Spotlight on Natural Resources Canada, (Part 2)

Institutional Feature, October 2010 (Page 1 of 4)

This map displays the mean Fire Weather Indices across Canada for the fire season (April through September) as calculated over a 30-year period from 1971 to 2000. Credit: © Department of Natural Resources Canada. All rights reserved.
this map displays the mean Fire Weather Indices across Canada for the fire season as calculated over a 30-year period from 1971 to 2000. Read more about this map in the tabs below.

An examination of Essential Science IndicatorsSM data from Thomson Reuters shows that Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and its science sectors, which include the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) and the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), are in the top 1% among institutions in the fields of Plant & Animal Science, Environment & Ecology, Engineering, and Geosciences. All together, NRCan's record in the database includes 4,182 papers cited a total of 44,890 times between January 1, 2000 and June 30, 2010.

This month, how NRCan is helping to "green" the mining industry, forecast forest fires, and monitor earthquake activity in Canada and in Haiti.

In the conclusion of our two-part series, ScienceWatch.com Editor Jennifer Minnick continues to explore NRCan and its wide variety of projects by talking with several of the scientists and administrators responsible for the organization's citation achievements



GREENING THE MINING INDUSTRY

The mining industry is crucial to Canada and cannot be overestimated. Mining contributes about 40 billion dollars to the annual GDP; 60% of railroad use in Canada is by the mining industry, and 60-75% of the activity in Canadian ports is due to the transport of minerals and metals.

The Green Mining Initiative (GMI) was conceived in 2008, approved by the various mine ministers across Canada, and launched by the Minister of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) in 2009. Operating under the umbrella of NRCan, GMI has 90 staff members working in Ottawa, Sudbury, and Val-d’Or. The Director of the GMI, Dr. Louise Laverdure, started with NRCan in 1991 as a research scientist. Her career path within NRCan has given her a unique perspective on the needs and innovations for the mining industry across Canada.

"The GMI concept was triggered by our will to improve the environmental performance which will consequently improve the image that Canadians have of the mining industry—Canadians should be proud of our mineral endowment and proud to be world leaders in this field," Laverdure explains.

Photo 1 :
North Coldstream Mine, Ontario before rehabilitation.Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.
"North Coldstream Mine, Ontario before rehabilitation."

View larger image, complete description, and source credit in tab below.

"The industry as a whole is really proactive. In the last 30 years, I think we, as a society, evolved and became a lot more conscious about the impact of our activities on the environment, and the mining industry evolved the same way. Progress has been made in the regulatory process that now requires the submission of solid closure plans as well as financial guaranty. As an outcome, the likelihood of any new abandoned mines in Canada will be slim to none due to a better synergy between the mining industry and governments.

"This being said, we still have a lot to do. We're hoping that with an R&D strategy like the GMI, we're going to be able to demonstrate that this industry is proactive, that it wants to perform even better towards the environment."

So how does the GMI plan to address the environmental mining issues in Canada? The plan is holistic, taking into account everything that happens at the mine site. The focus is placed on four interconnected research pillars: Footprint Reduction, Waste Management, Mine Closure and Rehabilitation, and Ecosystem Risk Management.

Footprint Reduction is further divided into two major activities: the breaking of rock and the production of the metals. In the former activity, the goal under the GMI is to break as little rock as possible and leave the waste material (i.e., rock that doesn't contain metals) in place. The second research area under Footprint Reduction is to end up with value-added materials, clean water, and inert sand at the end of the mineral processing.

In the second pillar, Waste Management, the GMI is looking to develop and assess long-term sustainable options for the disposal and management of mine wastes in the environment that the mining industry will still be producing in the next decades. This includes minimizing and reprocessing waste, and developing alternative waste disposal technologies.

The third pillar, Mine Closure and Rehabilitation, was put into place to develop reliable and cost-effective technologies to remove contaminants and to ensure that what is left on the mine site for future generations is managed in a way that the environment will not be negatively impacted. "We want to make sure that the waste in the environment in the long-term scenario is handled properly, and it's safe for kids to go play on the site after the mine is closed and rehabilitated," Laverdure says.

"When we have an earthquake like this, it's a teachable moment, and we should use it to get information distributed to the citizens." -Maurice Lamontagne

"In the last pillar, Ecosystem Risk Management, even if we have a really good understanding of how the infrastructures used at the mine sites are behaving, we are recognizing that we need more science to fully understand the fundamental impact on ecosystems in particular the flora and the fauna," Laverdure explains. "The Ecosystem Risk Management research area focuses on providing information and sound science both to industry and to regulators, in order to better handle the management of the waste in the environment."

One of the more unusual out-of-box thinking projects currently in the GMI program is looking at whether mine tailings sites would be suitable to grow energy crops. "Biofuels production around the world faces fairly large opposition due to the use of good agricultural lands," Laverdure says.

"As a new concept, we're proposing to use tailings sites, which no one would ever think about using, to grow corn, soya, and switchgrass to produce biofuels. We have five test sites across the country and so far, we've had really good results. In the Sudbury area alone, we have estimated that we could produce one million liters of biofuels per year."

Being able to use the tailings sites to society's benefit is good for the mining companies as well, because instead of paying long-term maintenance costs on barren land, the tailings sites become more productive and good for the community economy as well.

Photo 2:
North Coldstream Mine, Ontario before rehabilitation.Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.
"North Coldstream Mine, Ontario after rehabilitation."

View larger image, complete description, and source credit in tab below.

The mining industry is hugely supportive of measures being taken to greening the industry; they offer financial support in a variety of ways as well as serve on advisory committees for both the GMI and the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC). The latter is a network of industry, academic, and government members working to improve the competitiveness of the Canadian mining industry through research, innovation, and commercialization efforts.

The advisory committees are really important, Laverdure explains, because they facilitate the identification of industry needs and help shape the future of mining research and innovation to maximize impact on productivity, health and safety, and the environment.

Links with federal, provincial, and territorial governments are also a key component. "We have identified the key regulatory barriers for the implementation of green mining technologies. We're advancing on both technical and science facets, and, equally importantly, we want to accelerate on the regulatory aspect by providing sound science for the development of best regulations," she says.

The GMI is also looking to link with the international community. "We are currently investigating the possibility of putting together a large international consortium to look at the toxicity and impact of metals in soils," Laverdure continues, "because this is not a problem specific to Canada, we're hoping to have partners around the world on this initiative. Similarly, we are looking at possibilities for an international R&D program on recycling, to develop options to current practices to enable economic and sustainable technologies while reducing environmental risks."

It is in the best interest of mining companies to be proactive, for themselves as well as for the benefit of future generations, Laverdure points out.

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Coldstream

North Coldstream Mine, Ontario before rehabilitation.Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.

Coldstream

North Coldstream Mine, Ontario before rehabilitation.

© Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry. USED WITH PERMISSION.

Coldstream

North Coldstream Mine, Ontario before rehabilitation.Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.

Coldstream

North Coldstream Mine, Ontario after rehabilitation.

© Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry. USED WITH PERMISSION.

 

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