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Mining a solution for climate change: industry

The B.C. mining industry is contributing to climate change solutions, said industry professionals in response to criticism in a report published this week by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Mining products are essential for building equipment to support alternative energy, and new mining technologies are contributing to carbon sequestration, they say. And while Canada's largest mining company says they are working to adapt their operations, a local academic says they probably don't need to.

Teck Resources Limited, based out of Vancouver, owns or has interests in 13 mines in Canada and internationally. In an email Dario Alvarez, Teck’s communications advisor, told The Tyee that they are concerned about climate change. They are working toward solutions, increasing efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They are also preparing for the impacts climate change will have on their operations.

In some cases Teck stands to benefit from the threat of climate change.

They mine metallurgical coal in five separate operations in southeastern B.C. This coal is transformed into coke, used in the smelting of iron for steel. Alvarez wrote that to make the steel for a 70-metre wind turbine requires 170 tonnes of metallurgical coal.

The company also mines copper and nickel which hybrid cars require in greater quantities than conventional cars.

Michael Hitch, professor at UBC’s Institute of Mining Engineering, went further in his criticisms of the David Suzuki Foundation's conclusions. He said with climate change mining is “not the problem. It’s the solution.”

He pointed to the research he is doing at UBC. Mine waste or tailings are demonstrating the potential to absorb and store carbon – with no danger of releasing that carbon for hundreds of years.

He said that a plant’s tailings can sequester more CO2 than it emitted in its lifetime.

“We can make the mines smaller by using the waste,” added Hitch.

Hitch blasted the report that says mining companies will be hit hard by climate change if they don’t adapt.

“It’s one more attempt to limit or restrict the mining industry,” said Hitch.

He said regulations on greenhouse gas emissions will have a larger impact than weather changes.

Mining operations are built in harsh conditions. Hitch doesn’t expect climate change to have an effect on the industry.

“It doesn’t really impact us in any way,” he said. “Mining is a pretty resilient business.”

Melanie Kuxdorf reports for The Tyee.

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