Guide on Best Environmental Practices for the Mining Industry

Information provided by the Kainuu Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment; the Geological Survey of Finland; and the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)

The best environmental practices of the metal-ore mining industry have been compiled in a comprehensive guide for all actors in the sector. The guide covers the entire lifecycle of mining operations, from ore prospecting and mine planning, through production, all the way to mine closure and restoration.

This guide is the first of its kind in Europe. The publication is the fruit of a joint financing project of the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK); the Kainuu and Lapland Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment; the Regional State Administrative Agency for Northern Finland; the Finnish Association of Extractive Resources Industry; and the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). The K.H. Renlund Foundation and the Ministry of Employment and the Economy also contributed to the project’s financing.

Mines differ in their emissions and environmental impact, which depend on a variety of factors, such as the properties of the ore extracted. The most significant causes of environmental burden are extractive waste and waste waters. In addition to emissions, the fact that mining operations require vast expanses of land results in major changes in the environment.

Even when the best available environmental management techniques are in use, the operations always influence the environment. Therefore, the planning must opt for methods that reduce emissions, have manageable environmental effects, and take nature related values into consideration.

The quantity of extractive waste can be reduced through enhanced material-efficiency and more efficient utilisation of by-products. This also influences the need for land use for waste areas and treatment of waters. A more general way to enhance environmental safety markedly is to improve waste water management and treatment.

Land use must reconcile many interests and maintain open discussion with residents, tourism, forestry and fishery businesses, environmental protection authorities, and nature conservation organizations. The key is to find a combination of forms and methods of operation that appropriately and cost-efficiently prevent contamination of the environment.

The guide contains descriptions of metal-ore mining operations and the processing of rock containing ore, as well as the emissions from processing. It also provides instructions on such matters as reports to be attached to the environmental permit applications required for assessments under the Natura programme, environmental impact assessment and current status reports, and waste management plans. The guide describes how to select and apply best environmental practice throughout mining operations, from planning to production and closure.

Metal mining operations’ intense growth

After long-term recession in the industry, production has been growing intensely in Finland’s metal mining sector since 2007. Extraction of exploitable rock from metal mines is predicted to increase clearly over previous levels: mines are expected to produce up to 70 million tonnes of exploitable rock this decade, while the amount of exploitable rock produced by mines in the latter half of the previous decade came to only four million tonnes. The globally rising market for mineral and metal raw materials is connected to the material increase in standards of living in Asia, with constantly growing demand for home appliances, entertainment-related electronics, vehicles, and other consumer products.

Rapid and intense growth of the mining industry has proved challenging in terms of the development of new environmental technologies and the environmental safety of mining operations. The Guide on Best Environmental Practices for the Mining Industry is necessary also because of defects in attempts to determine and choose best practices and in instructions for preparation of environmental impact assessment reports and environmental permit applications. Moreover, educational material has been scarce.

The new guide is intended as a source of information for operators, permit and supervisory authorities, and consultants in the industry, as well as for everyone interested in the field.

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