Mines and the environment
The environmental impacts of mining can be reduced significantly by engaging in sustainable mining operations. This means, for example, good planning throughout the life cycle of mining operations, from exploration to production and aftercare. Exploration and mining are regulated by Finnish legislation and the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes), which serves as the permit and supervisory authority.
Laws and permits regulating mining operations
Laws and permits regulating mining operations In Finland, mining industry operations are regulated by numerous other laws in addition to the Mining Act, such as the Environmental Protection Act, the Land Use and Building Act and the Water Act. This is why mining operations in Finland are more responsible and safer than in many other countries. Starting mining operations always requires a mining permit and a mining safety permit granted by Tukes, the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency, and an environmental permit granted by the ELY Centre.
A reservation notification gives the right to apply for an exploration permit, but a mere exploration permit does not yet guarantee a mining permit. An exploration permit enables drilling and exploration of minerals from the soil. The application for mining operations must also define the measures related to the closure and financing of the closure of the mine.
Guarantees related to closure are also determined already now in both the Mining Act and the Environmental Protection Act. Currently, there must be guarantees under the Environmental Protection Act for more than EUR 500 million.
Exploration and its environmental impacts
The purpose of exploration is to locate and find minerals in the area by means of drilling. An exploration permit does not mean permission to exploit the minerals found, but it gives its holder priority for any subsequent mining permit.
The environmental impacts of exploration are not very significant, but vegetation and soil may suffer, and the area may incur aesthetic damage.
Emissions from exploration are generally limited to exhaust emissions from transport and drilling. The soil resulting from deep drilling can be recovered where necessary, and drilling does not affect the quality of groundwater, for example. When the exploration ends in the area, the holder of the exploration permit must restore the area and close the deep drilling pipes.
In accordance with the Mining Act, the holder of the exploration permit pays the owners of the properties an annual exploration fee. In addition, exploration permits include a permit-specific guarantee to cover any damage and harm incurred by landowners.
Impacts of production on the environment and water bodies
Because of the significant environmental impacts of the production phase of a mine, an environmental impact assessment is always required for a mining permit. The design must take account of changes in the landscape and vegetation, dust and noise pollution and the emissions arising from drilling and the transport of soil. If the future mine is located close to a residential area, explosions and extraction may cause noise pollution, and increased traffic may cause dust emissions as early as during the construction phase.
However, the most significant sources of emissions from mining operations are waste from the enrichment process and especially its storage, which causes impacts on water and air. The enrichment process produces tailings, which are pumped as sludge into tailings ponds for final storage. Special attention must be paid to the location of tailings ponds and the design of their structures, so that run-off into water bodies and groundwater and dust emissions into the air can be avoided.
The goal of sustainable mining is to minimise all adverse environmental impacts. Endomines aims for a 100% water recycling rate at its mines, and the process is free from cyanide and other strong acids and chemicals that could damage water bodies or spread as dust emissions into the air and the surrounding area.
New innovations for the reuse of mining waste are emerging at a growing rate, and its reuse is being developed in both research institutes and companies. Waste rock generated during extraction has already been used in the construction of wind power plants and roads, for example.
The use of soil materials currently classified as waste will inevitably increase in the coming years, particularly in construction, because of the growing scarcity of materials.
Impacts of the reuse of extractive waste:
- Reduces the consumption of natural resources
- Saves energy and reduces carbon dioxide emissions
- Reduces nature loss .
Closure and aftercare of mines
When a mine is closed down, there is a statutory requirement to restore the area. For this purpose, a restoration plan will have already been drawn up in connection with the mining permit application in terms of waste treatment and cover. The closing of a mine is a long process to ensure that the waste ponds and piles will not leak into the environment and groundwater. The long-term monitoring of the mine is one of the main challenges in mine closure.
When the use of the mine site after the end of mining operations is well planned, mine closure and aftercare can be used to create an environment that, for example, serves the recreational needs of the local community. The mining area can also be used for other activities such as culture, tourism or industry.
Effective monitoring and compliance with the principles of sustainability during the operation of the mine minimise its environmental impacts. Modern technology enables continuous measurement and monitoring and the rapid detection of any incidents. When emissions are measured regularly, measures can be planned to reduce them.
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