Environment and Safety

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Environment and Safety

– What are the environmental and industrial standards the Company is required to comply with?

– In its activities, the Kumtor mine is governed by the environmental standards effective both in the Kyrgyz Republic and Canada as well as those adopted by international lending institutions, including the World Bank. In doing so, the Company abides by the stricter of the above standards.

As a responsible miner, following all the requirements of the legislation as well as of the Technical Regulations in force in the EEU countries, we are moving towards using the high-grade environmental friendly fuels and lubricants. Our experts are working on new purchase orders. This will take some time, since our fuel consumption is measured in thousands of tons. Fuel is one of the most essential products that ensure the continious operation of the mine. Given the importance of this issue in the environment conservation framework, in the near future we will switch to using high-grade environmentally friendly fuel.

– What are the environmental programs implemented by the Company?

– In its activities, Kumtor Gold Company strives to minimize environmental impacts. Moreover, the Company provides all-round support for environmental initiatives implemented in the area where it operates. Annual environmental reports and those of independent experts are available on our website.

– What will become of the tailings management facilities after closing?

– Long before the end of the project, a decommissioning plan was developed with the objective of ensuring public safety following closure of the mine, to meet regulatory requirements set for the Project; to restore proper drainage, slopes and geotechnical stability to the land surface and to minimize residual environmental impacts on biophysical resources. The tailings management facilities will be mothballed pursuant to relevant regulations. Also, a special fund has been established to monitor and maintain the tailings management facilities after the closure of the mine.

– Do the company’s operations affect the glaciers?

Maintaining safe operations and ensuring responsible mining practices remain our top priorities. This is also why replacement of ice and associated materials has been part of approved mining activities since the start of Kumtor’s operation in 1994. Ice replacement is required for ore access and safe working conditions, and remains very small compared to the nearly 1/3 of glaciers lost in Central Asia since the 1930s due to climatic reasons*.
The Kumtor Gold mine lies on the western edge of the Ak-Shyirak mountain massif, which covers around 1,000 km2 and contains many glaciers, including those adjacent to the mine. A recent scientific study of glacier retreat on the massif by Petrakov and others (2013) provides a more accurate assessment than previous studies. The study also considered the direct and indirect impacts of mining operations on glacier loss. The study compared historic and new satellite imagery to measure changes in glacier area. Between 2003 and 2013, total glacier area on the massif reduced from 373.2 km2 to 351.2 km2, which is in line with observations across Central Asia. This is a reduction of 21.9 km2 or 5.9 percent. Over the same period the study reports a mining-related ice loss of 1.9 km2, representing approximately 0.5 percent of total glacier area. Some stakeholders have expressed concern that dust from mining may increase ice loss in the wider region by increasing heat absorption from the sun. If true, ice loss rates would reduce with distance from the mine. The study found that “shrinkage rates of glaciers in the Ak-Shyirak massif do not depend on distance from Kumtor mine.” Similarly, other studies have confirmed that mining related dust deposition is insignificant when compared to the natural dust deposition on glaciers.
*UNEP ENVSEC Central Asia Glacier retreat, 2010

– How does the company utilize industrial waste?

The mine’s wastes are divided into three main categories – industrial, domestic and hazardous wastes. Domestic waste produced from the offices, camp and kitchen is buried onsite in a landfill. Hazardous wastes (cyanide packaging, other chemicals packaging, and oily rags) are deposited into special trenches lined with HDPE membranes on the bottom and covered with soil on a daily basis. Industrial wastes are sorted out at the waste sorting out area and three types of wastes (wood, plastic and metal) are sold to only those interested local companies that have certificates of quality and comply with the Kyrgyz legislation. Waste oil is also subject to off-site shipment and is shipped off site by a certified local company. This year a company compliant with all requirements started off-site shipment of waste tires. Priority for off-site shipment of metal is given to “Vulkan+” company as it produces different size steel balls used for ore grinding at the Mill. Other local companies compliant with the Kyrgyz legislation also have rights to ship metal off-site.

– How does the company manage water resources?

We use water for operational activities, mostly in the mill, and for domestic use (drinking and sanitary) in the mining camp, offices, and workshops. We must also remove water from the mine pit in order to keep the works safe and stable. Our main water management responsibilities are:

  • Providing safe drinking water for our employees;
  • Removing water and ice from the open pit to ensure access to ore, and stable and safe working conditions;
  • Ensuring water returned to the natural environment is safe and meets defined quality criteria;
  • Managing run-off to reduce sediment load entering surface water.

The water we use at the mine site for standard domestic use (for drinking, food preparation, personal hygiene and general cleaning of the mine camp and offices) is routinely tested against Kyrgyz, World Health Organisation (WHO), and Canadian drinking water standards. Our drinking water is compliant with these standards, and therefore safe for all relevant uses.
We sample and test water quality at over 30 points across the Concession area. A more detailed information describing Water are presented in annual environment and sustainability reports.

– Do the company’s operations affect the wildlife inhabiting the Kumtor concession and adjacent areas?

Independent scientific studies have shown that wildlife numbers have increased locally since the Kumtor operation started.
We also continue to work with and through our conservation partners, such as Fauna and Flora International, to promote nature conservation and support our neighbor, the Sarychat-Eertash Nature Reserve. We carry out surveys and studies of flora and fauna around the operational site, including aquatic life and soils, providing knowledge we will use to plan mine closure activities.
Wildlife numbers at the Kumtor mine area continue to increase each year. Since the Kumtor operation started, there have been several generations of mountain goats and Marco Polo sheep, born and living close to human activity and adapted to human presence. Based on the information provided by representatives of the Sarychat-Eertash Nature Reserve which borders the mine, snow leopard numbers have continued to increase.

– What is the risk of a flood caused by Petrov Lake bursting?

One concern related to retreating glaciers is that melting ice within natural moraine dams of high altitude lakes (normally at the foot of glaciers) could reduce dam stability and result in a sudden release of large volumes of water, known as a glacial lake out-burst (GLOF). Petrov Lake, near Kumtor mine, and which is the main source of its water supply, is such a high altitude lake contained by a natural moraine dam. Petrov Lake is at the foot of Petrov Glacier, which has demonstrated significant and continuing recession over recent decades. We have supported or commissioned independent expert studies to better understand the characteristics of the moraine dam and the risks of a lake out-burst. We will provide additional safeguards for mine infrastructure as appropriate, and continue to inform and liaise with Kyrgyz agencies on progress. During the last two years, the company has been taking measures to minimize the risk of a GLOF by cleaning debris from the Petrov Lake outflow in Autumn to ensure there is an unrestricted flow path before it freezes.

– How industrial discharges of the Company affect water quality in Kumtor and Naryn rivers

Monitoring is one of the most important aspects of environmental management, providing data to show if water management and treatments are working as intended. Regular monitoring provides an early warning, making it possible to resolve potential problems before they become serious.
Monitoring is the responsibility of our own environmental team and each year over 9,000 samples of air, soil and water are collected at our mine site (see brochure “Kumtor and Environmental Monitoring”).

We give special attention to surface water monitoring and there are over 15 regular sampling points, including upstream of mining (to monitor background reference), before and after water treatment plants, and at important points downstream of mining. This includes the point known as the ‘Compliance Point’, W1.5.1 or ‘End of Mixing Zone’ (EMZ) just downstream of the concession area. Routine monitoring continues about 230 km downstream of the mine, to a location about 2 km upstream of the town of Naryn.

Our results show that at the Compliance Point, the water quality typically meets designated water quality standards. Where concentrations are higher (for example, for manganese, magnesium, aluminium and iron), it is normally due to naturally elevated concentrations in the local environment
(background levels) or the concentrations do not represent a risk to human health or the environment. We are in compliance at all times with water quality standards at Naryn. Kumtor has recently entered into an agreement with Naryn State University for their independent collection and review of the water quality samples in Naryn.

Government representatives also independently collect water samples for analysis. In addition, at the request of the Kyrgyz Government sponsored State Commission, an independent assessment of water quality around Kumtor was carried out in 2012. This was done by German experts, with analyses by a long-established and respected German laboratory. Sampling (at 12 surface water points) and analyses were done in accordance with European and German standard procedures. Key conclusions were:

  • No evidence of “undue high concentrations of cyanide and toxic elements in surface water”
  • “The concentration of elements and cyanide in waste water are significantly below the limits of the German Ordinance on Waste Water.”
  • Elevated concentrations of certain parameters indicate further research is needed, but for the Kumtor River downstream, “do not represent a hazard for humans”