A paradigm shift in the making for the mining industry

A paradigm shift in the making for the mining industry

The mining industry provides the metals and minerals that are the basic building blocks of infrastructure, development, and instruments of daily use. It is also facing a paradigm shift as operations become safer, cleaner, and more efficient. Mining companies are increasingly aware of the need to balance critical partnerships among industry, local communities, and governments; all whilst creating value for their shareholders.

Advocates of mining maintain that multinational mining companies bring in substantial foreign direct investment and play a pivotal role in transmitting capital, knowledge, ideas, and value systems across borders. 1 But to function as the engine for progress and development, safety and sustainability must be core business strategies for gold mining companies, along with the relentless focus on finance and operational discipline.

In the past, less-developed communities in the Global South, where most of the world’s mining activities are carried out, had little voice and insufficient means to push back against pollutive activities attributed to the mining sector. Mining has historically been one of the sectors with the widest environmental and social impacts. With less sophisticated market-supporting institutions as well as rudimentary legal and regulatory frameworks, many developing nations simply did not have the relevant reporting mechanisms to monitor the work of mining operations. 2

Much has changed in the recent years. There has been a dramatic shift in power relations. 3 Gold mining activities have come under increased scrutiny by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the media. For gold mining companies to accrue the social legitimacy needed to work in less developed communities, the identification of local sustainable benefits must be built into their strategic mix. More and more multinational mining companies have realised the value of partnering with NGOs and non-traditional stakeholders to develop integrated social responsibility strategies that account for economic development and poverty alleviation in low-income regions. 4

Being socially responsible by going down the sustainable route also means that mining companies must transition to non-toxic and clean alternative practices that do not harm the communities and the surrounding environment. Large scale gold mining activity is typically done in open-pit mines, leaving craters of excavated earth and cyanide-contaminated waste. The operational process also uses a lot of water, and the resultant displaced material is often a wet slurry of fine particles that need to be impounded in tailings storage facilities. This presents a substantial financial burden on mining operators to maintain such facilities and a huge risk to communities in the area as such upstream embankment dams may catastrophically fail and lead to a toxic discharge of refused tailings. The removal of water not only creates a better and safer storage system, but also can also assist in water recovery, which is a major issue in arid regions.

Clean Earth Technologies has a non-toxic gold recovery reagent with fast reaction kinetics. The cyanide-free and mercury-free alternative will allow mining companies of all sizes to extract gold at a rate similar to or even better than cyanide. Coupled with a dewatering solution, mining companies can reuse the reagent and recover the water, which is essential in water-starved regions around the world, and subsequently produce dry, non-toxic tailings which can be scattered on surfaces like topsoil.

While environmental and socio-economic impacts of gold mining may vary with the ores and specific regions, innovative solutions and revolutionary mining lixiviants are needed to propel productivity and prosperity of the mining industry. The journey from exploration to operation is becoming increasingly difficult for mining companies, and a dramatic change in the institutional environment that the mining sector operates in is shaping the evolution of mining activities. New and existing mining projects will now be expected to incorporate lessons from past mining activities and conform to high standards that advance social-environmental and economic development needs in a more efficient and less damaging way.

A paradigm shift is in the making for the extractive industry as it incorporates greater sustainability, technical innovation from other sectors, and seeks a way forward in the midst of a global pandemic. The legacy of mining activity is now one that is intrinsically tied to that of sustainable development. By focusing on modernisation, the use of groundbreaking non-toxic solutions, and transparency, the mining industry can strengthen its foundational role in a rapidly evolving global economy. It should thus come as no surprise that effectively managing related changes will require greater adaptability, transformative thinking, and the building of stronger partnerships in a global context.

 

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[1] Blair Gifford, Andrew Kestler, and Sharmila Anand, “Building Local Legitimacy into Corporate Social Responsibility: Gold Mining Firms in Developing Nations,” Journal of World Business 45, no. 3 (2010): pp. 304-311, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2009.09.007.

[2] Michael Warner and Rory Sullivan, Putting Partnerships to Work: Strategic Alliances for Development between Government, the Private Sector and Civil Society (Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing, 2004).

 

[3] Richard Parsons, Justine Lacey, and Kieran Moffat, “Maintaining Legitimacy of a Contested Practice: How the Minerals Industry Understands Its ‘Social Licence to Operate,’” Resources Policy 41 (September 2014): pp. 83-90.

 

[4] Henry Lazenby, “Paradigm Shift Required to Position Mining Industry for Long-Term Success,” Mining Weekly, accessed November 23, 2020, https://www.miningweekly.com/article/paradigm-shift-required-to-position-mining-industry-for-long-term-success-2018-03-15.

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