Sustainable water management and improved corporate reporting in mining

Stephen A. Northey, Gavin M. Mudd, Tim T. Werner, Nawshad Haque, Mohan Yellishetty
2019 Water Resources and Industry  
A B S T R A C T The advent of corporate sustainability reporting and water accounting standards has resulted in increased disclosure of water use by mining companies. However, there has been limited compilation and analysis of these disclosures. To address this, we compiled a database of 8314 data points from 359 mining company reports, classified according to mining industry water accounting guidelines. The quality of disclosures is shown to have improved considerably over time. Although,
more » ... tunities still exist to improve reporting practices, such as by ensuring that all relevant water flows are reported and to explicitly state non-existent flows (e.g. discharges). Initial data analysis reveals considerable variability in water withdrawals, use efficiency and discharges between mining operations. Further work to improve industry coverage and to analyse the influence of mine specific factors such as ore processing methods and local climate will provide insights into the interactions of mining and water resources at a global scale. T approach is dependent upon local factors, such as site topography. Furthermore, the hydrological and climate contexts that the mining industry operates within and must adapt to are diverse [31] [32] [33] . This requires further tailoring of site processes and infrastructure to manage associated risks, such as flooding or the potential for water shortages [8, 18] . Additionally, the regulatory environments that dictate the ability of mining operations to access, use, and discharge water -as well as transparency requirements related to this -are also diverse across countries and states [20, 40, 41] . The combination of these factors results in large variability in the water use efficiency of mining operations and their hydrological impacts [25] . Because of this variability, it is very difficult to fairly benchmark water use efficiency in the mining industry and to determine what is an acceptable level of water use, or water use impact, for any individual mining and mineral processing operation. Given the potential for significant hydrological impacts, mining companies will often invest considerable resources into developing water and environmental management strategies so that potential impacts to surrounding industry and community stakeholders, as well as the environment, are reduced or avoided. When mining companies fail to effectively implement or communicate these strategies, then a mining project may lose its so-called 'social license to operate', resulting in substantial opposition to the mining project by communities, governments, or competing sectors such as agriculture [14, 37, 45] . To meet the diverse needs of stakeholders and government regulatory authorities, mining companies have become more transparent regarding their water management practices. Over the past two decades, the mining industry has increasingly made public disclosures of water use as part of environmental management and corporate sustainability reporting. These disclosures represent a valuable data source to improve understanding of the interactions between the mining industry and water resources. The reporting of water use in the mining industry has become increasingly standardised over time through the development of industry specific water accounting schemes. The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) developed the Water Accounting Framework for the Minerals Industry (WAFMI) to provide greater rigour and consistency for mines that report to schemes such as the Global Reporting Initiative [21] . More recently, the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) has provided additional guidance, particularly as it relates to assessment and reporting of local water risks [15] . As this guidance and standardisation is implemented throughout the mining industry, it is anticipated that there will be an improvement in the transparency, quality and consistency of mining industry water use disclosures through time. Previously, some compilation and quantitative analysis of the water use data reported by the mining industry has been undertaken by several authors. Mudd [25] conducted a preliminary assessment of water use disclosures within sustainability reporting and confirmed that lower ore grades are generally associated with higher water requirements per unit of production. Additionally, it was observed that there was considerable inconsistency in the metrics and communication of water use data between mining companies. Glaister and Mudd [9] assessed water use disclosures of platinum group metal mining companies. Northey et al. [28] compiled data from sustainability reporting to evaluate the variability in water use requirements of copper operations. Gunson [12] also compiled a dataset of reported mine water use to evaluate the water use intensity and global water withdrawals associated with non-fuel mineral production for the years compiled water withdrawal and recycling data for platinum group element production in South Africa. Beyond this, several authors have performed assessments of the types of water use information being disclosed by the mining industry and the general compliance of the mining industry with sustainability reporting standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative [1, 2, 20] . Although these studies have assessed various aspects of mining company water use reporting and the data contained therein, the scope of analysis and the extent of industry coverage included within these studies has been limited. Many studies have been limited to assessing only a geographic or commodity sub-sector of the mining industry. Additionally, many studies have only compiled data for a single aspect of mine-water interactions, most commonly water abstractions or withdrawals by mining operations. Thus, the large amount of data publicly reported by mining companies on other aspects of water use, such as internal reuse efficiency or discharges, has largely remained unassessed. Efforts to more systematically compile and analyse this data would provide a significant opportunity to improve our understanding of: how water use varies across the mining industry, the overall magnitude and impacts of this water use, and the potential opportunities for improving water management outcomes in the mining industry. To facilitate improved compilation of this data, this study aimed to: 1. Establish a database structure to enable systematic compilation of public water use disclosures by the mining industry, 2. Test the database structure through the compilation of an initial dataset, 3. Analyse compiled data to understand trends in industry reporting and the variability of mine site water balances, and 4. Provide recommendations for further work to better understand and evaluate the interactions of the mining industry with water resources. S. A. Northey et al.
doi:10.1016/j.wri.2018.100104 fatcat:b4k2ixqbcnblbf66veqwbkjfpq