Dr Turlough Guerin talks to Michael
Forrest about sustainable development
in the mining industry and what it can
offer to the companies involved.
ver the past decade, there has been a
concerted effort by the mining industry to
counter criticism, mainly from NGOs, of
their activities. Geology determines where mines
are located and, although some are in old industrial
areas, many are in pristine regions where there are
few people and important ecological habitats,
residual but not obvious landownership, and little
infrastructure. shareholders who support these aims, and as a result
it has developed a number of initiatives to meet these
Rock show objectives. One initiative is the International Council of
Mining usually requires blasting, moving millions of Mining and Metals’ (ICMM) framework, which is
tonnes of ore and disposing of waste rock. Mines based on 10 principals for sustainable development.
can be economic at the grade of one gram of gold In Australia, one of the world’s major mining
per tonne of rock or one part in a million. Mining countries, its Minerals Council (a member of ICMM)
technology has had to improve to match the has released a framework entitled ‘Enduring Value’
economics of mining ever-lower grades, as these that further underpins the industry’s commitment to
deposits are the only ones of sufficient size to sustainable development. Cynics may regard this as
meet the needs of today’s industries. The demand window-dressing without real application, but Dr
for most metals has doubled or tripled over Guerin, Group Manager Environment for Telstra
the past 30 years, and as a consequence, mines Corporation and formerly of Shell Australia and Rio
Below: Kanowna Belle, are large, mechanised, usually open pit, and Tinto, has demonstrated the real financial benefits of
Australia, retreatment highly visible. this approach.
plant for the recovery The objectives of environmentalists have generally One of the problems of ‘sustainable development’
of fine grained gold been welcomed by an industry that has partners and is that of semantics – sustainability of a non-
renewable resource such as iron ore seems a
contradiction in terms. However, Guerin offers a
different definition, ‘sustainable development in the
minerals industry means that investments should be
profitable, technically appropriate, environmentally
sound and socially responsible.’ Putting these factors
into practice has been a challenge to the industry, but
one where some advantages have been recognised.
Guerin has assembled 13 case studies across the
industry in Australia that highlight how sustainability
can be successfully implemented at operational level
using cleaner production tools and with stakeholder
engagement. Significant financial, environmental
and social benefits can be gained at mine site and
regional levels, while the environmental challenge of
different mine locations can bring advantages to the
28 MATERIALS WORLD August 2006
Cleaner production technologies have a number ● Stakeholder engagement was a crucial approach, Tailing riffles to prevent wind
of advantages, not least the reduction in environ- with more than 50% of case studies demonstrating ablation, Namibia
mental costs of waste disposal. Cleaner production its application.
is also an environmental improvement strategy ● Resource use optimisation was also an important
which leads to specific solutions that are applicable cleaner production tool with 46% of the reported
to any given business, not just mining or mineral case studies using it. This included optimising how
processing or manufacturing. It complements life ore resources and other process raw materials are
cycle analyses, product stewardship programmes used, as well as implementing improvements in
and initiatives, as well as social ‘tools’ including how other inputs, such as energy sources and
stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder involvement, chemical reagents inputs into downstream
which has become increasingly important in the processes, were used.
mining industry globally, is now being recognised ● Input substitution, good housekeeping, life cycle
by mining managers as a critical tool, enabling analysis and product stewardship were less prominent,
them to operate their mines. with less than 35% of case studies demonstrating
Examples of how sustainable development has Take-home messages
been enhanced are contained in the table (next Guerin says, ‘Mining and minerals companies in
page). Australia are putting sustainable development into
In addition to specific savings and benefits in operation at their sites. The extent to which this is
individual mines, a number of generic applications of being done varies from operation to operation and it
cleaner production technologies were revealed by is reasonable to state that no one operation reviewed
Guerin’s survey, including sequential leaching of has implemented a fully sustainable operation’.
ores to recover multiple metals, enhanced ore He notes that, ‘Environmental and social
body modelling to optimise ore recovery, residue improvements can realise economic benefits and will
processing to produce geochemical stable forms for not always incur a major financial cost for a mining
storage and counter-current washing to minimise operation or its corporate function. For example,
water consumption. improvements to waste management practices and
The results of the survey indicated that – waste prevention can lead to cost reductions and
● Technological modifications, including process often increased revenues.’
equipment redesigns and on-site recycling (or The survey shows that local communities provide
recovery), are the most common applications of the means by which a mining or minerals processing
cleaner production tools with more than 60% of the operation can realise its full potential in contributing to
13 case studies using these approaches. a region’s economic and social well-being.
MATERIALS WORLD August 2006 29
Guerin adds, ‘Water efficiency improvements will be
needed by any mining company planning to remain Further information
viable in the future, particularly in Australia where
Dr Guerin has previously worked for Shell’s Commercial
water is a major limiting resource. Similarly, energy Fuel business as the Lead Environmental Advisor,
efficiency improvements will also be important.’ supporting the mining and heavy industry marketing and
Overall, much has been achieved, but there are sales team in Australia and New Zealand, as well as Rio
opportunities to do more. Mining companies need to Tinto companies across Australia. He is currently the
work closely with other businesses and suppliers to Group Manager Environment for Telstra Corporation.
identify new processes, products and knowledge that E-mail: email@example.com.
will increase the sustainability of their industry.
Case study focus Minerals sector Company and location Summary description of case study (activity and outcome)
Air emissions reduction Aluminium Comalco Aluminium Ltd (Rio Tinto) Use of dry-scrubbing technology led to AUS$11M in
Bell, Bay Smelter, Bell Bay, savings in savings and contributed significantly to the
Tasmania local community.
Dust management Lime Blue Circle Southern Cement, Plant modifications enabled removal of fine dusts from
Marulan, New South Wales (NSW) the process and collection of limestone dust for sale
as a by-product.
Energy and Industrial minerals Tiwest Joint Venture Pigment Modified process to recover synthetic rutile using waste
materials efficiency Plant, Kwinana, Western Australia acid from neighbouring company to produce ammonium
(WA) and Iluka Resources Ltd chloride for use in pigment production.
Synthetic Rutile Plant, Kwinana, Adopted technology to capture waste heat power and
WA installed an electrostatic precipitator. Generated 6.5MW,
returning 16% on capital, saving AUS$1.5M/year.
Coal BHP Billiton Coal, Illawarra region, Captured coal seam methane and piped it to surface where
NSW it generates 94MW of energy through electricity generation
(energy for 60,000 homes).
Copper, zinc and lead Xstrata's Mount Isa Mines, Programme of innovations enabled opening of new mine
Mount Isa, Queensland and increased capacity while cutting electricity use, CO2
emissions and delayed demand for a new power station.
Water efficiency Steel OneSteel Whyalla Steelworks, Reed beds were introduced for treatment of industrial waste
Whyalla, South Australia water to reduce water consumption and increase quality of
Copper and uranium BHP Billiton Olympic Dam Mine, Production processes were modified so less water is used
Roxby Downs, South Australia in flotation separation. Acid and saline water is recycled
from mine tailings for drilling and dust control.
Waste minimisation Aluminium Alcoa Portland Aluminium, Reduction in landfill waste by evaluating processes, through
Portland, Victoria commitment of its workforce and combining with waste
Integrated sustainable Aluminium Alcoa World Alumina, Various Implemented a range of cleaner production initiatives at
development locations in WA bauxite mines and alumina refineries, that have led to a
saving of approximately AUS$ 0.5M annually.
Gold JV between Delta Gold and Placer Developed a range of sustainability practices, taking an
Dome, Granny Smith Mine, holistic approach to mining. Created opportunities for
Laverton, WA indigenous communities and reduced landfill waste.
Oxiana Golden Grove Operations Initiatives reduced pollution and landfill waste, improved
Western Australia energy efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Rehabilitation processes were also improved.
Diamonds Argyle Diamond Mine (Rio Tinto), Mine was threatened with closure in 2001 but is still
Kununurra, WA operating in 2006 as a result of efforts by management in
implementing a range of initiatives including developing
capacity in the local indigenous community.
30 MATERIALS WORLD August 2006