From changing metal and mineral demands of the energy transition, to pressure from society, investors, and governing bodies to reduce emissions and build climate resiliency, the mining sector needs to brace itself for transformation due to the changing climate. Climate change brings several external impacts while also directly impacting operations. Although the industry is no stranger to harsh environments, climate change brings shifting weather patterns impacting water availability and abundance, constructability, supply chains, and limiting predictability. Warming average temperatures are threatening cold region mines. As glaciers retreat, permafrost degrades, and landscapes change, mines need to prepare for these changes and the increase in hazards that come with it. Additionally, extreme weather events such as severe rainfall and heatwaves and their resulting geohazard events, such as floods and debris flows, test the resiliency of engineered designs that support the mining industry.
The mine’s lifecycle
Climate change can potentially impact a mine at any stage of its lifecycle from prefeasibility, feasibility, operations, to closure and beyond. Future climate conditions should be considered at each stage of the design. Future-focused designs can no longer rely on past events and need to include scenarios informed by climate change predictions. These predictions also need to be factored in the development of risk registers that inform decisions throughout a mine’s life.
Construction and operations are a dynamic time during a mine’s lifecycle, vulnerable to many external influences including commodity prices, labour and equipment costs, labour availability, changes to local labour laws and work regulations, and climate factors. Climate change has the potential to affect site conditions that could compress schedules, impact mining operations, construction timelines, groundwater monitoring, and pond level management or could potentially interrupt operations. While construction and operation may still be possible under these conditions, the effect of climate change contributes to the mine’s risk and projected future costs. Damage to structures during construction and operation may be covered by insurance, if the insurer is comfortable with their climate risks, but losses to schedule and increased insurance premiums may still occur.
When mining is complete, long-term climate change considerations must be integrated into designs that are meant to last through and beyond post-closure, in-line with or exceeding regulatory guidance. Climate change does not necessarily mean that structures will degrade in the long term, but mine structures must be designed, built and evaluated in consideration of future climatic conditions.
Demand for mined resources
The need for metals, crude oil, aggregates, and other mined resources is driven by consumer and industrial markets. As society strives to reduce our carbon footprint, a shift may be seen in the demand for certain products such as fossil fuels and could change the economic viability of certain operating projects and potential properties. The global energy transition could also drive a change in demand for various mined resources. These changes may increase mining metals for battery production or power generation infrastructure and decrease extraction of fossil fuels for energy. Changes, advances, and innovations in technology across all sectors will also have a significant impact on which resources are needed.
Governing bodies and investors are placing pressure on the mining sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Mining Association of Canada has encouraged members to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement, and the International Council on Mining and Metals members are committed “to a goal of net zero Scope 1 and 2 Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2050 or sooner in line with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.” Many companies are moving this way as carbon taxes take effect and/or rise, it is becoming too expensive to not reduce emissions. These emission targets impact how mining companies are sourcing their energy, designing their mine footprint, and looking at mine closure within the lifecycle, and long-term care and maintenance of their mines.
How BGC can help
Water management is one of the most important factors to integrate from environmental assessment to closure. BGC’s work typically focuses on accounting on water (e.g., water balances), conveying water (e.g., collection/diversion ditches, spillways), storing fresh or contact water (e.g., tailings storage facilities, dammed reservoirs, spill ponds), managing seepage and groundwater, and water used during construction. BGC’s expertise is needed to help mining clients manage and plan for water demands and the impact of climate change on water management throughout a mine’s life cycle.
BGC engineers and geoscientists consider future climate scenarios in all aspects of mining design and construction, from developing design storms to accommodating future permafrost degradation in cold regions. Appreciating the complexity of mines, their lifecycles, and long-term care and maintenance, the long timescales require us to think far into the future, beyond our careers, and into the next generations. There are already mines more than a century old, and we know that the climate has changed over that time and will continue to change over the next 100 years. We need to design for climate change and our understanding needs to evolve. We will design for tomorrow.
BGC is dedicated to helping clients address climate change in their projects in ways that align with your priorities, budgets, and goals. Interested in hearing how? Contact our Climate Change Team.