There’s no question water plays a critical role in day-to-day operations at Goldcorp. It’s a valuable resource required for metals production. It’s also one of the most important resources in the world and there is growing scrutiny of its use in all industrial applications, including mining.
Goldcorp has embarked on an ambitious, multi-year water-reduction strategy with the ultimate goal of leading the mining industry in drastically reducing fresh-water consumption and completely eliminating the use of traditional slurry tailings, currently the largest store of unavailable water in the mining process.
The approach, called Towards Zero Water (H2Zero) is ambitious, audacious, some would say near-impossible. Certainly, it’s a moonshot-first for the precious metals space, and one that Goldcorp hopes will prove an undeniably solid business case for the sustainability of our industry.
Championed by Goldcorp’s CEO David Garofalo and led by Vice President of Environment, Lisa Wade, Goldcorp’s overall goals are to:
- Reduce the company’s total water consumption – including a commitment that all new Goldcorp-operated projects will eliminate the use of conventional, wet tailings and will consume 50% less water than Goldcorp’s existing sites do today.
- Move at least half of all existing operations to >80% water reuse/recycle rates.
- Use substantially less fresh water (<0.25 m3/t ore milled) in our milling operations.
Goldcorp has been a leader in the installation and operation of filtered tailings facilities, which contain significantly less water than traditional tailings, and have the potential to drastically reduce environmental risk. Goldcorp has successfully implemented filtered tailings its El Sauzal mine, the Marlin mine, and most recently at its Éléonore mine. A major challenge is to scale up for large throughput mines while maintaining economic viability. The possible return on solving this problem would be transformational for the industry and its environmental footprint.
With goals to be attained over one, three, five and ten year periods, the strategy requires step-change innovation and deep commitment to build upon the milestones achieved in the company’s original Water Stewardship Strategy, set in motion in 2013.
Goldcorp’s Metallurgy and Processing group have formed an industrial collaboration project called EcoTails, while internal teams and expert consultants are also collaborating with multiple universities and research institutions. They are reviewing innovations and technologies that could be applied from other sectors’ experiences to help transform the long-term sustainability of mineral processing. The focus on water innovation is a call to action Goldcorp hopes will be taken up at next year’s #DisruptMining event at PDAC (Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada), where competitors pitch innovative technologies for the mining sector.
H2Zero reflects Goldcorp’s focus on corporate social responsibility, as well as the company’s commitment to the UN’s Global Compact Initiative and Sustainable Development Goals. In alignment with these commitments, one of Goldcorp’s primary objectives is to ensure that its innovations in water-use reduction can be replicated by other mining companies to create a worldwide impact. To accomplish this, the company is sharing information and best practices with other industry leaders through its involvement in the Canadian Mining Innovation Council and the Canadian Mining Association.
As part of the strategy, Goldcorp has created a model to calculate the true cost of water usage in mining operations. Some mines pay for water rights, but that’s far from the end of costs associated with water, says Wade. It takes infrastructure, energy and labour to extract water, to pump or transport it around a site, to store, treat and discharge it. Water infrastructure requires ongoing maintenance, upgrades, and often replacement at one or multiple points during the life of a mine.
“It’s not a simple analysis but getting as close as we can to identifying the true costs of water is essential if we are going to show both the return on investment of our H2Zero program, as well as its potential to add to our Net Asset Value,” she says.
The company’s executive team has approved funding for the water-saving EcoTails concept – set to be first tested at the Peñasquito Mine in Mazapil, Mexico, and has embarked on water-related studies and projects at its other mines.
“With our first few projects underway, momentum is now building on our H2Zero strategy that will fully recognize the key role water plays in our business,” adds Wade. “It will be exciting to demonstrate our company’s commitment to the environment, while we take the next steps in ensuring continued long-term viability of the industry. We hope others will soon follow our lead.”