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KGHM International: A Legacy of Responsible Mining

As a wholly owned subsidiary of KGHM Polska Miedź S.A., KGHM International (KGHM-I) is focused on its operating assets, working to advance its grow...

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|Dec 10|magazine15 min read

As a wholly owned subsidiary of KGHM Polska Miedź S.A., KGHM International (KGHM-I) is focused on its operating assets, working to advance its growth pipeline. The company operates a group of projects spread across North and South America including four open-pit mines and two underground mines.

One of the most advanced and responsible initiatives the company has undertaken is the implementation of a mine-for-closure operating plan at its KGHM-I Carlota (“Carlota” or “the company”) mine.

Responsible mining initiatives

Permitted in 1997, the Carlota project is a 100 percent owned open-pit, heap leach mine producing roughly 25 million pounds of copper annually. Located in Arizona, the mine became one of the first copper mines designated and permitted under modern environmental legislation within the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Since the inception of the mine, Carlota has been pursuing a goal of responsible environmental stewardship and excellent community relations. The company has implemented a mine-for-closure plan that follows suit with the Arizona environmental regulations as well as Federal guidelines.  The key component of mine-for-closure is incorporating closure activities into the mine plan during operations and continuing copper production while conducting closure.

“Mine-for-closure has always been a part of our plan and various parts of the facility were combined into that methodology,” says Dave Cook, general manger of Carlota.

According to the general manager, the infrastructure at the mine was built with the intention it would be closed in full compliance with state and federal regulations.

“One of the specifications was a partial pit back fill in lieu of building extra waste rock stockpiles. Other plans included minimizing visual impacts, concurrent waste rock stockpile reclamation, and putting a cover and exclusionary capping on our leach pad, once copper recovery is completed. And Carlota has partnered with the University of Arizona’s Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining and consulting experts on its closure plans. ”

As the life of the mine winds down, Carlota is extremely proud of the work it’s done at the site.

“We have an opportunity to set a standard that will serve KGHM-I well because as we permit other facilities, it’s important to be able to say we’ve done responsible closure before and that we can be successful,” says Cook.

“We’re going to have our challenges as we close things but we’re going to be responsible and what we say we’ll do in our permit documents, we’re going to do, within the scientific limits of a dynamic environment.”

Environmental and Community relationships

Carlota is actively involved in its surrounding communities and the environment. Carlota offers regular public tours that ensure clear communications with the community.

The company supports the local community both financially and with donations of employee time.  This includes funds to repair and reopen the Miami Community Pool, and the Bullion Plaza Community Center gym, as well as supporting a variety of programs for the elderly, such as Meals on Wheels. Employees also participate in regular highway clean-up activities.

Carlota has developed its requirement as a Zero Impacted Water Discharge operating plan into an asset for the mine. The plan includes actively storing, managing and recycling storm water runoff for construction activities and mining operations. Implementation of the plan has resulted in significant water conservation using storm water to replace some of the fresh water used in its operations.

“From a zero discharge perspective, it’s made us more environmentally sensitive as an operation and has allowed us to make better use of a resource, which in the desert cannot just become a waste product,” says Cook.  “Employees understand the situation and the value of taking care of things, everywhere on the site.”

By recycling storm water, Carlota has been able to exceed the expectations for the amount of water it was required to “put back” into the riparian environment as mitigation for water taken from wells for use in mining operations.

In addition, Carlota also has taken initiatives to control dust and to minimize surface disturbance, while actively developing concurrent and proactive reclamation practices at the mine. Combining these activities with operations is the heart of the mine-for-closure concept using current resources to shorten and reduce the cost of final closure activities.

Employees

Having experienced and dedicated employees has been vital for Carlota. The company strives to cultivate a company culture that both inspires employees and provides them the freedom to make the right decisions.

“We started out with a deliberate effort to build a culture focused on a high level of environmental and safety standards,” says Cook. “In order to do that, we needed to make sure communication was a key factor in all levels of the organization.”

And it has been. The success of the Carlota mine is placed squarely on its team of employees, which have been able to demonstrate responsible mining by working together and keeping an open dialogue between employees, management and contractors.

“We’ve worked really hard to make more people aware of what’s going on in all facets of operations, allowing them the ability to contribute on all levels. This includes communication between departments and crews. We want everyone to communicate so everyone can contribute positively to this effort.”

Safety is another vital aspect that KGHM-I values. The Carlota mine has maintained a Total Medical Injury Frequency Rate below the average US Incident Rate for Open Pit Metal Mines in all the years of its operation.

“We really focus on giving our people the freedom and knowledge to protect their own safety,” says Cook. “By doing so, if they see something in the field that’s unsafe, they have the confidence to shut it down or modify the situation to make sure things are done safely.”

He adds, “Communication is one of the key things we value here at Carlota.”

The success of Carlota and its responsible mine-for-closure plan is one part initiative and two parts execution.