Louis Bienvenu, Eng.
Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles
The environment is a major concern for both citizens and the mining industry in Québec. For this reason, the government has enacted laws and regulations that provide mining companies with a provincial framework for environmental matters. In order to operate, a company must obtain a certificate of authorization from the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change (Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les Changements climatiques: MDDELCC). The certificate sets forth the environmental requirements for the liquid waste that will be generated by the operation. But once the certificate is issued, to what extent are the requirements fulfilled?
Since the adoption of Directive 019 for the mining industry in 1989, the MDDELCC has published annual reports on the environmental quality and compliance of liquid mining waste. The report is the result of the compilation and analysis of monitoring data provided by mining operators or collected during control activities conducted by the MDDELCC. The basis for the analysis is the MDDELCC’s requirements at the time it issued the environmental certificates of authorization (CA) and depollution attestations (AS). The recently published 2011 edition examines the results for 76 effluents at 45 mine sites.
From April 1, 2011, to March 31, 2012, the MDDELCC conducted 293 mine site inspections and more than 500 checks on the results provided by mining operators. During this period, 61 notices of non-compliance were issued for breaches of effluent or monitoring requirements.
The table below indicates the number of exceedances for the 45 mine sites in terms of basic parameters for average monthly discharge requirements.
Overall compliance of the mining industry in 2011 based on average monthly discharge and pH requirements
The 2011 summary shows that, with the exception of iron, environmental requirements were met in 95.1 to 100% of the cases. As for iron, 90% of the exceedances were at the Troilus (50%), Cadillac-Molybdenite (24%) and Abcourt-Barvue (16%) mine sites. And the Cadillac-Molybdenite site is responsible for 62.5% of the pH exceedances, caused by two low-volume acidic seepages at the rehabilitated accumulation area where acid-generating waste is stored.
Overall compliance has significantly and steadily increased from 1989 to 1994, to level off at an average of 98.3% until 2007. From 2008 to 2011, the compliance rate declined slightly to a low of 96% in 2010. This decrease is largely explained by the substantially greater number of results provided by operators and by the number of pH exceedances. As for acute toxicity testing on rainbow trout and daphnia, an analysis of compliance rates since 1989 reveals an overall increase, from 84% in 1989 to more than 95% in 2011.
The graph illustrates that the compliance rate of mining operations has been 96% over the past 20 years, even though the framework and criteria have continually tightened since 1989, including the following:
The good results observed to date are largely attributable to the implementation of better water treatment systems by mining companies. Furthermore, over the years, most mining companies have adopted sustainable development policies, which compel them to closely monitor the environmental impact of their operations.
The MERN has also contributed to the industry’s good performance by requiring companies to have approved rehabilitation plans since 1995. One of the main objectives has been to minimize the discharge of contaminated waste into the environment. Rehabilitation plans must be updated every five years or more often if requested by the MERN.
It is expected that mining companies will continue the positive trend of the past 20 years, further reducing their environmental footprint. The Québec Mining Association’s commitment to the “Towards Sustainable Mining” initiative is another example of the industry’s willingness to better control the environmental and social impacts of its operations.
Click here to read the 2011 Report on Environmental Compliance in the Mining Industry (PDF format, 434 Ko) (in French)