ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY COMMITTEE
A Field Geologist’s View of Improved Sustainability in Mineral Exploration
Darcy is a professional geologist who has worked in the uranium industry in Saskatchewan for over 20 years and is currently a consultant with Frostfire Exploration.
n 20 years of mineral exploration in northern Saskatchewan, I’ve seen firsthand the innovation and adoption of improved social and environmental sustainability practices in mineral exploration. One of the things not recognized is that field geologists work intimately with their environment. I have spent over 30 per cent of my life in the forests of northern Saskatchewan. You come to appreciate and love the environment, something that is important for the public and communities to understand.
Innovation requires a driver, and the recent public focus on sustainability, especially as it relates to mining, has forced explorers to not only meet new regulations but often exceed them. Improvements range from decreasing tree clearing, better control of drilling cuttings and reduction of rutting from heavy equipment. Technical training in project management, risk assessment and ice engineering methods have allowed companies to drill more safely on lake ice, with recirculation of drill cuttings and a better understanding of how ice platforms are constructed and maintained. In my opinion, lake ice drilling is less impactful on the environment, as it avoids clearing of forest and when done correctly has virtually no impact on the watershed.
One of the more striking changes for those in the exploration business is improving how we site, construct and remove exploration camps. Companies are building camps with better insulation, more efficient heating and better living conditions. This allows reduced fuel consumption and a reduced carbon footprint. Camps are more comfortable, safer and produce less waste. Unlike in the 1970s, when camps were sometimes decommissioned by burning them in place, today they are removed completely, with closure reports submitted to provincial regulators including photographic evidence of their removal.
Our relationship with local communities has also changed through the years. In the past, consultation was primarily done to inform local stakeholders of exploration activity. Today it’s more involved. Conversations include topics like drilling impacts, the availability of jobs and how we can encourage youth to get into the sciences. There is significant value in sitting down with local trappers to benefit from their knowledge gained through 50 years of life in the North. The vital role that northern residents often play in exploration is sometimes under-recognized. Over the years, I’ve been lucky to get to know the people of the North a bit better. I’ve been involved in their community celebrations and saddened by the news of lives cut short. Getting to know a community allows better understanding of their viewpoints and makes it easier for them to bring forward concerns. I hope one day to see an Indigenous youth from the Athabasca region become a professional geologist and work in the North they call home.
Professional Geoscientists who work in the field today can be rightfully proud of these improvements. Their approach is evidence of how they and the companies they represent are committed to sustainability. A winter spent in northern Saskatchewan isn’t easy to forget, and we need to continue to ensure that future generations can experience the beauty of northern Saskatchewan.