In many parts of the world, mining-sector companies are feeling the effects of tightening environmental legislation. Keeping track of the legislation that affects them is becoming a core competency.
Air emission regulations by the provincial government of Ontario are a case in point. Ontarios Regulation 419/05 Air Pollution Local Air Quality (O. Reg. 419/05) puts new requirements on companies regarding air emissions, and many entities that have been in compliance, soon wont be. Soon, for many readers with operations in Ontario, is 2010, when NAICS sectors including metal ore mining, and non-ferrous metal (except aluminum) smelting and refining, must be in compliance with new emission standards.
O. Reg. 419/05 is an example of rolling compliance legislation: new requirements are rolled out over time, requiring companies not only to meet the new emission standard but also to use more advanced dispersion models like AERMOD by a certain date. The effect of these changes is that mining companies that are in compliance today may no longer be, in 2010, even if they have made no changes to their operations. In addition, the MOE continues to review standards, posting new information drafts with significantly lower limits for metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and nickel. This requires companies to determine whether they are now in compliance, and then make plans for meeting the legislations future requirements.
While this legislation applies only in Ontario, other provinces regulators keep an eye on the trends in the countrys most populous province, and trends set in Ontario (such as rolling legislation) tend to show up in other jurisdictions. Ontario is generally not the first mover in such instances, as this province often follows the lead set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and that of European regulators.
Mining company executives need to understand both the technical aspects and the financial aspects of compliance in the new regulatory environment. It does little good to develop a course of action that will not help meet compliance in the future, or which is financially unfeasible.
Experience shows that many companies are not currently taking a close look at this issue. This is partly because of the seemingly-generous schedule for compliance, and because taking action generally involves spending money that does not show up directly in improved processes and profitability. Companies need to think of the length of time required to do the research and to take action, and how much being in compliance can help make life smoother.
As with many environmental compliance projects, work starts with measurement of the existing situation, in this case the operations existing emissions. Many smelting and refining operations are aware of what exits from their main process stacks, but for mining operations (that do not have one main process stack), they must have a good handle on their surface-based emissions from other diverse sources, such as mine ventilation exhausts and fugitive dust from onsite roadways. AERMOD dispersion modeling requires much more detail on the physical aspects of the plan than the current models, and this information takes time to collect. The major goal for estimating existing emissions from mining, refining and smelting operations is to avoid getting caught up wasting effort on the many small, negligible emission sources.
In estimating emission rates from sources, it is important to hit what we might call the Goldilocks Ideal: not too much, not too little, but just right.
Emission estimates need only to be sufficient to do the job, so effort must be focused on the sources that have the most effect on overall compliance, putting less effort on other sources. Otherwise the project schedule will be delayed, wasting time (which always equals money) that could be better spent elsewhere.
Many times, a conservative emission estimate will overestimate the actual emission, but can be readily developed and applied quickly to document compliance. In this case, further refinement of the emission estimate is not necessary. However, if compliance cannot be demonstrated, greater accuracy is required in order to demonstrate compliance. In many cases this is an iterative process. When is good enough good enough? It depends on the situation, but a skilled engineer can balance the projects timing requirements with the need for accuracy.
In many cases, the time to stop is when the operation can be demonstrated to be in compliance with current regulations, but an eye also needs to be kept on the future, as the regulations roll on and new standards and dispersion modeling requirements are phased in.
If refined emission estimates continue to show non-compliance, the company can look to two choices offered by O. Reg. 419/05: abatement or the Alternative Standards Process (ASP).
In developing an abatement plan, engineers advising the company must get out their toolbox of potential solutions that can include scrubbers, thermal oxidizers and dust collectors. Best Management Practice Plans to manage and mitigate fugitive dust can help as can other measures, such as adjusting the timing of operations so that two processes emitting significant volumes of contaminants do not occur at the same time.
Sometimes analysis indicates that even if all possible mitigation steps are taken, compliance is not certain. The company can then consider the ASP.
O. Reg. 419/05 breaks new ground, allowing companies to temporarily set site-specific criteria for their facility based on technical and economic limitations. The window to make applications under the Alternative Standards Process closes in October 2008 for the mining sector. Companies that may need this process should be gathering information and looking at their options now, in order to complete the required reporting and analysis by this date. Otherwise companies may lose the opportunity to plan for the required upgrades to capital equipment for a more efficient operation, and be reacting to a non-compliance situation instead.
(Sean Capstick, P. Eng., is a senior air quality specialist in the Mississauga office of GOLDER ASSOCIATES LTD. Contact 905-567-4444; email@example.com. Natalie Hamilton, E.I.T., is an air quality specialist in the Sudbury office of Golder Associates. Contact 705-524-6861; firstname.lastname@example.org.)