2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)

Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 8:55 AM


RICHARDS, Jeremy P., Dept. Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta, Earth Sciences Building, Rm. 3-02, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E3, Canada, jeremy.richards@ualberta.ca

The Global Mining Initiative and its Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development project have served to focus the minds of industry on much broader issues than those traditionally considered in company board rooms. This process, initiated by the CEOs of several of the world’s largest mining companies, has been embraced widely in spirit, but putting these ideas into action requires significant investment of resources and expertise. Investment is the correct word here, because even if the benefits accruing to affected populations and the environment are discounted, efficiencies and risk reductions arising from applying sustainable solutions in resource development often translate to cost savings, and sometimes directly to profit.

Geoscientists have a central role to play in developing such solutions. Exploration geologists are involved at the outset, most obviously in searching for high quality ores, but also because the impressions that they make on local communities and on the environments in which they explore will set the tone for future negotiations for the right to mine. Before the explorationist hits the ground, however, exploration managers can help direct the search to regions of low environmental sensitivity, and away from deposit types of high environmental impact. In the latter category, high-sulfide ores are obvious problems both during (smelting) and after mining (acid rock drainage), while the mining of large low-grade deposits leaves legacies of massive land disturbance and waste. Geological research can contribute to this decision-making process by advancing our understanding of ore-forming processes and deposit types, thereby enabling more focused search for low-impact, high-value orebodies. Examples are certain types of skarn and pegmatite deposits, where almost all mined materials can be utilized (“total resource utilization”).

More broadly, however, geoscientists must become actively engaged as experts informing dialogue and decision-making across the full range of economic, social, and environmental issues affected by mining.