designed a cover to close the dam while construction was taking place.
The Center for Environmental Studies, Services and Consulting (CESCA) is made up of multidisciplinary professionals committed to attending the needs of the productive, governmental and social sectors. The company provides environmental consulting and services.