Syncrude Canada and Iamgold recognised for sustainable mining

13th May 2014 By: Henry Lazenby - Creamer Media Deputy Editor: North America

Syncrude Canada and Iamgold recognised for sustainable mining

TORONTO ( – Canadian resource firms Syncrude Canada and Iamgold were on Monday recognised with the inaugural Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) Awards at the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) awards gala, in Vancouver.

Iamgold was recognised with the TSM Community Engagement Award for its village market gardening project, in Burkina Faso, while Syncrude Canada was honoured with the TSM Environmental Excellence Award for its tailings reclamation project, the Sandhill Fen Research Watershed Initiative.

The awards were given during Canada’s National Mining Week, which is aimed at highlighting the critical importance that the mining and mineral processing industries play in the country, accounting for about C$60-billion of Canada’s gross domestic product.

"We extend our congratulations to Syncrude Canada and Iamgold for this important distinction, and for being positive catalysts of change in the communities where they operate. Each of these projects is an example of how Canadian miners continue to drive world-leading environmental practices and continue to find new and innovative ways to collaborate with communities,” Mining Association of Canada (MAC) president and CEO Pierre Gratton said.

Mining companies that participate in the TSM initiative submitted a total of 25 nominations. The selection committee, comprised of members from MAC's independent national community of interest advisory panel, selected the finalists based on criteria such as innovation, involvement of and engagement with communities, and project outcomes. TSM performance was also considered as an indicator of the company's ongoing commitment to corporate responsibility.

In the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, home to Iamgold’s Essakane gold mine, the climate is desert-like, often reaching 45  ̊C with very little rainfall. Populations largely rely on livestock breeding and gold mining for their livelihoods.

To improve security and combat poverty in the region, Iamgold had committed to develop alternate revenue sources for communities living near the mine site. Working with communities of interest, market gardening emerged as an opportunity to broaden revenue sources, while at the same time improve food security and nutrition.

In 2009, 100 women from the relocated 500-member Marganta community adopted the practice using a solar-powered well and water storage system provided by Iamgold. This innovation had greatly lightened the women's workload and had allowed them to water garden beds without worrying about a lack of water.

Two years later, drip irrigation technology was added, which had helped increase production without increasing water use. Vegetables can now be cultivated year-round, increasing the number of harvests to two to three a year, instead of just one.

Since 2009, nearly 400 producers (more than half of them women) have earned additional revenue through market gardening, and many have doubled their yearly income. What’s more, there has been an increase in people choosing gardening over gold panning. The project’s success had also generated much interest by neighbouring villages and other mining companies which would like to replicate it in other regions.

Meanwhile, in the boreal forests of Northern Alberta, where Syncrude has a large oil sands mining operation, fen wetlands are commonplace and, in nature, can take thousands of years to establish. This peat-forming, groundwater-fed wetland became Syncrude's source of inspiration as it looked to transform a tailings structure into a thriving wetland in 2007.

With very little information on fen reclamation to refer to, Syncrude established the interdisciplinary Sandhill Fen Technical Advisory Panel to create something that had never been done before, and the Sandhill Fen Research Watershed Initiative was born.

The watershed was developed on 52 ha of sand-capped soft tailings on a portion of what was once a 60 m deep mine. In all, more than 28 kinds of wetland plants were introduced and vegetation was selected to mirror those in naturally occurring fens in the area. Construction of the watershed was completed in 2012 and will be closely monitored over the next 10 to 20 years.

Despite still being in its early years, results were encouraging. Peat studies had shown that it is possible to transplant live peat from a natural environment and grow it in a newly constructed area.

Further, a number of native plants have successfully taken seed and were growing on their own without having been planted. The information being gathered is invaluable towards improving wetland reclamation best practices for Syncrude and the oil sands industry as a whole.