Life is a highway
Another year is in the history books and the New Year is upon us offering its own unique mix of opportunities and challenges. As the Ontario mining industry continues building and changing for the future, it is important we not lose sight of the past.
Every driver operates their vehicle with eyes fixed firmly on the road ahead. But only an irresponsible few would think to floor the accelerator without taking the occasional glance in the rear-view mirror, ensuring not to leave any havoc in their wake as they seek the proper direction.
The same can be said of the mining industry. As we seek to create a prosperous future we benefit by not ignoring the path traveled, learning from our accomplishments as well as our mistakes. In 2001, as in past years, there were some of each.
One of the more noteworthy items on the mining industry horizon in 2002 is an effort to address the legacy of mining operations past. The Mines Rehabilitation Task Force of the Ontario Mining Association (OMA) is examining the potential for an industry-government partnership to economically rehabilitate an abandoned mine site under the jurisdiction of the province. This is an issue of importance not just in Ontario but across Canada and around the world.
The Ontario government is responsible for hundreds of abandoned mines that require extensive rehabilitation. The Mines Rehabilitation Task Force has identified the ERG site in Timmins as a demonstration project to put the partnership into practice. The tailings at this site provide an excellent opportunity to practically apply the knowledge gained through Canadian research in the area of acid mine drainage over the last decade. Rehabilitation work at the site will begin in the spring and is expected to span three years. This is no small undertaking, with total costs expected to be between $2 and $3 million–funded through OMA members, companies providing support to the industry, and both the provincial and federal governments.
Another area in which we continue to learn from our past is that of safety. Once again, the Ontario mining industry saw a decline in the lost-time frequency, to 1.3 injuries per 200,000 hours worked from a frequency of 1.5 in 2000. Similarly, medical aid frequency dropped to 9.5 from 10.4 over the same period.
Overshadowing these gains, however, were the accidental deaths of two mining industry employees in July. As an industry and as a society, our vision is the elimination of workplace injuries and illness. How could it be anything less? Yet as lofty as that aspiration sounds, it pales in comparison to the realization that getting to zero means being perfect. That remains our vision and we continue to work diligently to that end.
Two initiatives in support of that goal in 2001, which will continue in 2002, are the Serious Incident Committee and the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) audit.
On the former, the seven most serious problems have been identified and the industry is better focussed on outcomes, the attention to doing things right and compliance.
On the latter, the industry is well ahead of schedule for meeting its commitment to the Ministry of Labour, to have all mines conduct and submit IRS audits.
Finally, no look at the landscape ahead is complete without acknowledging the curve in the road that awaits us in May, when Ontario’s electricity market opens for business. This welcome development would not have been possible without significant contributions from many OMA members. Ontario mining companies spend $250 million a year on electricity–or 10% to 15% of their operating costs. At the same time, they continue to improve energy efficiency year after year.
The restructuring of the market should offer customers a real choice and enable Ontario to remain competitive. But as almost everyone has conceded, the route from monopoly to market will be a bumpy one. For that reason, the OMA is asking the government to fast-track competition through the sale of generating assets owned by Ontario Power Generation, reduce the stranded debt as quickly as possible, and ensure adequate supply at the lowest price during the transition.
As responsible drivers, our resolutions are simple. The vehicle must be safe enough that no one gets hurt, the cost of running the vehicle shouldn’t keep it parked, and–when the ride’s over–the road should look the same as it did when we started.
Best wishes for a safe and happy New Year!