In August 2009, Kinross’ Paracatu operation launched the Espalha Creek Águas que Unem (United Waters) project, a joint initiative with local farmers, governments and universities focused on Espalha Creek in the region of Paracatu. The project aims to promote environmental preservation and improve the hydrologic characteristics of the creek, which 16 local families depend on to supply water for agricultural activities and cattle farming.
Espalha Creek is the most significant tributary to Rico Creek, contributing 80% of the water flowing into Rico Creek, a vital water resource for the city of Paracatu. Since 2007, Kinross has been leading the $2.5 million Rico Creek rehabilitation program, stabilizing shorelines, re-establishing riverside vegetation and sponsoring the development of adjacent public parklands with playgrounds and sports facilities. Our contributions to improving Espalha Creek’s water flow will help enhance environmental conditions along Rico Creek and throughout Paracatu.
The Espalha Creek project is re-establishing the forest areas alongside the creek, constructing 500 small dikes to slow stream flow and creating contours in the land to reduce erosion and increase underground flow. Together, these improved land husbandry initiatives will reduce the rate of runoff and prevent soil erosion.
Education programs with the local farmers aim to embed these management practices so that they can maintain the revived springs feeding the creek. Monitoring devices have been installed and a local Kinross Paracatu employee measures creek flow monthly.
These watershed improvements will more than offset the relatively small impact of our Paracatu mine on the upper reaches of Rico Creek. The Paracatu site has invested around $250,000 in this project.
In December 2009, Kinross’ Kupol mine was certified under the International Cyanide Management Code, the first mine in Russia to obtain this certification.
Kupol’s transportation group was also certified as fully compliant with the Cyanide Code in November, making it the first mine-operated transportation group in the world to be certified. This certification covers the storage and transportation of cyanide from the Port of Pevek facilities to Kupol by way of a 430-kilometre ice road that is built annually to transport supplies to the Kupol site.
Kinross' Kupol certification demonstrates not only its compliance with Russia’s extremely stringent regulatory requirements for the use and transportation of cyanide, but confirmation of its management systems and on-the-ground performance, which include regular training and drills for our cyanide response team.
The Governor of Chukotka applauded Kinross’ leadership in protecting the pristine environment of this northeastern region: “There are a lot of examples when subsoil users, in their pursuit for revenues have caused irrecoverable harm to the environment, especially in regions with untouched nature, such as Chukotka. It is especially pleasant to note that Kinross Gold, apart from gaining profit, is focused on investing in industrial safety. Certification under the International Code is the best acknowledgment of such efforts.”
Our hope is that certification of the Kupol operation will raise the profile of the Cyanide Code in Russia and encourage other companies in the Federation to become signatories.
Mineral Hill is the third Kinross mine to receive the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) National Hardrock Mineral Environmental Award. In 2004, the Manhattan Mine became the first mine in Nevada to win the award, and in 2009, BLM recognized Kinross for its reclamation work at the former DeLamar mine site in southwestern Idaho.
When operations were suspended in 1998, the DeLamar mine had over seven million cubic metres of water stored in the tailings pond, and almost 170 hectares of disturbed area that generated acid rock drainage. Through a combination of water treatment, pit backfilling, cover placement and other reclamation, today all of the water at DeLamar has been effectively treated and returned to the ecosystem, primarily through a land application process that enhances wildlife habitats and livestock grazing areas on private lands. The 2009 BLM award in particular recognized the implementation of the water management plan at DeLamar and how “Kinross was able to return the land in the DeLamar site to productive post-mine uses.”
A significant amount of work has gone into water management, specifically through the use of an engineered clay cover that is placed over reactive soils so that new rainwater won’t penetrate the soil and, instead, can be released as clean storm water back into the environment. Water treatment and monitoring will continue for several years beyond completion of the earthworks.
The 2011 BLM award for Kinross’ Mineral Hill mine recognized the company’s “multiphase plan to reclaim the area that demonstrated how modern techniques can restore historic mining disturbances into an aesthetically pleasing landscape that supports a variety of sustainable uses.” The mine is located adjacent to Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. state of Montana. Commercial gold and arsenic mining began in the area in 1880 and continued intermittently until 1948. Modern gold mining operations began in the late 1980s and continued through1996. Reclamation activities began in 2000. In 2003, Kinross acquired Mineral Hill through its merger with TVX Gold, and the former TVX employees continued to advance their reclamation activities on behalf of Kinross.
Reclamation activities at Mineral Hill began with removal and rehabilitation of the mill and process facilities. Mine openings were secured to prevent unauthorized entry. Land throughout the site, including facility foundations and haul and drill roads, was re-contoured to its original grade. With approval from the Montana Historical Society, the site team removed a dilapidated arsenic mill and excavated the contaminated and potentially contaminated building debris and soils for secure final disposal. The mine team also reclaimed two tailings deposits that were remnants of gold and arsenic operations from the early 1900s. The 5.2 hectare tailings storage facility was drained, secured with an additional liner, and re-graded. An evaporation system was installed to handle the small amount of drainage from the tailings area, and the facility entered a period of care and maintenance.
In 2005, Kinross voluntarily undertook installation of an impermeable liner over the upper five acres and surface drainage channels of the tailings facility. By preventing water from entering the reclaimed tailings from the top, the amount of water draining from the tailings has been reduced to a trickle, minimizing the amount of residual tailings moisture that is collected for treatment and disposal.
In 2008, in the interest of public safety, mine personnel assisted the U.S. Forest Service in the closure of several mine openings in the vicinity, including two portals on our property. At some locations, the Forest Service and Kinross team was able to complete closure to restrict public access, while still preserving the cave-like habitat for bats and other small mammals.
Native plants, grasses and shrubs have been re-established over the entire site, and the reclaimed areas provide habitat for bountiful wildlife and a migration corridor for the northern Yellowstone elk herd. The site received agency approval for partial bond release for successfully vegetated areas and approval to decrease the permitted area from 172 to 37 hectares. Ongoing site activities consist of environmental monitoring and water management.
Kinross is committed to protecting water resources in the regions where we operate. We recognize that the value of water far exceeds its monetary cost.
All of our sites are required to maintain a comprehensive account of their water balance. Reported quarterly, tracking an accurate water balance is an important performance metric for all of our operations. To learn more about our water strategy and performance, see our discussion on Water Management.
Kinross’ approach recognizes that water management must be tailored to fit local environmental conditions and user requirements, and therefore must be site specific. Our work in Chile near our Maricunga and La Coipa mines provides one example of this approach.
Our Maricunga and La Coipa mines are located approximately 4,000 metres above sea level in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth. In this water-stressed area, we have undertaken extensive studies to better understand the hydrologic cycle in the area, implemented measures to improve water efficiency and, in co-operation with local water authorities, worked to improve water resource stewardship. Our efforts are improving the overall understanding of this sensitive ecosystem and the hydrologic system it relies upon. Maricunga and La Coipa draw water from an isolated closed basin where water collects and is contained, with no waterway to flow out. While the water in this basin is not accessible to nearby communities, it is a vital factor in the region’s biological ecosystems because it supports wetlands that are vital habitat for wildlife including vicuña, flamingo and guanaco (see our case study: "Ecosystem protection at Lobo-Marte").
The challenge is recharging the aquifer in an environment where annual precipitation is approximately 150 millimetres, and comes as snow. Studies indicate that between 60% and 90% of the snow sublimates, a process whereby the snow evaporates into the air rather than melting and contributing to surface and groundwater.
In a pilot project begun in 2011, we are looking at increasing water supply by improving snowmelt infiltration into groundwater. In 2011, Kinross installed two 100-metre lines of wooden snow fencing at Maricunga and Lobo-Marte, the type commonly used to keep roads clear, in an area where we could measure the effect on the groundwater system. The objective was to capture large amounts of snow, which would otherwise mostly be lost to sublimation, in drifts along the fencing so that when these dense accumulations melt in the spring, they will recharge the groundwater aquifer.
Preliminary results from the 2011 pilot were promising. The fences created snow drifts several metres deep and the accumulated snow contributed to an increase in groundwater recharge during the spring melt. Kinross expanded the test in 2012 to gather additional data and further prove the concept. If successful, Kinross is optimistic that carefully installed snowfences can result in meaningful contributions to the local water supply. Looking ahead, Kinross and the Chilean National Irrigation Commission are exploring a joint research project to test the efficacy of snow harvesting and even evaluate its potential in other water-stressed areas.