Climate changed: Mining industry digs into alternative methods as risks rise

Canadian Press

Written by Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press

In the North, some mines risk leaking acid if the permafrost melts, while across Canada heavier rainfall will add strain to tailings dams and a lack of it could throw operations.

While no strangers to extreme weather, the growing risks from climate change are forcing the mining industry to take a hard look at their methods, and how to prepare for the worst. Many of the most prudent actions to minimize risk are, however, also more costly, meaning that while some have taken them on, not everyone has followed suit.

"This is a serious and emerging problem," said Jamie Kneen, Canada program co-lead at advocacy group MiningWatch Canada.

Kneen said his biggest area of concern is around how mining companies manage the waste they generate, and the dams they use to contain it. Companies are increasingly digging up lower concentrations of metals, meaning there is more waste to deal with after. And while many mines last less than a decade, the tailings they generate are a much longer-term problem.

"We've got, you know, tailings dams that are getting bigger and bigger at the same time as the climate risk is getting bigger," said Kneen.

Given the risks, companies are leaning more on alternative ways to manage the vast volumes of rock and contaminated water generated by extraction, said Bruno Bussière, a professor of mining at Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue.


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