Newmont: A century of responsible mining

Newmont Mining Corporation, whose long-term business model and its ability to create value over the last century has made it a global leader in gold mining, has pledged to continue operating responsibly and sustainably as it seeks to create social and economic benefits that will improve lives.

The company has continuously developed modules aimed at protecting the health and safety of communities within its operating enclave, minimised environmental impacts throughout its mine lifecycle, respected human rights, and ensured that the wealth is generated fairly.

Mining to create social and economic benefits for the company and host countries—especially in host communities – remains a top priority on its operational agenda.

The Minerals Commission, Environmental Protection Agency and other state regulatory authorities have confirmed that Newmont, as a business, has been operating responsibly throughout the lifecycle of its mine and created shared value for all stakeholders.

Newmont’s Beyond the Mine Sustainability Report 2017, published each year – which details the Newmont Africa region’s safety, economic, social and environmental performance and keeps the public abreast on the progress of its operations – indicated that in 2017 the company created about US$536million of economic value.

In 2017, the mine generated US$536million of economic value distributed throughout the Ghanaian economy through: US$89.7million paid in employee wages and benefits; US$62.3million in taxes; US$35.1million in government royalties; and US$4million in voluntary community investments.

At the end of 2017, local community members represented 40.2 percent and 46.4 percent of the total workforce (inclusive of contractors) at Ahafo and Akyem Mines respectively. This exceeded the company’s target of 35 percent at both mining sites.

The two mines, according to the report, purchased US$16.8million of goods and services from local businesses and US$325.2million from other Ghanaian suppliers.

“At Akyem, we completed the reforestation programme’s second phase, reclaiming a total of more than 300 degraded hectares in the Kweikaru Forest Reserve; and we will initiate feasibility and implementation of the mine’s biodiversity offset programme later in the year. The reforestation programme covers an area that is three times the size of the area impacted by the Akyem Mine.

“Our Akyem Mine, Newmont Golden Ridge Limited, was for the second year running ranked Ghana’s No.1 Company among the list of 100 most prestigious companies in Ghana. Our Ahafo Mine, Newmont Ghana Gold Limited, ranked eleventh on the list,” the report noted.

It added that: “Aligning our business goals with the long-term interests of our stakeholders and the broader society is essential to our future success. We recognise our responsibility to contribute toward long-term economic prosperity and social wellbeing through job-creation, procuring local goods and services, community investments, as well as paying taxes and royalties.

“We are open to your ideas and suggestions about how we can improve our performance as we advance our purpose.”

Newmont targets public thematic areas

Contrary to the horrible mining operational activities that have caused serious damage to the environment and settlements within minerals-rich enclaves, Newmont Gold Mines – as part of its major objective of creating value and improving lives through sustainable and responsible mining – has targetted three major thematic areas, all aimed at improving lives.

The public targets seek to focus on ensuring that the mines provide sustainable clean water for consumption;  lands are left in a ‘stable condition’ that minimises long-term environmental impact; complying with regulatory requirements, legal commitments and Newmont’s standards across its operational areas in the world; and closure and reclamation.

Supply of Water

Newmont Mines, as part of its strategy to ensure sustainable water, focuses on minimising and mitigating its impact on water, land, air-quality, climate and biodiversity. It has over the years worked with stakeholders on systemic solutions to complex environmental challenges.

Reliable and sustainable water sources are vital to operations of the mines. Rising production, changing regulations, growing populations and a changing climate are among the more significant factors increasing the mine’s exposure to broader and more complex water challenges.

The mines also recognise the impact its business activities may have on local communities’ access to water. Its immediate commitment includes understanding the availability and uses of water within the watersheds where the mine operates, and developing management methods that reduce or mitigate the impacts on water quality and quantity.

Its broad-based regional water strategy guides the approach to continuously improve how Newmont manages water and respects the shared use of water in the catchment and river basins in which it operates.

Every site has a water charter and life-of-mine water management plan, with an integrated watershed approach that aims to secure a supply for operations while protecting and enhancing water for other uses.

“Our operations reuse and recycle as much water as possible. Through Water Accounting Frameworks (WAFs), which are updated quarterly, sites estimate the volume and quality of input and output water and measure water intensity and volume of water recycled/reused,” the company’s official report noted.

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Performance

According to the Beyond the Mine Sustainability report 2017, Newmont’s operations in the Africa region met its target to reduce fresh water use by 4 percent, compared to the 2016 base year.

In early 2017, one of two reports sponsored by WACAM, a Ghanaian NGO, alleged that Newmont’s Ahafo Mine adversely impacted the local water sources. To investigate these claims, Newmont conducted community outreach to communicate that constructive feedback is welcome and engaged independent scientists from Newfields Company, an international consulting firm, and Dr. K.P Asante of the Kintampo Health Research Centre to objectively evaluate the report.

The independent evaluations concluded that the methodology used in the report was inconsistent, not scientifically valid and could not be relied upon as the basis for the reports’ conclusions.

The experts recommended that Newmont implement a participatory monitoring programme, and planning is underway to create a programme similar to those we have implemented at our operations in Peru and Suriname.

The Ahafo operation completed commissioning (i.e. operational system testing) of a reverse osmosis (RO) water treatment plant. Independent wet-season monitoring commenced to determine baseline water quality and aquatic health upstream and downstream of the plant, and to characterise the effects of discharging treated water from the plant.

A cross-functional team from Ahafo and Akyem, together with regional and corporate representatives, held a workshop to develop a roadmap for transitioning from water management into water stewardship. The team reviewed long-term mine plans and strategies, identified current constraints and desired future state, identified high-level risks, developed actions for 2018 and beyond, and evaluated potential impacts of the actions on future business plans.

Future Focus

Newmont has pledged to continue its effort to increase efficiencies and reduce fresh water use to meet the mine’s 2018 and 2019 targets.

As part of its areas of focus in 2018, according to the Mines’ Beyond the Mine Sustainability Report 2017, Newmont will work to progress from water management to water stewardship through a phased approach that includes four key objectives – compliance and improved efficiencies, integration of local water risks and impacts, actions aligned with stakeholder expectations, and innovations that drive improved performance.

The report also stated that it will develop an approach for evaluating the cost of water to support investment decisions and improve site comparison of operational costs, while it will seek to address gaps and ensure compliance with updated Water Management Standards.

“Our sites will implement action plans that include improvements to the site’s water balance model, an analysis of water quality trends, and reviews of design and management activities,” the report said.

Closure and reclamation

Closure and reclamation of a mining property is a multi-faceted process with risks that are equally complex. Growing regulatory requirements and community expectations, as well as increased unit expenses, are also driving the costs associated with closure activities and liabilities higher.

“Through our global closure and reclamation strategy, we work to effectively manage our closure risks early in the mine lifecycle and successfully close and reclaim mines to gain stakeholder trust and improve our access to land for future mine sites.

“All sites must develop and maintain a closure and post-closure strategy that encompasses risk assessments, stakeholder engagement plans, closure and reclamation plans, and concurrent reclamation plans that are integrated into the annual mine planning process,” the report said.

Performance

Newmont, at its Ahafo and Akyem Mines, completed concurrent reclamation on 13.62 and 8.08 hectares respectively. This exceeded the company’s concurrent reclamation objectives for the year.

“Maintenance of reclaimed areas will be ongoing to ensure the company achieve the desired mine closure outcomes,” the company said.

Newmont Reclamation Programme

Concurrently, the company rolled out its reclamation programme around 2009; ultimately, it is aimed at establishing a post-closure land-use scenario.

The reclamation programme is aimed at ensuring that lands are left in a ‘stable condition’ that minimises long-term environmental impact and complies with regulatory requirements, legal commitments and Newmont’s standards across its operational areas in the world.

The concurrent reclamation – reclaiming inactive disturbed areas alongside active operations of the mine at large – comprises three main activities: civil works – placement of soil on areas stabilised with heavy equipment like bulldozers and hydraulic excavators and tipper-tucks; planting vegetative cover (grass and tree-seedlings) to restore vegetation; and maintenance of the established vegetation (erosion control measures, replacement of dead seedlings) to achieve desired final land use of afforestation and agriculture.

Prior to commencement of the mine in 2006, a baseline study of existing vegetation within the enclave of the mine was undertaken, and a database of the plants and crops was created from which plant-selection for reclamation activities is done.

The planted trees comprise indigenous and exotic species. They include Ofram, Akyee, Oprono (indigenous) and Mahogany, Glyricidia, Cassia (exotic).

Engineering process

Before construction works are carried out on a particular tract of land, the vegetation is cleared and growth media (topsoil & subsoil) salvaged and stockpiled for reclamation activities.

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Sources say a total of 1.0 metre of soil is placed on land being reclaimed, comprising 0.70m of subsoil and 0.30m of topsoil to facilitate growth of established vegetation. This ratio is believed to be mimicking the natural soil profile that contributes to the success of natural forest and agriculture practice.

The topography of reclaimed areas has been created in gentle slope hills. Mr. Anthony Loh, Environment Manager-Newmont Ahafo Mine, in an interview explained: “The design of waste rock dumps is done in accordance with mining & environmental regulations and permits granted to the mine or its operations. Within 20 to 25 kilometres away from the waste rock disposal facilities are hills which make the existing maximum waste dump heights blend in very well with the natural topography of the area”.

My understanding is that the period for reclaiming a particular piece of disturbed land varies, depending on the size, terrain/facility and closure concept for a specific area. An area is only deemed to have been reclaimed successfully when it passes the criteria (including land use success stage) specified in the Reclamation Security Agreement with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

Besides personnel of Newmont who are entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring success of the reclamation programme, consultants and researchers also provide additional support.

So far, Newmont Ahafo Reclamation has meticulously covered about 143 hectares out of reclaimable land disturbance of 1,143 hectares.

Newmont spends an average of US$57,000 on every hectare of reclaimed land. Meanwhile, the company as at the close of December 2017 posted with the EPA a total reclamation bond of US$101,688,393 – covering both surface and underground operations.

The reclaimed land after all the processes will be relinquished to the government of Ghana, subject to certification for all the success criteria stipulated in the reclamation security agreement with the EPA.

Resettlement and land use

Mining explorations and operations occur where ore bodies are located and when the mine receives its social license and all the required regulatory approvals are granted to do so.

At times, mine development results in unavoidable relocation and resettlement of households and/or livelihoods, including impacts to those who depend on artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM).

The right to an adequate standard of living is one of Newmont Mines salient human rights issues, and it has pledged to be committed to managing and mitigating the risks associated with business activities.

According to the 2017 sustainability report, Newmont’s resettlement approach – which is a major component of it – has always been aligned with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standard, which states that the first objective is to avoid resettlement.

“If alternatives are not available, we work to ensure affected people and communities are able to make informed decisions; adverse impacts are minimised; and livelihoods and living conditions are restored or improved.

“Our global ASM strategy helps guide regions and sites on how to characterise and manage related risks through implementation plans that reflect local ASM activities and their proximity to Newmont’s operations.

“We engage with governments to identify land in our licences to set aside for responsible, legal ASM; and we collaborate with international experts and organisations, as well as national and local governments and universities, to help legitimise ASM and improve safety and environmental protections,” the report stated.

According to the report, in 2017 at its operational site at Akyem, the livelihood restoration activities for previously resettled households continued – most notably in the Yayaaso community, where a 20-acre palm oil plantation and a planned processing plant will provide support for farmers.

To improve food security and provide a potential source for the site’s catering company, “We trained 125 farmers in the resettlement village on establishing crop farms and maximising yields.

“We held a regional ASM workshop with corporate, regional and site leaders as well as international ASM experts and government and industry representatives. The workshop focused on improving our understanding of ASM conditions around our operations with the goal of updating our implementation plans in 2018.”

Key insights from the workshop include the need to raise awareness with government and communities about our ASM strategy and the environmental and social impacts of illegal mining.

These findings, along with stakeholder feedback, are being incorporated into regional and site action plans that include: Mercury management – Developing technologies and partnerships that keep mercury out of small-scale mining, use mercury safely in small-scale mining and/or create processing partnerships to reduce overall impacts;

Engaging experts – Building relationships with thought-leaders and ASM experts to employ emerging practices in our mining areas, and forming partnerships to improve engagement with ASM miners; and

Livelihood mechanisms – Exploring approaches to both support ASM livelihoods and identify where alternative livelihood approaches can successfully replace income streams.

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