Environmental assessments for an iron ore mine in the far north
The Canadian mining company Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation planned to develop a cluster of nine high-grade iron ore deposits at Mary River in the northern territory of Nunavut. Baffinland engaged us to support their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) team, providing expertise in areas including air quality, noise, vibration, meteorology and climate change.
Baffinland needed data and analyses related to several aspects of the project, including the construction of the mine, the extraction of the iron ore, the management of an incineration stack, the movement of the resources to port via rail or road and shipping itself. At 72 degrees north, the Mary River site is among the world’s most northerly mines – and one of the richest known iron ore deposits. The mine’s remote location and its open-pit design made fieldwork and modeling especially demanding. Changes in Baffinland’s business environment also necessitated several shifts in project plans, which in turn required us to deliver adjusted analyses and projections according to a very demanding schedule in order to avoid delays in regulatory approval processes.
Our contributions to the EIS and the mine’s eventual operations included:
- Baseline air quality and noise monitoring
- Air quality and noise monitoring during a pilot-scale bulk sampling program
- Analysis of historical meteorological data and Traditional Knowledge
- Assessment of historical and expected future climate change
- Using subject area specialists to apply general climate change insights to specific aspects of the project (e.g. assessing future integrity of permafrost underneath overburden stockpiles or anticipating possible impacts of the project assuming a local marine environment under stress from climate change)
- Estimation of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions associated with the mine operation and comparison with other mines
- Advanced air quality dispersion modelling (CALPUFF) for multiple project variations
- Noise modelling (Cadna/A) for multiple project variations
- Incinerator stack testing and incineration management plan guidance
- Set-up and oversight of continuous monitoring for NOX and SO2
One factor that was critical to our performance on this project was our team’s extensive cross-disciplinary expertise. A team with less depth and breadth of experience would likely not have had equal success in understanding and communicating the complexities of air emissions and noise sources at an open pit mining operation in an extreme climate.
Our staff were able to carry out rigorous field monitoring at the site, as well as sophisticated modeling and climate forecasting, in order to generate realistic predictions of impacts from phenomena that are difficult to predict, such as dust emissions from open pit activities. In-house environmental experts with outstanding communication skills and regulatory backgrounds attended hearings to share our findings with stakeholders.
While some firms fill gaps in their expertise by assembling teams of contractors for challenging projects, we maintain a cohesive, engaged staff team of leading experts. The value of this approach was especially clear on this project. After Baffinland had submitted and gained approval for an initial EIS (also conducted by RWDI), changes in the firm’s business environment caused it to propose changes to the initial phase of the mine’s operations. The changes included transporting iron ore to port by road instead of by rail, as well as initial production levels differing from those originally proposed. As the project was redesigned, we were able to quickly mobilize our staff to deliver updated analyses based on the new project specifications and increased regulatory expectations, and meet the demanding schedule of submissions. This continuity in our team of experts enabled us to support the client with outstanding efficiency and integrity, and limit any risk of error. Baffinland benefited from our ability to deliver the same experienced team of experts at each phase of their project – from initial baseline assessments through successive iterations the project plan and on through operations.
Even as Baffinland’s plans for the project changed substantially, we were able to deliver rigorous, credible analysis about air quality and noise impacts related to the mine’s development and its interactions with a changing climate. The project maintained the support of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, commenced work with a minimum of delay in view of the changes from the initial proposal, and made its first shipment of iron ore to buyers in Europe in 2015. We continue to support operations with help develop an occupational health and safety program for noise, vibration and air quality, and ongoing air quality monitoring.