Reclamation in mining exploration

🕔Dec 07, 2010

Concern for the environment and mineral exploration are not mutually exclusive terms. Really.

Things are changing at a rapid pace in this industry; I know because I am a part of it. As a geologist in northwest BC, I have the opportunity to work on numerous exploration projects in the region and instigate change from within. As can be seen in the photo here, reclamation isn’t always a pretty sight, but it’s working.

Where we started
“Unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence,” says Rudy Enns of Cansel, an industry service company specializing in mapping and GIS support. “We began unaware of damages we caused, then continued along the same path even once the damages were noted. We are now in a state of conscious competence, aware of what needs to be done to mitigate damages but still trying to implement solutions. We need to reach the place where the environment, social needs, etcetera are automatically figured into our business plans, where they become unconscious.”

Which leads us to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Over the past ten years, Coro Strandberg, of Strandberg Consulting, has noticed a huge change in awareness of corporate social responsibility.

“Create, inspire, integrate,” she states during her keynote address at the 2010 Annual General Meeting of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC. “CSR has become a mega-trend, similar to the Industrial Revolution or Globalization. It’s mainstream.”

Where companies couldn’t before see the monetary value in spending on such things as community-building or environmental reclamation, things are turning around. There is high shareholder value in CSR. Companies are building CSR standards into their corporate strategies. New employees are looking for employers with sustainable practices of which they can be proud. Investors are seeking socially responsible stocks (according to Strandberg, such portfolios have outperformed ‘regular’ portfolios over the past few years, and demand is high).

In conjunction with this, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has put forth outlines of standards as prepared by over 200 countries. They apply to social responsibility (ISO26000), environmental management (ISO14000), and risk management (ISO3100), among others. CSR is a global pursuit.

Current Practices
Gone are the days of racing about the countryside in helicopters and charging through the bush to get your claim stakes in the ground ahead of the next person. In BC, claims are staked via the Internet, a simple point-and-click with a mouse. A person or company must have a Free Miners Certificate and then is allowed to stake land. There are regulations, requirements, and fees. When people or companies wish to do ground-disturbing work on their claims, they apply to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources with a Notice of Work (NoW).

Government ministries and all stakeholders in the affected area, including (but not limited to) First Nations, guide outfitters and recreational groups, review the NoW. If approved, claim holders are required to put up a bond for future reclamation work, giving government the resources to perform the work should claim-holders renege on their responsibility.

A lust for excellence
This September, the British Columbia Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation (TRCR) named Alpha Gold Corporation the 2009 recipient of its Mineral Exploration Citation Award for outstanding achievement in reclamation at its Lustdust property.

“We are honoured and pleased to see Alpha’s concern for environmental matters rewarded. We recognize the efforts made by our Project Manager, Richard Beck, of UTM Exploration Services Ltd. [of Smithers], and the dedicated and professional crewmembers of the Takla Band he hired,” said Alpha Director Carl Pines.

The Lustdust property is located 220 km north of Fort St. James, and 35 km east of the Takla Sustut Dene First Nation Reserve of Takla Landing. The claims have seen ongoing exploration since 1944, and since 1964 almost 400 surface drill-hole pads and 100 trenches have been built.

The look of reclamation
At the Lustdust property, historically created trenches, access roads and drill pads have been part of the reclamation programs of 2009 and 2010. Much of the cleanup occurred while the drill program continued alongside. Although reclamation doesn’t look pretty initially, it gives a substantial base on which new forest can grow and thrive.

An excavator back-filled the trenches with the original ground material and scored the surface using the excavator bucket to provide a hummocky, uneven and rough surface. Felled trees were bucked to four-foot lengths, limbed, and scattered across the reclaimed surface.

Reclaiming access trails, roads and old drill pads also involved the work of an excavator and two chainsaw operators. Every roadway was re-sloped and re-shaped to its original state. Slopes were re-constructed by unearthing the logs beneath the roads (a corduroyed base on which the roads were built), then moving material from down-slope into a rough, uneven surface scattered with large boulders. On top of this, all the felled trees were again bucked, limbed and scattered.

Drill pads were reclaimed in much the same manner, leaving only a picket to mark drill-collar sites. If an old drill collar was producing water, the collar was blocked with a large piece of wood and, to date, this method has worked successfully. Since 2009 completed drill holes are immediately plugged with a special plug and 80 kilos of cement to avoid unnecessary environmental damage from water overflow issues.

Native species
Reseeding these areas is a standard method of reclamation; however, through discussions with the Ministry of Energy and Mines in Prince George, the Ministry of Forests in Fort St James and local First Nations Territorial land owners, Alpha Gold is looking at planting seedling trees and local native species in the 2011 season. This will increase the stability of the re-sloped roadways, create additional catchments for airborne pollen and seeds, as well as bringing the environment back to a closer semblance of years past.
To date, 90 percent of the trenches have been backfilled and reshaped with new forest floor growth on the surface, while 264 of 400 historical and recent (2009) drill-hole pads have been completely reclaimed. Since 1964, the access trail and road network adds up to 23 hectares of disturbed ground; since 2009, half of this has been successfully reclaimed.

Extensive effort has also been made to re-establish proper watercourses for both seasonal and year-round streams. Where seasonal streams are crossed by the main access trail or the recently reclaimed trails, watercourses have been created. Silt fencing, re-ditching and creating small natural culverts (large boulders at the sides of the water course with felled trees allowing the water to run freely along its natural path) have worked well.

Elsewhere in BC, other positive changes in exploration include reactivating old roads instead of building new ones, situating camps linearly along old roadways, and drilling from old trails rather than new pads.

Future Outlook
I look forward to the day when I can mention the words ‘environment’ and ‘reclamation’ in a boardroom and not see people flinch. When I won’t hear, “Fifty years ago we didn’t need to do this.” Corporate social responsibility is encouraging us all to look above and beyond the legislation to what we are capable of (and responsible for) achieving. The ISO gives us global standards to meet and surpass.

But I also want people to recognize the importance of mineral exploration and mining to our region, our economy, and our lifestyle. We cannot do without them, but we can ask that they be done to the highest standards of environmental awareness and with the utmost social responsibility.