Today is the 46th World Earth Day, a day in which people around the world focus on environmental stewardship. This year's Earth Day theme is trees for the Earth. The Earth Day Network, the non-profit which coordinates World Earth Day, has established the global goal of planting 7.8 billion trees — one for every person on the planet — in the next five years.
Barrick is contributing to this goal through its remediation work at its mines around the world. Remediation is a process that mining companies undertake to return the environment to a stable condition that is similar to, if not better than, what it was before the mine operated.
This process starts long before a mine closes.
During active mine operations, for example, Barrick engages in concurrent reclamation, re-vegetating areas that are no longer being mined. This involves planting native trees and plants, as well as stabilizing slopes to prevent erosion in high-precipitation regions.
""We plant tens of thousands of trees every year."
"Returning the environment to a stable condition once a mine stops operating is core to our commitment to environmental stewardship and critical to our success as a business," says Patrick Malone, Barrick's Vice President, Environment.
Remediation activities are often carried out by suppliers from host communities. This allows the company to further share the benefits of mining by creating opportunities for jobs and local procurement throughout the mine life cycle. Barrick's remediation activities sometimes even fuel innovation.
Read on for examples of remediation work at our mines in the Americas.
At Barrick's Hemlo mine in northern Ontario, Canada, a partnership with Lakehead University produced an innovative process for reclamation: the use of plants that exhibit "phytostabilization characteristics." Phytostabilization refers to plants that have the capacity to inhibit the movement of metals. These trees and plants literally capture metals in the soil that may be harmful to them and confine the metals to their roots, keeping the plants healthy and preventing the metals from entering the food chain.
"All of these plants are indigenous to the area and include trees such as white birch, willow, poplar and dogwood trees," says Jeremy Dart, Hemlo's Environmental Superintendent.
To date, the mine's environmental team has planted 1,400 phytostabilizing plants at Hemlo and plans to sow another 500-600 with the help of local secondary school students this year. Students from host communities have helped the mine plant over 30,000 trees in the past 10 years. This year, the mine will host approximately 100 students and plant another 3,000 trees as part of its progressive reclamation program.
But innovation doesn't stop there. Because topsoil is not abundant in the Boreal forest where Hemlo is located, the mine has partnered with Laurentian University to develop artificial topsoil known as "technosol." Made from a blend of wood bark and non-acid generating rock, the long-term goal is to produce a technosol that allows trees planted for reclamation to not only grow, but thrive.
Since it began operating in 2005, the Lagunas Norte mine in Peru's La Libertad region has reclaimed 226 hectares of land. Because the mine is located in the Andes Mountains more than 4,000 meters above sea level, only rugged trees and plants such as pines, eucalyptus and an indigenous tree called polylepis are used for remediation. These plant species encourage local wildlife to return to these restored areas, and it is not uncommon to see deer, chinchillas, foxes and different species of birds around the mine site.
Lagunas Norte workers from across the operation are actively involved in the reclamation work. Groups of 10 to 12 employees from different functional areas of the mine work four-month rotations supporting the mine's re-vegetation activities. Since remediation work began at Lagunas Norte, the mine's employees have accumulated more than 20,000 days worth of re-vegetation work.
"Because the mine has tree nurseries at site, employees learn how to grow these plants," says Raul Orellana, Environmental Manager at Lagunas Norte. "This gives employees the knowledge required to replicate this environmental stewardship work in their own communities."
Located at more than 4,000 meters above sea level in Peru's Ancash region, the Pierina mine has reforested 312 hectares of land and rehabilitated an additional 42 hectares. Most of the specialized trees and plants used for remediation were procured locally, and the remediation work at Pierina also provides direct jobs in the local community through a tree-planting program. These jobs are shared through a rotational work schedule to maximize the opportunity for employment.
"As part of our environmental and mine closure commitments, we engage continuously in re-vegetation activities to recover or rebuild disturbed lands," says Jorge Lobato, Pierina's Environmental and Closure Manager. "This helps with reforestation, which encourages local wildlife to return; the trees serve as a rest-stop for migratory animals, and their roots help with slope stability."
In the Dominican Republic, Barrick's Pueblo Viejo mine has partnered with a non-governmental organization called ENDA Dominicana to help re-vegetate the Colinas Bajas-Los Haitises mountain range. The partnership also provides the mine's host communities with opportunities to benefit economically from the growth and sale of the trees, which are used by the mine for reclamation. The agroforestry program has benefited more than 6,000 families across 553 communities.
In addition to the partnership with ENDA, Barrick undertook the largest environmental cleanup in the Dominican Republic's history after it acquired Pueblo Viejo in 2006. The mine required extensive environmental remediation to mitigate damage left behind by the mine's previous operator, which ceased operations in 1999 without performing proper closure work.
As part of its commitment to environmental stewardship, Pueblo Viejo re-vegetated more than 3,500 hectares of land with indigenous trees and vegetation.
"Our reclamation work at Pueblo Viejo, Lagunas Norte, Pierina and Hemlo are just a few examples of how we endeavor to operate at all of our mines," Malone says. "We plant tens of thousands of trees every year, and we are pleased that we will play a small part in achieving the goal to plant 7.8 billion trees by Earth Day 2020."