EMCBC Mining and the Environment Primer: Mineral Exploration

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

The most extreme environmental impacts of mining occur in and around mines, yet the impacts may begin well ahead of any real production. The cumulative impacts of exploration can be extensive. The mining industry suggests that the ratio of exploration programs to successful mines is 1,000:1. Clearly, this means considerable human activity, machinery and fuel being transported into a broad area of backcountry by road or by air.

Exploration impacts include roadways, camps, and abandoned equipment and supplies like the fuel drums shown here.

In 1995, the total amount of land staked for new mineral claims in Canada was almost 16 million hectares. This was then the fourth highest total on record.  This staking activity is part of a cyclic process of investment that will continue to fluctuate regionally, subject to a variety of influences, ranging from geological research and commodity prices to government tax incentive programs.

In the recent staking rush in Voisey’s Bay, Labrador, over 250,000 claims were staked, involving over 100 companies. The NWT experienced a similar frenzy of activity with its diamond rush. Both events were fueled as much by stock market speculation as geological assessment. Both rushes had disruptive effects on native land claims, protected areas and other interests not associated with speculation and exploitation of minerals.

Controls on exploration activities and of these kinds of impacts could and should be better-integrated into tenure systems.

Unfortunately, the current "free entry" tenure system continues to create complications and uncertainty. The lack of balance and integration with other interests restricts the opportunity to make wise land use decisions that meet all needs.