Wednesday, May 5, 2010

BP: Beyond Petroleum

With approximately 1 million litres of oil spilling into the ecologically sensitive waters of the Gulf Coast, BP has a responsibility to re-think its traditional model in order to move Beyond Petroleum. Even the ultra-conservative Terence Corcoran believes that BP should be paying the full cost of the clean-up.
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in the EU, he will be meeting with EU leaders who will no doubt chastize him for Canada's inaction on climate change. Canada is sourly missing an opportunity to formulate a "Made in Canada" climate change plan that reflects our northern reality and vast landscape. This wat-and-see-what-the-Americans-will-do position is sure to hamper our competitiveness in the medium to long term. As the Globe and Mail reported, even China and the United States are aggressively moving to lower their emissions.
Governor Schwerzenegger recently took bold steps in not supporting offshore drilling as he does not want to put the environment at risk. This reflects the state of California's electorate who, as the fifth largest economy in the world, tend to be more forward-looking than their neighbours.
Isn't there a message for Canada in all of this?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Peruvian "Green Gold"

An interesting article to share: From Reuters Environmental News Service, April 2010

Call it green gold. A Peruvian engineer says he has come up with an environmentally sound way to isolate gold from clumps of sand without using toxic mercury that wildcat miners in the Amazon basin rely on to extract the precious metal, then dump into rivers.

The small, cylindrical machine blends mineralized dirt with jets of pressurized air, water and biodegradable chemicals in a centrifugal motion that produces a cocktail of thousands of bubbles that rise to the surface attached to specks of gold.

"This is ethical gold, because it's not using mercury. Small scale mining is a big employer, and the machine's cost of operation is cheap," Carlos Villachica, an engineer who developed the device, told Reuters inside his small lab in Peru's capital, Lima.

While large, professionalized gold mines rely mainly on cyanide in sealed pools, mercury is used by millions of wildcat miners around the world. They buy hundreds of tonnes of it each year to extract gold from mud. Environmentalists say much of it will eventually make its way into the food chain, causing health problems.

About 20 percent of gold in Peru is produced by wildcatters -- people who mine, usually without formal permits, using picks and dredges.

The high concentration of gold produced by the device allows for direct melting of the precious metal, according to Villachica, who says it also conserves water, recycling up to 90 percent and as much as 70 percent of all chemicals used during the process.

Peru's government has long struggled with curbing some 300,000 wildcat miners and with reducing pollution in the Amazon basin.

Villachica said he is close to introducing the machine in the Madre de Dios region, where 70 percent of Peru's wildcatters operate.

The machine would produce up to 95 percent of the gold obtained by using mercury by wildcat miners, who often put their own health at risk by exposing themselves to the toxic metal.

Villachica runs Smallvill, a Peruvian firm that focuses on green technology and that built a plant to clean waste water of the mining company Volcan.

But his latest device is still unknown and it remains to be seen whether it can transform Peru's mining industry.

Patrick Taylor and Corby Anderson, two colleagues at the Colorado School of Mines, said it remains to be seen what the invention is capable of doing.

"He might be reaping some gold, but we would need to see the results. He's not going to produce pure gold, just a concentrate," Anderson said.

But, Taylor said, there is room for testing new technologies.

"Even though I am unaware of this specific technology, how it works, and it's utility for small gold miners, advances in technology are made often and this may be very useful. I am interested in learning more about it."


Peru is the world's No. 6 producer of the precious metal and shipments of gold and other metals make up 60 percent of its exports.

President Alan Garcia has passed laws to curb pollution by wildcatters, but they have protested against the new rules. A deadly clash with police this month forced the government to say it would revise the laws in Congress.

Villachica's invention could be a way to finding a solution to conflicts over wildcatting in Peru.

He said people have contacted him from as far as Australia and Tanzania asking him how to produce gold in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Among the most interested is a local group of farmers and miners in the region of Cusco, the old Inca capital, who want to reopen a 16th century gold mine.

"It's an environmental project that would benefit the community," Samuel Solis, a community leader said. "They want to find gold like their ancestors using the green technology."

(Editing by Carole Vaporean)

Reuters© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

Monday, January 25, 2010

Climate Change Adaptation

The impact of climate change is being felt in disparate regions across the globe. As the City of Montreal today experiences 9 degrees Celsius and rain in January, the high price of gold draws thousands of miners to a region of south-east Peru where deforestation and the high levels of mercury used in mining has led to fears of an imminent ecological disaster, as Dan Collyns reports. How are poor communities to adapt to climate change, especially in countries where basic needs are not met?

Communities and industry need to start examining more closely adaptation strategies in order to respond to climate change challenges, especially in northern Canada, low-lying countries and regions subject to storms and hurricanes (severe weather). In Canada, the thawing of ice roads disrupts mining activities and adds additional costs to fly-in material and resources. On the social side, communities are being displaced due to changing habitat and biodiversity.

How should governments respond? And industry? Should adpatation to climate change be seen as the next emerging issue? Or shall we wait until disaster has struck? NRCan has a program underway but perhaps the government would be better to tackle the issue head-on instead. Makes sense?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Quebec's Northern Plan -- Plan Nord au Québec

Happy New Year to all readers! Let's hope 2010, the Year of the Tiger, will seize opportunities and stronger leadership in the environment.

The Quebec government, under the leadership of Jean Charest, is moving ahead with the ambitious Plan Nord. The objective is to open northern Quebec to exploration and tap into the wealth of abundant natural resources. The four focus areas are:
  • clean energy and renewable energy
  • mining sector
  • sustainable development, and
  • forestry sector
Quebec's First Nations have already expressed concern calling the Plan Nord the Plan Mort (Dead Plan). The business opportunities, including the need to conduct environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and relations with First Nations/ communities, represent important opportunities for both the public and private sector as regards sustainable development.

The province of Quebec is moving rapidly ahead in order to position and differentiate itself from the other provinces as “leader of the pack” as regards the environment. There are a number of reasons why the province has taken this position, including plans to exploit its northern territory for mining and increasing hydro-electricity production, and therefore it wants to ensure support from both citizens and industry. The government is also encouraging industry to develop its own SDIs and sustainability reporting in general in order to be well-positioned to demonstrate its’ “greener” environmental footprint --especially from a life-cycle perspective.

All views appreciated, advice also available.