Minimise the environmental impact and footprint of our activities
Strategic focus: Environmental stewardship
Mining and processing precious metals, whilst essential industries, consume water, disturb land and produce waste and greenhouse gases in the ordinary course of business. Minimising the impact of our activities and being transparent and accountable regarding our environmental footprint are crucial to making mining compatible and retaining our social licence to operate. Our environmental management system ensures effective compliance with regulations and supports initiatives to reduce our environmental footprint.
Our Environmental Management System ensures effective compliance with regulations and supports initiatives that reduce our environmental footprint. Operational excellence, innovation, and continuous improvement are recognised by our “value creation programme”. This programme rewards teams for improving processes, many of which actually achieved valuable environmental footprint reductions.
Mining and processing ore require large volumes of water. We operate in some arid regions where water is frequently a relevant issue for communities. Hence, securing access and being responsible water stewards are critical success factors. Our water management approach is based on operational excellence and cooperation with stakeholders, notably communities, authorities and NGOs.
Fresnillo relies primarily on groundwater (mine water and wells) and municipal wastewater to supply its operations. While groundwater is thought to be less vulnerable to climate change, our operations nevertheless aim to improve water efficiency. Where we operate in river basins experiencing water stress, we seek to minimise the use of freshwater.
Our key efforts to reduce our water footprint include the implementation of closed circuits, use of wastewater, process improvements and reducing ore dilution. As water stress is one of the most important parameters in overall water risk, we explore scenarios using Aqueduct to assess the effect of climate change on water resources. Our Fresnillo and Saucito operations build resilience using municipal wastewater and donating cleaned mine water to the community. Ciénega, located in the mountains upstream, relies on mine water (the ore is below the groundwater table) and donates excess water to the communities. Penmont, located in an arid and low water use region, is supplied with wells. The proximity of Penmont to the sea offers an opportunity to explore the use of seawater.
Climate change and energy
Climate change is both an environmental and a business challenge. Expected changes in physical parameters (higher temperatures and lower annual rainfall) may result in adverse impacts to our operations and the communities where we operate such. There are also business implications of actual and potential economic regulations in a carbon constrained economy. In 2012 Mexico enacted its General Law on Climate Change formalising its commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 30% by 2020 and 50% by 2050, and also recently introduced a carbon price embedded in energy prices of fossil fuels. Our climate change and energy management approach is based on operational excellence, transparency and cooperation with authorities.
The climate agreement reached at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris is a clear sign of the transition to a lower-carbon, more energy-efficient economy. The Board’s HSECR Committee has incorporated a review of our performance, risks and opportunities in this regard at their semiannual meetings with management, who are responsible for integrating climate change into the business and operating strategy.
Our operations produce mineral waste – either mining, processing (beneficiation) or metallurgical – and in much smaller proportion, non-mineral waste from operating materials such as tyres, used lube oil, materials impregnated with grease and oil, and cans, among others. To determine appropriate waste management methods for mineral waste, Fresnillo analyses its potential to generate acid mine drainage (see below) and determines its mobility and concentrations of metals and metalloids.
Mining waste -
Includes the overburden (rock or soil overlaying a mineral deposit) of open pit operations and gangue (the rock or mineral occurring with the metallic ore but of no commercial value) excavated in underground works to access the ore. It does not contain ore or the concentration is below the cut-off grade and cannot be processed economically. Most mining waste is transported and deposited in waste dumps for permanent storage; some waste rock is used underground in cut and fill operations. Most of our mineral waste is generated by the open pit operations at Penmont. The foundations of waste dumps and their slopes are engineered and monitored to provide stability over time.
Processing waste -
Refers to the portion of ore considered too poor to be further processed. Tailings (a fine-grained slurry) are the processing waste of beneficiation. In some of our operations, tailings are considered by-products that may serve as input for tailing processing plants for further recovery of metals. The slurries are pumped from the plants to sedimentation ponds, known as tailing dams, for safe storage. The decanted water, released by the sedimentation of tailings, is harvested and pumped back to the processing plants. For safety reasons, we do not allow tailing ponds to be operated as water reservoirs; therefore, our tailing ponds have channels to deviate water runoff. Embankments are periodically monitored to evaluate structural integrity, including earthquake response.
Metallurgical waste -
Refers to piles of spent ore and the tailings produced by heap and dynamic leaching respectively. In both cases, cyanide-bearing mineral waste is disposed of safely. The use of an impermeable membrane in heaps and tailings prevents seepage to groundwater. We believe progressive rehabilitation of mineral waste facilities is the best path for responsible mining. Revegetation of waste dumps at Ciénega and particularly the tailing ponds at Fresnillo are valuable examples of engaging stakeholders in compatible mining practices.
Non-mineral wastes -
Are most commonly managed through recycling, off-site treatment and disposal. Hazardous wastes are subject to strict regulation by Mexican authorities at our own storage facilities and at hazardous waste receiving facilities. Our management systems include policies to reduce and reuse.
Land and biodiversity
Access to land is a crucial success factor for our business. We recognise expectations evolve over time with respect to land stewardship and biodiversity, trending toward greater scrutiny by communities, NGOs and regulators. We aim to responsibly manage the land and its biodiversity throughout the lifecycle of our operations, as stewardship is a key component of our social license to operate.
We are subject to international agreements Mexico has signed to protect endangered species as well as national regulations that mandate relocation of vulnerable species. Our environmental impact assessments identify such species.
We partner with the Sonoran state government to protect the Sonoran Pronghorn near our Penmont operations, continued our partnership with PROFEPA to host confiscated animals in one of our community parks in the city of Fresnillo, and funded a project led by our partner Naturalia as part of our WildCorp commitment. Ciénega has set aside a 1,000-hectare conservation area encompassing land reclaimed from its operations as well as areas rehabilitated from deforestation.
Our Ciénega mining operation, located in the pine-oaked forest of the Sierra Madre Occidental, has set aside an area of conservation of 977 hectares that encompasses land reclaimed from our operations and as well as areas rehabilitated from the effects of deforestation resulting from activities of the community. Working in partnership with the National Institute for Forestry, Agriculture and Livestock Research (INIFAP) has strengthened Cienéga’s reforestation and rehabilitation programmes. Fresnillo plc is a member of WildCorp’s “A business commitment,” an action-oriented forum to further advance the protection of wild nature and its values for human society, led by Naturalia, the Mexican partner of the Wild Foundation.
We engage neighbouring communities at our operating units and exploration projects to develop an environmentally conscious culture. Our sustainability calendar of events includes World Water Day, World Environment Day and Arbour Day. We target elementary schools, our employees and contractors with talks, contests, performances of mime artists and reforestation campaigns.