Technology Review

Mining Ethics

Paul Kruger

President Paul Kruger

Revision: 12 August 2006

Author: Jack Caldwell

 Table of Contents

Mining Ethics 1

Table of Contents 3

Ellis on Ethics 3

Mining Geotechnology & Ethics (written with Gordon McPhail) 3

Don Giovanni on Morality: 3

Responsible Mining  3

Report Background  3

The Principles of Responsible Mining  3

Basic Rights 3

Report Contents 3

Highlights 3

Responsible Mining --A Personal Perspective  3

Responsible Mining  -- Tailings and Waste Rock  3

Mining and Freedom   3

Cigars and Nickel 3

Professional Ethics: How Does One Know What is Ethically Right?  3

Random Ideas on Mining Ethics 3

Ellis on Ethics

A client who promises to pay, who does pay, and who appears to have a valid project: a consultant’s dream come true?  Maybe.  But then by slow degrees you realize there is something wrong.  By gut feel you begin to doubt the validity of the lab results that underpin his claim; you are restricted from talking to those who may have valid information; you are asked to cut corners.  Suddenly it dawns on you that this project is rife with deceit and potentially fraud.  What is the ethical thing to do:  drop out, report to your professional association, call the police?. 

These facts and issues, more or less, are discussed in a paper Ethical Dilemmas Posed During a Mineral Project Appraisal  by Trevor R.  Ellis.  He faced just such a dilemma, and being the professional he is, acted ethically.  His writings contain guidance for all of us who ponder the issue of mining morality.  Here follow some of my ponderings.

Mining Geotechnology & Ethics (written with Gordon McPhail)

When we were growing up the miner was the hero.  Now in our fifties, the miner is the villain.  Has mining changed, has the world changed, have we changed?  We answer these questions by examining the ethics of mining from our two different perspectives: one of us is a devote & practicing Christian; one of us is an atheist/non-believer [maybe just a freethinker?]; one of us is an AfricanAmericanCanadian; and one of us is an AfricanAustralian.  We both grew up in South Africa and forsook fatherland and patriotism for our children.  We both became geotechnical engineers and have spent the better part of our careers dealing with mine waste disposal. 

Neither of us has studied ethics or morality or philosophy.  We have variously studied the bible or the writings of and about Darwin & evolution.  We have fought and fretted about the right way to design, operate, and close slimes dams:  called tailings impoundments in America and tailings storage facilities in Australia.  Even these funny names evoke the profound issues of ethics and social responsibility and honesty that swirl around our chosen professions. 

You may well ask: is there such thing as an ethical aspect to mine waste disposal?  And you may well answer: simply follow the law and all is well.  This begs the questions: (1) is there a law?; (2) is the law logical, rational, and reasonable?; (3) is the law based on political expediency, compromise, and absence of technical profundity?: and (4) what if the law just plain leads to the wrong solution? 

Luckily neither of has faced the problems faced by Arturo in Bellini’s opera I Puritani.   Poor fellow had to choose between fealty to the deposed queen and his Puritan lover.  The queen was the only survivor of the Stuart royalty, God’s earthly representatives.  His lover was the way to procreate and spread his genes.  Should he follow the law of god and country (his Queen) or the skirt of his lover, that lady of the victorious lead by Cromwell?  (See the opera for the tragic answer.)

This ancient example illustrates as well as any modern example that following the law is no clear guide to doing the ethical and morally correct thing when designing a slimes dam.  The only principles we can offer for the geotechnical designer is: choose the right site—one that has low permeability foundations, poor quality groundwater, and a stable geomorphic environment.  If you cannot find these, maybe you should recluse yourself.  Or prepare a conservative design that will probably get you fired.  This idea was tried out on a young Canadian biologist the other evening.  She was unfazed and simply replied that even though her bosses in the leading Canadian geotechnical company she works for had pleaded with her, she had simply refused to work on a project that would have lead to development in protected forests.  Maybe the world has changed. 

The slimes dam is in furious operation, and the slimes are pouring into the reservoir.  There is a problem: there is always one with an operating dam.  You are called to provide advice and solve the problem.  We guarantee there will be a choice between an expensive & proper solution and a cheap & marginal solution.  What is the geotechnically ethical thing to do?  In America with its adversarial regulator system, the answer is easy:  honestly and in-depth analyze both the cheap & the expensive solution and put both forth in a professional way.   Like the much maligned United States lawyer, you are, in a way, an officer of the public charged with presenting a case.  Society reserves the right to decide.  If your jurisdiction works in smoky back rooms, you have to choose between difficult options:  if good men do not act, bad men will prevail; or the alternative, blow the whistle; or the alternative, fall sick and fall out of sight.   Both of us have left countries beset by emotions of moral indigestion, so we support your decision to leave a job.

Now it is time to close the slimes dam.  There is no way out; you have to do the work.  We have walked the ten sites to which old uranium mill tailings piles were relocated.  The idea was to confirm that the area is geomorphically stable and to understand the landforms so they could be replicated in the relocated pile.  That was ethically satisfying.  Even in Utah where a cry of “this is beautiful country” was met with a Mormon’s reply: “this is the arm-pit of the world”. 

It is not so easy in the Australian outback where an abandoned pile demands action but there is no money other than taxpayer money – the owners and generators of the piles long gone.  Is it paternalistic to impose your vision & environmental morals on a local population with other needs?   Maybe let the wind blow and in another sixty thousand or so years nature will prevail again. 

Obviously both of us are children of the western Judeo-Christian worldview.  Both of us have many successes we can brag about.  Both of us have been run off mines for reactionary views.  Neither of us have any regrets or hang-ups about the geotechnical decisions we have made.  We respect each others professional ethics.  Clearly our totally different religious views must mean that the root of ethics is not in religion or evolutionary theory.  It cannot be in the laws of our adopted countries which differ so.  Maybe it is just the lecturing and example of one good professor, maybe it is in inborn instinct, a natural tendency to altruism that transcends time and place, maybe it is a common revulsion for seeing how bad things can be when the wrong thing is done, and maybe it is just a shared cynic’s viewpoint. 

Most likely it is rooted in the knowledge that we are stewards of the earth for future generations of people and while as baby boomers we ride on the benefits of past environmental injustices when the mining industry was the engine driving the way forward towards a better education and a better way of life, the simple fact is that these injustices ought not to continue.  Ignorance is one thing, deliberate abandonment of responsibility something else.

To us a term we hear from the young: whatever.  Do what feels good and you will feel good and most often others will feel good.  That is its own reward.  For happiness comes from total immersion in doing well what you do well.  Why squander such a gift? 

Don Giovanni on Morality:

At a talk on the morality of Don Giovanni: one of the panel, a professor of philosophy, stated that morality could only exist if there were two people involved, i.e., morality is an issue regarding the interaction of at least two people, an kind of altruism if you will.  A speaker from the floor took issue with him pointing out that if you were stranded alone on an island, desecration of the island’s environment would constitute an unethical act, even if only from the point of view that you were despoiling your own sustenance base and only you would suffer there-from.  She was loudly applauded by the assembled audience.  A valid point: for regardless of the religion of the stranded island-inhabitant, the despoliation would have the same negative self-effect regardless of the God, goddesses, spirits, or absence thereof that one believed or did not believe in. 

Another take on mining morality: The Zimbabwe government is seeking to take a fifty-one percent share of all mines in that country.  Consider the Zimbabwe Ruins and their history in mines in that sad country: the ruins were the center of a great mining community that supplied Arab traders for hundreds of years until the population grew too large to be supported by the surrounding agricultural base and deforestation eliminated their supply of wood for heat and cooking; thus the citadel and city collapsed, the population dispersed and later still the current inhabitants of the area moved in and took over, having lost the art of mining and trade and building.  As good an example of civilization island environmental despoliation and self-unethical behavior as any.  

Considering the starvation that now plagues Zimbabwe, one can only wonder at the morality of it all.  We have read Doris Lessing books that when she came as a child to that part of Africa, the population was four-million, now it is over eleven-million.  Maybe the take-over of the mine and farms is another signal of over exploitation of resources and a harbinger of societal collapse.  We cannot discern the good or bad of it; but we can wonder at the implications for North America, immigration, population growth, resource use, and mining. 

And another:  Consider St Louis and the Cahokia mounds.  In 1200AD the population there was greater than that of London, England and their standard of living higher.  But then they too seemed to have exhausted the local resources and their society too collapsed.  No signs of invasion or violence; the people seemed to have simply walked away and never come back.   Two-hundred years later the people of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico did the same thing.   You can blame it on climatic change, as indeed there is evidence for.  But that only makes the future more challenging, for climate change does seem to be real and will affect the world as we know it and will pose professional challenges and ethical dilemma that we cannot now even define. 

Responsible Mining

Currently is suspect that implementation of the principles of Responsible Mining will ensure you are acting ethically.  Framework for Responsible Mining: A Guide to Evolving Standards compiled by Marta Miranda, David Chambers, and Catherine Coumans and dated October 19, 2005 is available at   Here is a summary for those too busy to access and read the 155 pages, or who just want to be quickly informed of developing ideas—and what may constitute ethical behavior. 

Report Background

In 2003, Tiffany & Co, EARTHWORKS, and the World Wildlife Fund brought together NGOs, retailers, investors, insurers, and technical experts to discuss environmental, human rights, and social issues associated with mining and mined products and to establish a basis for responsible sourcing and investing.  Subsequently, the authors from the Center for Science in Public Participation and the World Resources Institute wrote the Report.  Now it is issued in draft for discussion and debate.  The authors call for comment and feedback. 

The Principles of Responsible Mining

The approach adopted in the report is based on these principles:

Sustainable Development.  This is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their need.

Equity.  This means fairness in the distribution of costs benefits of development, as well as in the treatment of women and other traditionally marginalized groups.

Participatory Decision Making.  This means that all citizens have the right to participate in natural resource development decisions, which must be accompanied by effective access to information and opportunity to seek redress and accountability if agreements are not respected. 

Accountability & Transparency.  This means that mining companies should support independent monitoring and oversight and disclose the impacts of their operations.

Precaution.  This implies that governments have the right to decide against promoting development and to establish regulations to prevent serious environmental degradation when development does proceed.

Efficiency.  This implies greater efficiency in the use of energy and water, maximizing reuse and recycling of materials, and minimizing waste.

Polluter Responsibility.  Individuals and corporations responsible for generating pollution are responsible for paying for cleanup and environmental restoration. 

Basic Rights

These basic rights are woven into the practice of responsible mining:

Human Rights.  All human beings regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, race, religion, political views, or sexual orientation are entitled to universal claims that cannot be taken away or exchanged. 

Labor Rights.  The right to freedom of association, the abolition of forced labor, equality, workplace health and safety, and the elimination of child labor.

Right to Development.  Government should ensure that development is based on the free and fair participation of all citizens and the equitable distribution of benefits.  

Right to a Healthy Environment.   The right of present and future generations to enjoy a health environment and a decent quality of life.

Indigenous Peoples Rights.  The right to exist as a peoples, self-determination, control over territory, cultural integrity, political organization and expression, and fair compensation for damage to the lands.

Women’s’ Rights.   Eliminate disparities in the treatment of men and women. 

Report Contents

The report consists of four chapters:

Deciding Whether Mining is an Appropriate Land Use   acknowledges that mining modifies landscapes and has possible long-term impacts on communities and natural resources; the chapter proposes guidelines for determining whether areas should be classified as so environmentally or socially sensitive that the risk posed by mine development is too high to undertake mining.

Ensuring Environmentally Responsible Mining  focuses on the critical elements of site-specific environmental issues and explains why adoption of recommended criteria leads to improved environmental performance.  Criteria are set out for environmentally responsible exploration, Environmental Impact Analysis, water consumption and use, acid mine (rock) drainage, air impacts, energy consumption, noise impacts, waste management, cyanide use, reclamation and rehabilitation, financial guarantees, post-closure practices, and monitoring and oversight.

Ensuring that Mine Development Results in Benefits to Workers and Affected Communities  focuses on the social costs and benefits of mining and provides information on the ways in which mining companies can provide direct benefits to local community members. 

Ensuring Good Governance  examines good governance issues at a national or corporate scale, including the transparency with which companies and governments acknowledge revenue payments and the degree to which companies report on and can be held accountable for progress made against stated commitments. 


Here are some highlights (significant statements) that I select on the basis of my own interests and background from the report:

Companies should ensure that their projects provide net conservation benefits and are consistent with maintaining the biological resources and ecosystems on which local communities depend.

Environmental Assessments should include worse-case scenarios and analyses of off-site impacts.

A qualified professional should certify that water treatment and groundwater pumping will not be required in perpetuity to meet surface or groundwater quality standards beyond the boundary of the mine.

Companies should not engage in shallow water marine waste disposal.

Where subsidence is considered likely, companies should backfill mine working to prevent negative environmental impacts.

Underground workings and pits should be backfilled to minimize the size of surface waste disposal facilities.

Communities should have the right to independent oversight of mining activities.

If requested by the community, companies should facilitate visits to other mines they operate.

At the national level, companies should encourage governments to develop the appropriate capacity, allocate sufficient resources, and foster the political will necessary to develop.

Companies operating in conflict zones or using armed security guards should abide by all major international human rights agreements, international humanitarian law, and refugee law.

Responsible Mining --A Personal Perspective

Who can resist the attractions of the movie Die Another Day?   With my grandsons I have watched it three times this rather cold weekend on an isolated, 160-acre farm in Iowa.   James Bond actions his way around villains dealing in blood diamonds and bent on returning South Korea to North Korea.  There is even a rather unpleasant South African who is used by Bond to access a secure island off Cuba where eternal youth is promised to dictators and rich businessmen.  Another movie the kids loved this weekend was Robots, the tale of the takeover from a kindly old gent of his company by the villain who proceeds to change the product line:  new upgrades are in and replacement parts for old robots are out. 

Regardless of the truth of these movies, it makes perfect sense that Tiffanies would be party to the report Framework for Responsible Mining: A Guide to Evolving Standards.  I am conflicted by this report—it is so honest, objective, logical, well-organized, and appropriate that it must be right?   Yet I have to reconcile it with my past and the last sixty years of mining as I know it.  In reading the report, I cannot but face the question: would the world of which I am a product have existed if the principles expounded by the report had been applied.  Truth is; I think not.  I cannot help but conclude that if the mines I knew and grew up on had practiced responsible mining, I would not have enjoyed the material and intellectual benefits I did—but then I know many other would not have suffered the miseries they endured and would not have earned the mere pittances that kept their children alive. 

To explain this conclusion, let me record a little personal history.  You may skip the blue text if you find oral history dull.  I record it as background to this critique of the principles of responsible mining.

I never enquired about my paternal grandmother’s birth surname or sought to establish when her parents came to the Transvaal, or how they became farmers, Boers, and so I will never know if their origins were Dutch or French Huguenot. Ester was her name, and I remember that she was a small woman with gray hair.  She spoke only Afrikaans to her second husband whom we called Pappie Myhill.  I see the cheap corrugated iron house where they lived in Brakpan and recall Pappie incessantly smoking a pipe.  Her parents were farmers in the Transvaal when gold was discovered.  Then the British came to take the country from them, and her father fled the farm to join the commandos.  The British rounded up the women and children including my grandmother and took them to the concentration camp at Taba Nchu.  That is why she would never speak English for to her it was the language of the enemy.   When peace was declared, she was released, and she met my grandfather.

He was the son of bakers in Londonderry.  He left home as did many Irish patriots to go to South Africa to fight the British; they hoped that defeat there would lead to freedom for Ireland.  It was a family joke that he landed in Cape Town the day peace was declared and so decided to go to the Transvaal to seek his fortune and en route in Taba Nchu he met my grandmother.  How they communicated I do not know; maybe it was a much more complex love story than they ever told their two children. 

When my father was six or so, my grandfather was killed in a mine accident.  My grandmother made money by sending him and my aunt to the local landfill where they gathered tin cans and in the tin cans she planted seed and sold the young plants.  This activity made little money and instead of going into standard seven (grade nine) my father took a job at Woolworths cutting meat.  At sixteen, the war began and in desperation to get from behind the counter he faked his age and joined the army for adventure.  Little did he or anyone else anticipate the horror of the five years that followed:  he told us only once how he survived El Alamein—by clinging to the underside of a fleeing vehicle.

My maternal grandmother was the youngest of twelve children of a farmer in German South West Africa, now Namibia.  The only description she left me was of the time Jan Smuts and his troops encamped on the farm during the Boer war and some vegetables hanging from the rafters fell with a loud clatter and set the soldiers to their guns.   Her father tried contracting to build a new rail line, but when all his donkies died, he went bankrupt and he himself died and she was placed in an English-speaking orphanage.  She married my paternal grandfather, and all I know of him is that his surname was Brett and that he worked on the Transvaal mines and died when my mother and her two brothers were young.  To earn a living, my grandmother opened a boarding house in Brakpan and took in as borders the local miners.  She loved cooking and cleaning and for twenty years Ma-Brett’s boarding house was famous.  When my mother finished school, my grandmother married a ginger Irishman who had lived in the boarding house and had courted her for ten years.  Joe Roney was a silent man, an armature winder in the local mine and he was the only real grandfather I knew. 

After the war, my parents moved to Springs and the East Geduld mine house.  My father became a mine captain and my parents spent their spare hours paying lawn bowls and whist at the mine club.  We had no money, and my parents always seemed to be fretting over debt payments.  Yet we lived a kind of colonial life style: I never saw my father yield a paint brush or even replace a light bulb.  That was done by the mine maintenance staff.  I am not sure my mother could cook; that was done by Mary, a Swana, who was also our nannie and the person who kept the house clean.  The garden was tended by a series of proud and competent men who acted as my father’s aide de camp (called picanin in those old days).  They accompanied him underground in the morning to carry his equipment and run his messages and in the afternoons, when he did office work, they came to the house to garden and clean the car. 

Of the many aides, I recall Simon best, for over many years he came back again and again to work with my father.  The system was that the recruit would come from his home area (Matabeleland is the name I remember) for a six-month period to work on the mine, and then would return to the home area for at least six months before he was eligible to return for another stint.  Simon would be there for six months and gone for six months and back again for six months alternating with the faint seasons of the highveld.   One year he persuaded my father to let him take my father’s old bike back home, promising to return with it in six months.  Two year passed and my father bought a new bike and we had almost forgotten Simon, when one sunny day there he was with the bike telling tales of a demanding new wife.  My father gave him back his job, gave him the bike.  He stayed six month and left and we never saw him again. 

When his health failed, my parents moved to the new mine town of Evander and my father stayed on the surface in charge of the mine school that trained the recruits for underground work.  I hated Evander where small, new houses were built on wind-swept milie (corn) fields and no trees grew.  My father took to keeping pigeons and tending koleas—I still delight in the colors of the koleas that grow untended in profusion in my Vancouver garden. 

To continue my schooling I lived weekdays with Aunty Molly.  Her husband had been the compound manager and her son and I were best friends.  Every Friday, Gog-gog, their manservant took Christopher and me to the compound arena where from the projection room we were allowed to watch a western movie.  The noise from the assembled men in the arena who knew no English drowned out all dialogue, but the movie action kept us all enthralled.  Gog-gog means something like loud drum in Zulu and he was very proud of his name.  When Uncle Bill died, Gog-gog decided to stay with the Missus and look after her, so he lived in the servant’s quarters at the back of the house and cleaned and cooked and did elementary gardening.  We rode single-speed bikes to school.  Bike repair was expensive, and Christopher and I knew almost nothing of bike repair, but Gog-gog was a genius and always got the right tool and the right action to get our bikes up and running again.  

I went to University on a scholarship from the Mining House, Union Corporation, for which my father had worked.   My first job on graduating was with Union Corporation on the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam where Union Corporation was responsible for the underground tunnels and concrete placement.  Two shift superintendents who had worked for my father took me under their wings and the three of us manned the three round-the-clock shifts placing upward of 2,000 cubic yards of concrete a day.  It was exhilarating and I came to see how men worked in the harsh conditions of construction and the tunnels that perhaps were representative of the underground mines of my father’s days.  I returned to University bent on learning how to design big dams, but I was way-laid by the failure of the Bafokeng tailings dam: as a post-graduate student I helped investigate the failure that killed thirteen, and as a young consulting engineer I designed the replacement dam, that to the best of my knowledge is still in use. 

I suspect the only true test of the system of responsible mining expounded in the report is to do a thought experiment on what mining in South Africa or California (two places I know and love) would have been if these principles had been implemented when minerals were found in those places.  It would take a greatest historian and a greater ethnobiologist than I am to undertake so comprehensive a study, so here are a few random thoughts, recorded in the hope the others will continue the task.

The history book our standard nine teacher encouraged us to read even though it was not approved for use by the Transvaal Education Department told that in the beginning, the Hottentots and Bushmen lived throughout what is now South Africa.  At university, I studied archaeology and learnt that long before that there were Austrolopithecines in the Transvaal and that much later, developed cultures gave rise to Zimbabwe ruins and the many stone-walled villages that dotted the landscape including the koppies just north of Westdene where I bought my first house. 

We thrilled to the stories of Chaka, Zulu and his raids into the interior.  We learnt that whole populations fled his empires, leaving the interior of the county empty.  Thus my paternal grandmother believed the land was hers and her clan’s for they had trekked into this empty land and brought forth farms.   From her perspective, the land was taken away by the English and her people were forced to be the miners and the poor.   I wonder if my paternal grandfather ever contemplated the irony of working for the British-owned mines; he was probably too busy surviving in a dry, dusty land unable to return to the green of Ireland.

My maternal grandfather probably saw working on the mines as a sort of birthright owed to another young man from the midlands who had a family to raise.  My maternal grandmother spoke atrocious German-accented English, which she proudly proclaimed as the Queen’s English in honor of the nation that accepted her as an orphan and gave her an education.  

My father and his war-generation friends were broken men; they had survived five years in the desert and told me often that had the Americans not arrived in north Africa, they would have died in battle or from starvation.  They read Time and Readers Digest and dreamed of other places.  They avoided the local newspapers and never voted.  They had lived too much history and turmoil for them to seek it out or to think about it on their return.  They simply wanted to be, to survive, and to snatch small, transient pleasures. 

None of the people I describe above had any real education and they would probably be bewildered by the fact that I sit happily on a United States corn farm listening to jazz and writing about responsible mining.   They were good people and I suspect their cumulative opinion, based on their life-experiences, would be that he who has the power controls the resources.   They never bought diamonds or wore gold or silver.  The concept of responsible purchasing would have been alien to them.  They got more or less what they needed to get by and that was it. 

Yet we must look back with pride on their work and be grateful for their endeavors, for they have brought us and the world to a place where we can consider ethics and morality and distinguish right from wrong when we open our wallets.   Maybe I am the only lucky one in being able to sit and watch movies with many grandchildren and be entertained and not horrified by villains who trade in blood diamonds or seek to send robots to the chop-shop by not making spare parts. 

Rather than try to answer the fascinating question of how their lives would have turned out if the South African mining industry had been run in accord with the principles of responsible mining (it gets a bit personal), let me just ask three impertinent questions about California and its mines and invite you to consider what the answers would have been if the early gold miners had been responsible:

Would the mines belong to the descendants of the Spanish ranchers or the missions that still draw tourists?

Would the fate of every mined-out area be another casino where one may smoke but not drink?

Would Copperopolis and Angel Camp have become expensive retreats from which the rich commute to San Francisco for three-day work-weeks?

Perhaps, revisionist history is not a valid way to evaluate a modern set of values.  In every age, people have sought to improve the common lot by documenting existing ideas that are ripe for more common implementation.  My favorite example is codification of Roman law by Justinian and Thoedosa in 529 AD.   They were the basis of European law until Napoleon got around to recodifying them and calling them Code Napoleon.   I suspect there will be much debate about this report, so having already said so much and so little, let me add but one observation:  Let us be grateful we live in a world where a document like this can appear and be debated, and where most of its recommendations can be implemented. 


Responsible Mining  -- Tailings and Waste Rock

I now touch on the issue of ethical design of tailings and waste rock dumps.  The Report Framework for Responsible Mining: A Guide to Evolving Standards lists for tailings and waste rock these leading edge practices, i.e., practices which could generate significant social and environmental improvements if implemented.  I have previously said you are acting ethically if you apply their principles.  Yet here I think they are dead wrong.  No doubt whoever wrote this was well-intentioned, maybe even ethical.  Pity is, he got it wrong, in my opinion, and failed to give us guidelines worth anything in the ethical behavior arena.  Further below I set out what I think constitutes ethical behavior in this regard. 

Tailings impoundments and waste rock dumps should be constructed to minimize threats to public and worker safety, and to decrease the cost of long-term maintenance.

Tailings impoundments and waste rock dumps should be constructed to minimize the release of contaminants by installing liners I seepage would result in groundwater contamination.

Waste facilities should have adequate monitoring and seepage collection systems to detect and collect any contaminants released in the immediate vicinity.

Net acid-generating material should be segregated and/or isolated in waste disposal facilities.

Hazardous material minimization, disposal, and emergency response plans should be made publically available.  Rivers should not be used for the disposal of mine wastes.

Companies should not engage in shallow-water submarine waste disposal.  Submarine deep-water disposal should not be used unless an independent assessment can demonstrate minimal social and environmental risks. 

I do not like this list and here is my list—this is not what I believe constitutes necessary practice, merely what I think a decent list of Leading Edge Practice should be—and a list of unequivocally ethical guidance.  If this list implies criticism of the report, that is the intention, and I hope to add to the debate by proffering this list. 

Site Selection:  Neither tailings nor waste rock should be placed in any of the following locations: rivers, shallow seas, arable lands, above communities, or in otherwise sensitive environments.  Tailings and waste rock should preferable be placed in open pits, in underground mine workings, on flat areas, over low permeability soil and rock strata, and/or where there is insignificant risk of groundwater impact.

Layout.  Tailings and waste rock dumps should be constructed with sidelopes no steeper than 3:1 and flatter depending on the local topography and stability consideration.  Tailing impoundments and waste rock dumps should be configured to consistent with the geomorphic forces of the area and to respond in the long term as another geomorphic expression.

Seepage Control.  Neither tailings impoundments nor waste rock dumps should be placed where liners would be required to control groundwater impact.  Drains should be provided to remove operating and post-closure transient seepage.  Thereafter the cover should limit infiltration to the extent that groundwater impact cannot occur. 

Waste Isolation.  Hazardous waste should not be disposed of in tailings impoundments or waste rock dumps.  Net acid-generating material should be isolated in low permeability natural materials that may include low permeability tailings.

Documentation.  Design plans, operating manuals, inspection and monitoring procedures, emergency response plans, closure plans, reclamation plans, and other relevant operating and post-closure documents should be prepared in advance of construction or operation; should be peer reviewed by independent experts; and should be publicly available.

Closure.  Closure of a tailings impoundment or waste rock dump should not rely on perpetual water treatment to preclude off-site surface or groundwater quality impact.  Closure works should be designed to be stable in the geomorphic environment of the site and to respond to geomorphic forces in the long term as other similar or analogous topographic forms.

I do not try to justify this list.  I know this can be done, has been done, and has to be done if society is not to be burdened by long-term costs and impacts that rightly can and must be addressed by the miner.   I believe in mining and know we all benefit from mining.  I believe that the long term is a lot shorter than north and south America tends to think.  I accept that the mine site is changed by mining and nothing can be done about that; we are creating new and sometimes unusual topographic, geomorphic, and geochemical forms on the mine site.  Regardless of the changes that occur on the site due to mining, society has the right to expect that the mine will change nothing in the area around or downstream of the mine.   In fact you can probably dispense with all the verbiage if you adopt only this statement: change the mine site OK, but do nothing to change the surrounding area. 

Mining and Freedom

This is a tribute to miners everywhere.  These thoughts are prompted by ideas that kept recurring as I walked the decks of the USS O’Kane, a destroyer moored in Pearl Harbor.  My son, a Lieutenant Commander has just completed an 18-month tour of duty on this ship and is about to transfer to the USS Chosin.  He took me, my daughter, my son-in-law, my grandson, and his newly acquired father-in-law around the destroyer and introduced us to his former shipmates and the systems he had managed. 

We were all amazed and impressed by the fire power of this ship: the engines in the hold, the computers that automatically target the target, and the missiles packed in neat rows ready to receive coordinates and to destroy.  Overwhelming was the shear mass of metal:  raw and exposed, gray and white, beam, column, and plate.  We were acutely aware of its vulnerability, remembering the Cole and the blast and deaths. 

And yet I could not but help think of the mines from which all this metal came: of the drilling, blasting, trucking, crushing, grinding, and processing required to bring this metal to a shipyard and turn it into an instrument of policy, defense, and yes, of attack.  Just visible across the blue waters was the Arizona Memorial, a simple floating tribute to the men and women who died on a similar calm Sunday in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I recall seeing the name of one of the victims, Charles Caldwell, Jr.  I can find nothing more about him other than that he died on the Arizona and still lies in the blue waters as we cavort in pleasure around the sunny island.  

I am not a historian.  I am not an economist.  And unlike my son, I do not have a degree in political science, but I offer these simple thoughts in tribute to miners and metal workers and the navy and the dead in Pearl Harbor.  I recall reading somewhere that politics is the pursuit of access to and control of resources.  Is it possible that the attack on Pearl Harbor was simply an extension of a thrust to gain access to the resources needed to support an expanding economy?  Is it possible that if mines had been producing and the mined materials had been moved around in accordance with reasonable business principles that the imperial instinct would not have awakened and the attack would never have occurred?  Is it possible that if the mines had been working at full tilt and the mined materials wisely deployed we would have been better able to ward off the attack? 

In the eighties, I roamed the west and saw the old uranium mines, and I know that it is mining that was at the start of the activities that brought this carnage to an end.   I make no apologies for the bomb; I knew an old man who as a young man was standing by to join the fleet and take part in that slaughter that was the Pacific arena, and then the bomb dropped and all fighting stopped.  After he got his degree he chose to work on the mines that produced the uranium to make the bomb that saved his life.  So I thought of him as I ducked to avoid a low-slung metal beam and gaze at the hardware that is a destroyer. 

But I also thought of my son, who is now part of a mighty fighting machine, and of my son-in-law’s remark that the hardware could take out an entire city and country if we chose.   I happily admit to support of the notion of deterrence; the threat of mutual destruction by nuclear means, I suspect, kept the world safe for me to bring up my children, and I suspect that this might destroyer and its sister ships are a key part of the system that keeps the world safe for my grandson, who gazed with silent curiosity at the many new things that crossed his gaze.   And this ship is the end result of mining, so I return to write this piece, for that is I all I can do—a kind of thank you and tribute, regardless of its politically correctness. 

I returned to Vancouver, its scorn of military, and political parties calling for withdrawal.  I drank and smoked one evening with a friend as we examined the Norman invasion in 1066 of her homeland.  We talked of those French-speaking Vikings looking across at the fertile fields of England when they decided to set forth in their ships and destroy the offspring of the Angles and Saxons who centuries before had crossed the waters to displace the Celts and send them scurrying across the hills to Wales and across the seas to Ireland.  These invasions were, I suspect prompted by a search for resources.  Much as in the interglacial periods folk had somehow come to the Americas from the west and much later Europeans had come from the east.  And as the Japanese would have come from the west had we not had the products of mines. 

Is it true that no two countries that both have McDonalds have ever fought each other – the Golden Arches theory of conflict prevention?  I hope we can find data to prove that no two countries that freely exchange the products of mining have ever gone to war against each other.  Or is it simply that nations with reasonable access to mined products have no need to go to war—their middle class would not allow it?

My mind blinks at this thought and I avoid thinking of the users of TechnoMine who are in states at war with each other.   Maybe they can communicate with me and share their thoughts, and maybe together we can spread information about mining to make mining more efficient and maybe all this will make so freely available the products of mining that their nations will drop their bellicose thoughts, intentions, and actions.  Role on mining and the peace that seems to come with successful mining. 

Cigars and Nickel

If you like cigar, you may enjoy the following.  If you do not like cigars, you may agree with some of the points I make.  If you invest in nickel, you may have a contrary opinion.  Let me know either way.

In the US, Cuban cigars are contraband.  Whenever somebody smuggled some in we would sit overlooking the hills, valleys, and oceans of Southern California and smoke them with the delight of schoolboys behind the locker room.  In Vancouver two shops down from the InfoMine offices is a store specializing in Cuban cigars.  Occasionally I will splurge to savor the rare taste.  But when I do so, I wonder if this is a moral thing to do.  My conscience bothers me; is it right to enjoy the fruits of the labors of a prison population under the control of a repressive regime? 

Now Canada is full of people who brag about spending their holidays in Cuba.  I have protested to them that this is immoral, but they tell me they go not to alleviate the political repression, but to enjoy the music and the beaches.  To me this is like claiming to read Playboy only for the articles.  [Incidentally, the latest issue of Playboy has a fine article on coal miners—I recommend it.]  So to them, the only reprehensible issue associated with smoking Cuban cigars is the health issue—no moral qualms at all.  

I disagree with the US approach of forbidding me to do something I like, it seems sort of un-American, but I do support some form of disapprobation of an immoral regime.  After all, the world boycotted South Africa at the height of the apartheid regime.  I lived there and we knew what the world felt, and we grieved that we were so powerless: an English minority caught in the clash of Afrikaner and Black nationalism.  The Canadians had no qualms telling us South African what we were doing wrong.  Why so acquiescent regarding Cuba?

I note in a 19 April 2006 news release this bit of information:

Cuba, among the world's largest nickel and cobalt producers, has launched a program with Canadian mining firm Sherritt International Corp. (TSX:S) to increase output by about half to 49,000 tonnes annually, state media said Wednesday.   The government's Cubaniquel and Sherritt are now in the "construction phase" of their expanded production program at the Moa mining facility in the eastern province of Holguin, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported.   The daily quoted Cuban Basic Industries Minister Yadira Garcia as saying that the expanded production program was "the toughest goal the Canadians and the Cubans have faced" in the mining program.  According to Cuban figures released when the plan was announced a year ago, the expansion will increase nickel and cobalt production at the plant by around 50 per cent, from about 35,000 tonnes in 2004.  The US$450-million expansion project was announced in Havana in March 2005 by Cuban President Fidel Castro and Sherritt International President Ian Delaney.

The Sherritt website notes “Sherritt is proud to have been chosen as one of Canada’s Best 50 Corporate Citizens in 2006.”  and “Sherritt's Metals business mines, processes, and refines commodity nickel and cobalt for sale worldwide with mining operations and associated processing facilities in Moa, Cuba; refining facilities in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta; and international marketing and sales operations.”

I do hope they will forgive me for quoting here this piece from their website, but it sort of explains why I have different ways of smoking Cuban cigars in the US as compared to Canada.  From the Toronto Globe and Mail,  10th July 2006:

The Bush administration vowed Monday to crack down on nickel exports from Cuba, at least half of which are accounted for by Canada's Sherritt International Corp., alleging that the money from the sales is being “diverted to maintain the regime's repressive security apparatus.”  But Sherritt's chairman, Ian Delaney, immediately labeled the proposed actions as “nothing new” and said that the continuing U.S. embargo on the Communist nation is simply “nonsense.”   With an eye on Florida's vote-rich Cuban-American community, President George W. Bush said Monday he would go ahead with recommendations of a special government-appointed group known as the Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba. The commission called for a range of policies aimed at strangling the regime of President Fidel Castro, including the expenditure of $80-million (U.S.) to assist political opposition and make it more difficult to provide humanitarian aid and remittances to Cubans.

The report specifically calls for a crackdown on nickel exports, which it says now account for “nearly half of the regime's current foreign income.”  “The revenue from these sales does not go to benefit the Cuban people, but is diverted to maintain the regime's repressive security apparatus and fund Castro's interventionist and destabilizing policies in other countries in the hemisphere,” the report said.  Nickel prices are near all-time highs on world commodity markets, making them an increasingly valuable export.

Sherritt operates a joint venture with the Cuban government that last year produced 34,000 tonnes of nickel. An expansion of the facility at Moa Bay is under way, which is expected to increase output by about 50 per cent. Sherritt also produces cobalt at the same facility and is involved in oil and gas and soybean operations on Cuba as well.  The nickel is produced as a concentrate in Cuba, shipped by sea to Halifax and by rail to Sherritt's refinery in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., where it is refined into metal and then sold internationally, primarily in Europe. It is illegal to sell it to the United States, either in pure form or included in end products.

Mr. Delaney, Sherritt's chairman, said the proposed crackdown was the “same nonsense that's been touted for years.  “There's always been more heat than light in this discussion,” Mr. Delaney continued, arguing that the idea that Cubans are hiding assets abroad is a “ludicrous joke.”  “We're dealing with a country that really has the moral high ground,” he continued.

Officers and directors of Sherritt, including Mr. Delaney, have been banned from entry into the United States under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.

Phillip Peters, who studies Cuba at the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank, said that what the Bush administration is attempting to do with its tougher actions against Cuba is “choosing to appeal to the most hard-line segment of the Cuban American community.”  

At the Cuban Liberty Council, a Miami-based group that lobbies for the end of the Castro regime, Ninoska Perez decried Sherritt as a company that is using assets confiscated by the Cuban government from their original owners and is aiding a dictatorial regime.  “Obviously, they have no concern about the abuses of human rights in Cuba,” she said in an interview. “They're just out to make a buck.” She also said she cannot understand why the Canadian government continues to encourage companies like Sherritt to invest in Cuba.

So fifty percent of Cuba’s foreign exchange now comes from sale of nickel.  No need now for the old communists to prop up the regime.  Although I did find this fascinating piece on the Marxist website: 

Canadian readers ought to contact Sherritt International and see if there's any way that they and the company can work together in defense of the company's right to do business with Cuba, etc. Not to speak of obvious issues of Canadian sovereignty, the right of  Canadians to travel to the U.S., since officers of Sherritt and their families are banned from visiting the U.S. under the terms of Helms-Burton and so on. Canada is one of the few countries to provide actual direct bilateral material aid to Cuba, by the way.

In closing, I note that the Sherritt website makes much of the environmental stewardship at their Cuban operations.  No violation of the principles of Sustainable Mining here.  Yet I must ask is this is an instance of responsible mining?   Machiavelli would have approved.  I doubt Socrates would have allowed an affirmative to his question, is it good?

Professional Ethics: How Does One Know What is Ethically Right?

I beg your indulgence to quote at length from a lovely piece with the same title as this section.  It is written by Rebecca Wilson, an independent management consultant in Idaho. 

Ethics was once explained to me as doing what may not feel good, may not be in your best interest, and may not appear to be the overall organizationally advantageous act, but must be done for the greater good.  In other words, doing the ethically proper thing may not be without consequences.  In the dictionary it is defined to be, “[T]he discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.”  (Merriam-Webster, 2005)  What none of these statements mentions is that ethics can be geographic, situational, religion based, relational, and chronological to name a few influences.  It has often been said to be individualistic.  So given these parameters are there any universals regarding ethics?

How we determine to proceed is often determined by the global and diversified nature of the businesses with which we do business or are employed.  Other determinative factors are our value system, our moral foundation, and the governing legal system.  With all these determining factors, how can one make the “right” decision?  Are there gradients of the “right” decision?  Is there a ‘should be’, ‘must be’, or ‘is’ situational profile from which to choose?  Again, the answer is more definitive if there is a governing body of law, but where there is none many ethical decisions are made in reliance upon one’s own values and morals. Those are formed based upon a life of experiences, training and education, professional codes, and one’s relation to those impacted.  Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), U.S. author. Letter, May 13, 1949, to publisher Hamish Hamilton, once noted that the business ethics in the United States had become so flexible that, “Such is the brutalization of commercial ethics in this country that no one can feel anything more delicate than the velvet touch of a soft buck.”  Those of us practicing our profession of project management must judge whether this statement continues to be true. 

As we face the numerous ethical decisions in our daily practice, we must use the metrics we have established for ourselves; those metrics of the society in which we practice or from which we have adopted; those metrics of the legal environment in which we are practicing; as well as the penumbra of other considerations that we choose to have impact our decisions.  There are no easy answers for what is ethical.  We can answer questions such as what is mandated by our contracts, our project plans, company procedures and policies, but what is ethical is a blend of many considerations that can be as unique as each of us.  Having said that, one will be judged by those decisions, so weigh and re-weigh before making a decision.

Random Ideas on Mining Ethics

I have said nothing in this piece about sustainable development.  That is because the whole topic leaves my cold.  There is so much contradictory nonsense out there under the heading sustainable development, with a continuous stream of new text attempting to defend every possible position.  The writings on the topic are like another great book, you can find support for any position you choose.

You will get more honest, factual, and scientific information relevant to mining ethics if you read these publications that have nothing to do with mining ethics, but which have lot to say that is, in my mind, relevant:

The DecisionTools Suite from Palisade

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel C. Dennett.

The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics. by Eric Beinhocker.

The Selfish Gene  by Richard Dawkins

Breaking the Spell once again by Dennett

Also watch the opera Simon Boccanegra.