Natural Resources Getting More Attention

Posted by on Mar 29, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

There is a global focus on renewable energy and the natural resources needed for this energy.  With the conflict in Europe, other natural resources, including oil and gas are also increasingly important.  Canada is one of the richest natural resource nations and should be in a good position to meet this increased demand for natural resources.

Global Natural Resources

According to Mining Digital Magazine, Russia ranks first globally in natural resources (valued at $75 trillion in US dollars).  Most already know that much of Europe is dependent on Russia for natural gas, but Russia’s other natural resources include diamond, gold, platinum, palladium, coal, natural gas, iron ore, manganese, chromium, nickel, titanium, copper, tin, lead, and tungsten.  They also account for around 20% of the world’s timber.

Many of these natural resources are needed for renewable energy, including nickel.  Last fall, before the conflict, Rystad Energy said, “Global demand for high-grade nickel, an essential component in electric vehicle (EV) batteries, will outweigh supply by 2024.”  Even though Russia accounts for approximately 6% of the global nickel supply, they supply 16% of the high-grade nickel that is necessary for electric vehicles (See Bloomberg discussion with Joe Deaux).

Canada ranks sixth in the world in mine production of nickel.  In 2020, Canada produced 167,000 tonnes of nickel.  Can we produce more?  If the reserves are available, there is plenty of incentive for mining companies to tap into these resources.

Increased Demand

Even before the unrest in Europe, demand for minerals to power a low-carbon economy was on the rise.  As reported on March 13, 2022, by CBC, “A recent World Bank report said demand for minerals needed for low-carbon technologies could increase by 500 per cent by 2050 and that responsible mining, with environmental safeguards, would be required if global climate goals were to be met.”

From the same report, “Exploration for minerals in B.C. needed for the world’s transition to a low-carbon future has accelerated over the past two years, as the province’s mining industry hopes to demonstrate its commitment to the environment and reconciliation with First Nations.”

Between global conflicts and the increased demand for certain elements necessary for batteries, solar, and wind energy, Canada will play an important role.

According to Clean Energy Canada, Canada is home to 14 of the 19 metals and minerals needed to make solar panels.

According to the Canadian Government, “Canada is the global leader in the production of potash and ranks among the top five global producers for diamonds, gemstones, gold, indium, niobium, platinum group metals, titanium concentrate and uranium.  Canada is also the world’s fourth-largest primary aluminum producer.”

The same website writes that Canada produced 60 minerals and metals at almost 200 mines and 6,500 sand, gravel and stone quarries.  The value of Canada’s mineral production reached $43.8 billion in 2020.

Picture of mining

Mining our natural resources are essential for our low-carbon economy, but has human health and environmental risks that must be managed (Image by Анатолий Стафичук from Pixabay).

Environmental Risks and Mining Natural Resources

Mining, while necessary to capture and refine natural resources for a low-carbon economy and necessary for our daily life, does have environmental management concerns.  Moreover, Western economies have developed strong environmental protection laws that are necessary for sustainable growth.  These protections while necessary, add expenses to the process when compared to developing nations.

Aside from the inherent health risks associated with mining, there are concerns with water quality, air quality, and management of rock tailings.

Mining Tailings

One of the biggest environmental challenges is managing tailings.  According to the Mining Association of Canada, “Tailings are a by-product of mining, consisting of the processed rock or soil left over from the separation of the commodities of value from the rock or soil within which they occur.  If not managed responsibly, tailings can pose potential risks to human health and safety, the environment, infrastructure, and to mining companies themselves.  Responsible tailings management is essential to minimizing and mitigating these risks.”

Environmental Regulations

Both federal and provincial environmental regulations regulate mining activity.  The federal regulations include:

  • Canadian Environmental Protection Act, including the Chemicals Management Plan and Interprovincial Movement of Hazardous Waste Regulations
  • Impact Assessment Act
  • Fisheries Act, including the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations
  • Navigable Waters Protection Act/Navigation Protection Act
  • Species at Risk Act
  • Migratory Birds Convention Act
  • Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act

Regulations aside, just as with other regulated industries, an effective environmental management program will help limit releases.

Canada appears to be in a good position to meet the increased demand for natural resources.  Meeting the spike in demand while protecting human health and the environment at the same time is a significant undertaking.

Experienced Environmental Professionals

Dragun’s Senior Consulting Partner, Dr. Joel Gagnon has experience in the mining and resource sectors.  Further, Dr. Gagnon has a specialization in analytical and applied aqueous geochemistry.  Contact Christopher Pare’ at 519-948-7300, Ext 114 for more information.

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