RM Gold’s environmental safeguards – ‘Better than best practice’

Written by Catalin Hosu

An interview with Dr. Christian Kunze, Associate Director at AMEC

Dr. Christian Kunze

Dr. Christian Kunze

Before the Roşia Montană mining project even gets under way, the new owners will have started cleaning up pollution left by years of poor practice by former operators.

And by the time the mine closes after a projected sixteen years of operation, the site will be safer, cleaner and more beautiful than it has been for generations.

‘People who are worried about pollution from the mine ought to take half-an-hour to look at the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment,’ says Dr. Christian Kunze, who has prepared the mine’s rehabilitation plan. ‘They will find that the plan goes far beyond best international practice.’

Dr. Kunze, Associate Director at global engineering giant AMEC, points out that Roşia Montană Gold Corporation (RMGC) has committed to a progressive program of rehabilitation. This means that environmental remediation takes place continuously at each stage of the mine’s life – effectively, the mine cleans up after itself as it goes along.

‘RMGC will further improve its environmental database and approach to rehabilitation as the mining project moves forward. By the end, when the major rehabilitation takes place, RMGC will know how to do the very best job possible, based on practical experience gathered from progressive rehabilitation during the mine life,’ says Dr. Kunze. ‘This is very expensive, and it isn’t the cheapest option RMGC could have gone for. But that’s what they have decided to do.’

For example, RMGC has opted to cover and revegetate the tailings pond, when it could have been left as an open lake.

‘To cover it is an expensive solution, but considered the most technically sound and socially responsible for this site and its specific conditions, removing any risk – however small – of the lake spilling over at any time in the years after the mine operators have gone.’

Of the approximately $146 million USD cost of remediation, between 60 and 70 percent is to be spent on soil cover and revegetation of waste rock and tailings, Dr. Kunze says.

He stresses that the levels of environmental impact deemed acceptable by RMGC in their mine closure plan are dramatically lower than those demanded by law. The international Cyanide Code, for instance, recommends that no more than 50 milligrams of cyanide should be present per litre of waste water in the tailings pond at a mine site. The European Mine Waste Directive calls for even less – ten milligrams per litre or lower.

‘The Rosia Montana mine will allow no more than a monthly average of three milligrams per litre,’ Dr. Kunze says. ‘In practice it will be even lower than that, because of the natural degradation of the contaminants in sunlight and air.’

Dr. Kunze first started working on the closure plan for Roşia Montană as long ago as 2004, when he was employed by WISUTEC, the consulting arm of the world’s largest environmental remediation company, the German firm Wismut. Since then he has moved to AMEC, but WISUTEC and AMEC still cooperate closely on the Roşia Montană project.

Dr. Kunze was largely responsible for putting together the original detailed closure plan which was lodged with authorities in Romania. This plan is not a noble aspiration on the part of RMGC: it must be adhered to, in its entirety, and by law. The money to complete each component of it has to, and will, be set aside in advance.

‘All mines must have a closure plan. What is different here is the commitment of RMGC to a very detailed, very strict and very costly plan, at so early a stage – much earlier than for comparable mine projects around the world.’

As an example, Dr. Kunze cites one of the key parts of the remediation strategy, waste water treatment. RMGC has a waste water treatment approach in place which is already fully tried and tested, he says – ‘it works: there is no uncertainty about it.’ An all-new water treatment plant will be built at Roşia Montană, and in fact the company already has a pilot plant there, up and running.

‘It is already treating mine water at Roşia Montană, polluted by historic mine operations, and the Romanian Government has been sending water from other contaminated sites to help identify the best way of cleaning these up, too. So RMGC is helping to clean up the environment even before its own operations have started.’

His message to objectors?

‘Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But don’t respond to emotion and fear. Read the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment first, and then make up your own mind.’