Daria Grigoreva, Head of Sustainability at Polyus, and Evgeny Shor, Head of Environmental Stewardship highlighted the importance of mining companies trying to make a difference in their sustainable practices.
On 22 March 2021, Polyus was proud to announce the release of its 2021 Water Report, produced in full compliance with the ICMM’s Practical Guide to Consistent Water Reporting. Polyus takes particular pride in being the first company in the Russian extractive industries to publish a report of this kind.
1. Daria, why has Polyus published its Water Report?
DG: Water is a precious shared resource and the very basis of life on our planet. The mining industry traditionally consumes large volumes of water for production processes, and around the world this has historically led to environmental crises including water contamination and over-use.
Today, the picture is improving. As companies recognize their need to operate sustainably to be part of a healthy planet, they have significantly increased their focus on responsible consumption of water and the protection of water resources.
Polyus is a miner with a strong-track record in this area, and we are proud to now be taking a lead on best-practice water management reporting. Polyus is the first mining company in Russia to publish a comprehensive report focused exclusively on detailing our water stewardship approach.
Our report explains Polyus’ comprehensive approach to managing water resources and related risks responsibly, providing a level of detail and transparency that goes far beyond our jurisdictional legal obligations of public disclosure, to address the recommendations of the ICMM, in alignment with their Water Stewardship Framework.
Water stewardship has been a focus of Polyus for many years already — it has been intrinsic to our risk management system and we are well-known for our nature conservation initiatives in the regions where we operate. We have prepared our first Water Report in line with best-in-class disclosure, and in response to growing stakeholder interest in the responsibility of all aspects of our operations.
2. What are the main sustainability issues for water in mining?
DG: Mining companies often require large volumes of water in their operations. This water can be polluted by the mining processes, meaning that it can cause harm to local wildlife and biodiversity when it is released back into the environment.
In some cases, companies have been known to use water from ground sources that could be used for human consumption, essentially polluting «clean» water rather than from other sources. In some parts of the world, overconsumption of water has led to droughts, whereas water mismanagement in other areas has been the cause of flooding, both events with potential for catastrophic impact on local populations. We are particularly proud to note that our closed water recycling system now covers more than 93.4% of water used in mining operations, with a special focus on treating water that is released into the environment.
3. How can miners demonstrate that they are taking this issue seriously?
DG: We are committed to promoting the reporting standards of the ICMM, and publishing a report on water management is a big step for miners in terms of enhancing their water disclosure. However, publishing a report such as this can only go so far. We believe that miners need to create a culture of establishing real changes with positive effects in order to make a substantial difference.
Taking steps to address both the overall volume of water used and the harmful effects of water output will help companies to make positive strides in their sustainable water practices. For example, following the launch of our Water Campaign in 2019, we introduced a set of managerial and technical initiatives to reduce withdrawal of freshwater and promote efficient water reuse. This helped us to decrease the overall amount of water spent per ton of gold produced by 18% in 2020 compared to 2019.
4. Evgeniy, what steps are you taking to further reduce your freshwater consumption?
Evgeny Shor: The main way we are reducing our consumption of fresh natural water is by replacing it with pit water, as well as with purified stormwater from industrial sites. In addition, we are carrying out serious work to reduce water losses at each of our production sites. These small but permanent improvements can also have a cumulative effect.
5. What is Polyus doing, and what are your near-term plans for further progress?
ES: We are continuing to develop our water risk management measures, including the monitoring of surface waters and groundwaters, monitoring the operation of tailings storage facilities and carrying regular inspections, both internally and externally. In the short to medium term, our objectives include completing water resource research projects, accomplishing the use of pit water in the water circulation system and pit water treatment at the discharge sites and optimizing management processes at industrial and domestic waste landfills. We also plan to upgrade our environmental laboratories, and develop a monitoring and control information system to ensure the safety of hydraulic engineering facilities.
6. You mention the upgrade of your environmental labs, which new equipment and practices will you be implementing?
ES: As part of our work to upgrade our laboratories, we will be expanding the list of chemicals and physical indicators that we use to analyze natural water and wastewater. For example, in the Irkutsk region, we plan to carry out extensive studies of water for traces of base metals. At Natalka, where we do not yet have our own laboratory and are instead reliant on the services of contractors, we propose to equip our own laboratory so that we can analyze water for the full list of chemicals.
7. Are you engaging on this issue at an industry level?
DG: We are very keen to promote this discussion at an industry level, and to share best practice methods of water reporting with our peers. In publishing the report, we have adhered to ICMM’s water reporting standards, and we hope to continue to promote this discourse, and contribute towards the discussion as this develops. We fully understand that this is an issue that requires constant focus and questioning of whether we can do more, and by participating in this dialogue we are able to learn and take inspiration from how others are dealing with the same problem, as well as contributing towards finding the solution and working to achieve our collective goals.