Baltazar Solano-Rico
Director General of Terra Quaestum & Consultant
Behre Dolbear
View from the Top

Meeting Environmental Requirements

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 15:22

Q: What role does a company’s environmental approach play in determining a project’s success at the prefeasibility and feasibility stage?

A: In Mexico our environmental law dates back to 1988, though it has had a couple of revisions since then. For the most part it very closely follows international trends and standards. In general there are three reports that form the basis for the approval process of a mining project: one is the Environmental Impact Assesment (MIA); depending on the project a risk analysis may also need to be done, if it is expected that hazardous materials will be handled; and the land use change. The latter is becoming a more and more important part of the process, as a result of the problems we have seen with communities in Mexico. These different processes must be completed satisfactorily before permission is granted to begin operations. As a part of the MIA a company has to work all the way from the baseline studies through to considering the impact the mining activities will have on the local environment and the measures that can be taken to minimize it. This is a huge piece of work, and if a company fails in any of those areas then there is a possibility that the MIA will be rejected – we have seen that happening more often recently.

When we started doing this type of work back in 1991 the understanding of mining as being related to environmental processes was not well developed. Now, more than 20 years later, there are more specialized people in this area and the MIA will be split up and given to different specialized groups that have greater expertise and knowledge as to how to evaluate it. Mining companies are also becoming more and more aware of what other companies are doing and the mistakes that have been made, so MIAs are becoming more thorough and more cautious – they have to be, because otherwise chances are that they will be rejected.

Q: How do you advise your clients on how to create a MIA that will pass the requirements?

A: There tend to be two approaches that vary from company to company. Some companies will provide the least amount of information possible to the authorities, hoping that it will make the process quicker. My advice is that the more information a company provides the better its chances of getting the project approved will be, even though it may take a little longer. The quickest approval tends to take a minimum of around six months, though in some cases it can also take significantly longer.

Q: What are the main challenges that you help your clients overcome in restoration programs?

A: The restoration program starts with the land use change process. A company has to prepare a technical report to define the type and abundance of vegetation on the land in question. Based on that, once the mine plan has been created, the company must define which areas of the land are going to be disturbed, and then put together the mine reclamation program and the reforestation program.

On one project in Baja California we spent a whole year transplanting over 10,000 cacti. The authorities must be provided with all of that information, and it must also be updated – there is no precise rule around when, but the first reclamation report should be done at the beginning, and the final reclamation report must be done at the very end. The reason for updating it is that what one expects the mine to be when the project starts will be very different to what it is like 20 years later. When the reclamation plan has been done, and during the lifetime of the project, there are a series of reports that must be provided to the authorities regularly, including things like water sampling, soil sampling and air pollution.

There is some discussion around the use of words for environmental projects. The words reclamation, restoration and reforestation have different meanings. Under the current law, if a company deforests an area it will be obliged to reforest another area that is two to three times larger than what it has cut down. The company has to pay a certain amount of money to CONAFOR, which will do the reforestation in other areas on the company’s behalf. That is a reforestation program. But once a company has finished its project it will reclaim the land, as far as possible, to its original state. The word restore is not used very much, because it will not be possible to take a photo and return it to exactly the same state that it was in 10 years ago. You can reclaim the land, and you can rehabilitate it for different uses, but to restore it is very difficult.

Q: What role can Terra Quaestum play in helping the industry to address the main challenges that the industry will be facing in the coming years?

A: There is a lot of potential for a company like Terra Quaestum, which provides very diversified services to the mining industry. The level of work for these sort of companies depends nowadays on the junior companies; there are less active companies, so surviving this time very much depends on how the market develops and the contacts that a company has been able to develop over the years. The typical service company will offer design and development of exploration programs, regional and property mapping and sampling, drilling supervision, geological modeling and mineral resource estimates. Terra Quaestum is quite particular because we have done a lot of environmental work, so we have had a lot of clients for many years with whom we started to work at the exploration stage, then continued on with supervision, whilst at the same time doing the environmental work for them. In some cases we do mine design as well. We are a professional company working in many different specialized areas.