Produced by Bobby Meehan
Situated in the western Marquette County of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Lundin Mining’s Eagle Mine is gearing up for an exciting 2015 year.
The underground nickel and copper mine, which was purchased in 2013 from Rio Tinto, has produced more than 218,642 tons of nickel and copper ore since commencing production in July 2014. Over its estimated eight year lifecycle, the mine is expected to produce 360 million pounds of nickel, 295 pounds of copper and small amounts of other metals.
In building Michigan’s first new mine in decades, Lundin is dedicated to safety, protecting the environment and putting local people to work. The mine has been a shining example of the legacy Lundin Mining is striving to create.
Founded in 1994 and headquartered in Toronto, Canada, Lundin Mining Corp. is a metals mining company with operations and development projects in Chile, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and the United States, producing copper, zinc, lead and nickel. Lundin also has a 24% interest in the Tenke Fungurume in the DRC and 24% interest in the Kokkola Refinery in Finland. Both with Freeport.
Lundin’s goal for Eagle was to build, operate and close a low cost, efficient modern mine.
Because company-community relations were strained from inception, the company recognized it needed to be transparent with the community.
“We set out to be very transparent with the community and make this project a two-way engagement,” says Mike Welch, General Manager of Eagle Mine.
In the beginning of 2010, the company commissioned a series of focus groups to identify the issues of importance to the community when it came to new mining projects.
The series was facilitated by external consultants with the aim to assist Eagle Mine in understanding the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of mining from the community’s perspective. The focus groups ultimately provided a social baseline of the views the community held about new mining projects in the region. “I think every operation has to look at what their own community’s concerns and interests are, and what is the best way for all parties to communicate,” says Welch.
“We now do these focus groups every two years and we keep building that knowledge capacity to understand what the community concerns are and how we can improve our performance in the community.”
With constructive feedback from the focus groups, Eagle Mine has developed environmental and community programs aimed at addressing the community’s interest.
In an effort to build community trust and confidence, the company has developed a community scorecard which allows community members to rate Eagle’s performance in five areas– environmental performance, local hire, safety, communication and engagement, and community development.
During town hall meetings community members receive an update on Eagle’s operation, ask mine representatives questions and then use electronic clickers to score the company’s performance as: “exceeds expectations”, “meets expectations”, “below expectations”, or “need more information”. The scoring is provided real-time during the meetings – for complete transparency the results go up on a screen for everyone in the room to see. After scoring, community members are asked for comments on how the company can improve or what else they would like to see from Eagle.
Next, the company takes the results and publishes them on their website and in the local paper. If there are areas of improvement identified, Eagle creates an improvement plan and publishes that too. Every six months the company will go back to the community and conduct the scorecard again.
“Historically, there have been perceived risks to such an open and frank style of communication, however that has not been a consideration and all our efforts have been of full value,” says Welch. He added, “For us, this works. The community has appreciated the opportunity for two-way dialog and as time moves on, community concerns have dampened. People have come up to us and thanked us for the transparency of the project. This has helped build more trust in our community relationships.”
Taking it a step further, Eagle helped develop an independent program to conduct environmental monitoring of its mining operation. The program is called the Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP) and it provides the community with third party verification monitoring at the mine, mill and along the transportation route.
The program is administered by the Marquette County Community Foundation (MCCF) and the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) who work in unison to monitor Eagle’s environmental performance.
MCCF provides an oversight board and serves as the pass-through of funds from Eagle to SWP while SWP is responsible for monitoring the company’s environmental performance.
All together the program serves to strengthen relationships in the community and build trust within the local stakeholders. Whether it's a community scorecard or independent environmental monitoring, the community has a say in how Eagle Mine operates.
As mentioned before, one common goal among the company and the community is safety. The company employs roughly 355 employees, which includes full-time Eagle employees and contractors, making safety a top priority for the company.
Derived from portions of the DuPont Safety System, the company employs the health and safety program Visible Felt Leadership. The program integrates a one-on-one engagement approach to making safety personal.
“We use the leadership program as an engagement tool. When we talk about zero harm, what we're saying is we're engaging each employee individually with the philosophy that every injury is preventable,” says Welch. “It's a mandate that this management and operations team has taken on.”
According to Welch, one key tool of the program is Pre-task Hazard Assessment. Because environments change every day, the program ensures all work is being performed safely by assisting employees and contractors in continuously observing their surroundings to identify potential safety hazards.
“It's about boots on the ground, it's about engagement, it's about positive reinforcement, and it’s about understanding how they do their job,” says Welch.
“We all have a common goal and these safety programs and initiatives are a continuation of the common goal.”
Along with Pre-task Hazard Assessments, Lundin encourages their team to interact and converse with other employees and contractors about the tasks they’re completing, as well as observations and desired behaviors recognized.
“Many of the contractors we’ve employed weren't used to the rigorous safety standards we required while working onsite,” says Welch. “They had to change their own culture in order to meet our requirements.”
“We’ve had contractors in the past who’ve brought our training and tools to new operations and other sites they work on. It goes to show the lasting impression we’re having on people.
One of the company’s first commitments to the area was a local hire goal of 75% during operations. While the area has a lot of talented, hard workers, it didn’t necessarily have the people with the exact skills needed to commission and start an operation. Lundin had to be strategic with its training so that it could hire people from the local community and skill them up for the job. Today, Eagle has a local hire percentage of 84 percent.
Eagle partnered with Northern Michigan University to develop specific training programs for its employees. Classes include Bearing & Power Transmission, Welding Testing, Conveyor Maintenance, Basic Pump Maintenance, Manual Alignment, Laser Alignment, Hydraulics, and Welding Training.
Last but not least, Eagle is funding a Technical Middle College (TMC). The Middle College will provide high school students in the area the opportunity to earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at no cost to the student. The program offers students the opportunity to pursue an associate degree in six career areas: Clinical Sciences, Industrial Maintenance, Electrical Technology, Building Technology, Automotive Service Technology, and Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration.
Although Lundin has commenced production at Eagle Mine, the company is still currently ramping up production to reach its nameplate capacity.
Current operations include a long hole stope mining method, which requires a main decline tunnel, a primary ventilation system and an emergency secondary egress to the surface. Once ore is mined from each stope, it is then backfilled with a cemented/aggregate/sand mix to maintain structural integrity before mining the remaining stopes in the section. The ore is transported 66 miles by semi-trucks to the Humboldt Mill. At the Mill the ore is crushed (three stages) and then ground into a fine slurry whereby the nickel and the copper are floated, thickened and filtered to produce separate nickel and copper concentrates. This is where the process ends at Eagle. The concentrates are shipped to off-site facilities for smelting and refining before they can be used to manufacture the products that fuel society.
Not to be outdone, Lundin implements some of the most recognized and respected technology and equipment onsite. The company couples the latest equipment including crushers, grind mills, float circuits, filter presses and pumps with state-of-the-art programmable logic controls (PLC), DCS systems, and collects nearly 5,000 data points throughout the process. All-in-all, this mill is wired for success.
In following with its community transparency plan, Lundin strives to ensure all water at the mine is up to the highest standards. The company employs a robust water management program with a reverse osmosis water treatment plant.
“All the water we treat is discharged as drinking quality water, or better,” says Welch. “That’s the standard the community wanted and we wanted to ensure we delivered.”
As sole owner, developer and operator of the Eagle Mine, Lundin Mining is creating a legacy of responsible mining by taking the community into consideration, incorporating transparency into operations, and providing one of the safest mines in the United States.
“Our biggest obligation during and after we've completed operations at Eagle Mine is to make sure we've maintained our credibility with the community,” says Welch.
He adds, “When you look back and think of Eagle Mine, it won't be that we mined for eight years. Our legacy will be: did our employees go home safe, were we protective of the environment and did we have the trust of the community.”