Hecla’s Environmental Management System (EMS) is a 13-element plan-do-check-act approach that ensures continuous improvement around issues including obligation registers, management of change, air quality, water and waste management, energy management, training, and reporting. This system promotes a culture of environmental awareness and innovation throughout the company. The EMS program is benchmarked against ISO-14001 and complements Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) program.
We strive to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations that govern our facilities. We conduct structured environmental reviews and audits to assess compliance.
In addition to Hecla’s Environmental Policy, employees and contractors are expected to comply with any other applicable internal policies, programs, standards, and procedures as well as all environmental laws, rules, and regulations as outlined in our Code of Conduct.
- Environmental PolicyWe seek to be responsible environmental stewards, minimizing environmental effects during exploration, development, and operations, and then reclaiming our projects to productive post-mining land uses. To meet these responsibilities, we will provide the necessary resources to:
- design, operate, close, and reclaim our facilities, in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, to meet accepted standards and go beyond when they do not meet Hecla’s values
- continuously improve our safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible use of resources, products, and materials
- promote employee and contractor knowledge, capabilities, and accountability in implementation of this policy through the use of environmental management systems
- conduct periodic environmental reviews and audits of operations and activities to ensure compliance, identify risks, reduce costs and liabilities, and improve sustainable operations
- endeavor to reduce energy and water consumption, implementing continuously improving efficiencies into facilities, projects and operations
- work cooperatively with educational institutions and agencies to research, develop, and use best technological and management practices to reduce environmental impacts
Each Hecla employee and contractor is responsible for incorporating this policy into daily planning and work activities to achieve this commitment. Hecla’s Board of Directors, through the Health, Safety, Environmental, and Technical Committee, will monitor performance.
- Tailings Stewardship PolicyHecla is committed to the safe and environmentally responsible design, construction, operation, and closure of its tailings storage facilities. To meet our responsibilities and to minimize environmental effects and risks today and for future generations, we will provide the necessary resources to:
- design, construct, operate, decommission and close our tailings facilities to ensure stability, to comply with applicable standards and best practices, and to adhere to the technical guidelines of the jurisdictions in which we operate, going beyond when they do not meet Hecla values
- develop and maintain a site-specific tailings operation, maintenance, and surveillance plan (OMS) for each tailings storage facility, which will include the roles and responsibilities of all appropriate parties
- understand the surrounding and downstream risks associated with identified hypothetical failures and develop a plan for remedial action and response, which will be part of training for onsite personnel as well as potential use in educating the surrounding communities and/or other stakeholders
- ensure Engineers/Designers of Record are involved throughout all design activities and construction works; and that any consultants, designers, and construction contractors have the relevant knowledge, experience, and skills for the jurisdictions in which we operate
- develop and maintain site-wide water balance databases for all of our operations, including all waters destined for treatment and discharge/recycle, and integrating a water balance into site-specific decision making related to tailings management
- perform periodic reviews, audits, and risk assessments of our tailings management systems to ensure compliance, identify risks, reduce costs and liabilities, and improve sustainable operations
- promote employee and contractor knowledge, capability, and accountability in implementation of this standard
- consult with our external stakeholders as appropriate in relation to this standard
Hecla’s Board of Directors, through the Health, Safety, Environment and Technical Committee, will evaluate and monitor performance of this standard. Updates will be included as necessary to continue to meet Hecla’s objectives in the management of our tailings storage facilities.
Watch this video to learn more about Hecla’s responsibility to the environment.
Climate change is expected to create more extreme weather patterns that can increase frequency of droughts and increase the amount of rainfall, circumstances that require careful water management. Potential key physical risks to Hecla from climate change include:
- increased volumes of mine contact water requiring storage and treatment
- increased design requirements for stormwater diversion and associated water management systems
- reduced freshwater availability due to potential drought conditions
In addition, we have identified the opportunities and potential risks for Hecla as we shift toward a decarbonized energy future. Technologies that support decarbonization include renewable energy sources, electric vehicles, and energy storage, all of which require the metals we produce. However, as America transitions to these renewable energies, they may not have the same reliability as conventional energy sources. Thus, in a transition, we could see a possible curtailment of our energy supply, and these new energy sources may cost more in the future than our current supplies.
Hecla has adopted a robust and on-going continuous improvement approach to identify and manage climate change related risks and continue efforts to reduce our climate footprint. In addition, as a component of our EMS and our commitment to benchmarking against relevant aspects of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), we conduct, on at least a triennial basis, structured high-level risk assessments (HLRAs) that include climate change considerations and appropriate materiality re-assessments. From these assessments, we develop site-specific management action plans that are assigned to the site management team for resolution. For example, we undertook a Greens Creek climate assessment as part of the tailings expansion planning that included consideration of the unusually large storm event that occurred in late 2020. This information will be incorporated into our decision-making process in the stormwater management design for the next expansion of the tailings facility.
Each key risk identified in the HLRA response action plan is designated an appropriate performance metric against which progress can be measured. We meet quarterly with the Health, Safety, Environmental & Technical Committee of our Board of Directors to present project updates, including results from HLRAs and progress on material HLRA action plans. Climate-related topics on a site-specific basis are included in these deliberations.
In 2020, we formalized tailings, waste, and water working groups at each site to consider how climate change and other environmental aspects could affect site design, operations, and closure of key mine facility infrastructure.
Reducing energy consumption through streamlined processes and adoption of technology is positive for the environment and for our operating efficiency. To further reduce our environmental impact, Hecla is working to reduce energy intensity use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In 2020, Hecla achieved more than our multi-year 5% energy reduction goal. In addition to creating efficiencies to reduce energy intensity consumption and GHG intensity emissions, Hecla uses alternative energy sources whenever possible to further reduce our carbon footprint. Line power to our Greens Creek, Casa Berardi, and Lucky Friday operations utilizes a high percentage of renewable hydropower. In addition, when Greens Creek is able to purchase surplus hydroelectricity from the local utility, it reduces the electrical bill for all ratepayers in Juneau, Alaska. In 2020, 51% of our electricity was from line power. Of that, 76% was from hydropower.
Our Casa Berardi Mine continued to collaborate with the Cree community of Wasmanipi, Abitibiwinni First Nation, Tawich Construction and Cyclo on a project to develop a biomass heating system for the mine. The project faced delays due to COVID-19, but in 2020, the participating parties toured the installations at Casa Berardi and continued to conduct planning discussions. The project is scheduled to begin in 2021.
Hear about how Lucky Friday’s conversion to biodiesel reduced underground emissions.
We track on-site consumption of carbon-based fuels at all operating properties. Visit our 2020 Sustainability Report to learn more about our Scope 1 and Scope 2 emission. Company-wide, we achieved a 36% reduction in GHG emissions from 2019.
Our operations have upgraded underground ventilation (converted from diesel to either biodiesel or electrical equipment use where possible), implemented cleaner engine technology and exhaust filtration, introduced enclosed and environmentally controlled operator cabs, and required respirators in high-exposure tasks and work areas.
Water is necessary for the mining process, and we are committed to being responsible stewards of this critical natural resource to avoid straining future supply for local communities. Water stewardship practices include using water efficiently, maintaining water quality, recycling water, and engaging with communities to collaboratively manage shared water resources.
During all phases of the mine life cycle, our operations have controls in place to protect water resources, and we conduct extensive and ongoing assessments that inform decision making. We develop comprehensive water management plans tailored to each site that consider potential variations that could occur due to operation changes, mine phases, and levels of precipitation.
We have in place comprehensive water quality monitoring programs to help ensure that we meet all applicable regulatory requirements related to water. These plans include baseline water conditions and a robust program of sampling, quality analysis, and audits. These data help us better understand usage, identify opportunities to reduce consumption, and increase recycling to reduce the associated volume of treated water to ensure that natural waters are protected.
Freshwater Use & Reduction
Hecla is always focused on using water more efficiently. We continue to advance efforts to meet our three-year freshwater intensity (gallons/ton ore milled) reduction of 5% from the 2018 baseline year in 2021. We have also initiated a discharge reduction strategic planning effort at Lucky Friday with a goal of reducing site-wide discharges by 35% in three years.
Whenever possible, we recycle and reuse water for milling and processing to help offset our freshwater withdrawal. In 2020 we recycled nearly 1 1/2 times more water than we withdrew from freshwater sources.
High recycling percentage at two sites:
- 2020: we recycled more that 90% of the water from the tailings pond at Casa Berardi
- 2020: we recycled 95% of the process water at the Lucky Friday
Watch our video to learn how water management is critical to Hecla’s operations and our communities.
Tailings, the fine-grained materials that remain after the valuable minerals are separated in hard rock mining and ore processing, are a type of waste that must be managed and stored carefully. We recognize that tailings pose an environmental risk and could be potentially catastrophic if a tailings storage facility fails. Hecla’s formalized tailings stewardship program started in 2014, and it is designed to ensure all our operations implement best practices and risk-based approaches to manage mining waste. Our comprehensive tailings management standard provides procedures and protocols to ensure the safe and environmentally responsible design, construction, operation, and closure of our tailings storage facilities.
Benchmark Against Industry-Leading Frameworks
The Hecla Tailings Standard is benchmarked against industry-leading tailings management frameworks of the Canadian Dam Association, Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM), and the new Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management released in the third quarter of 2020. These frameworks include robust site characterization, engineering and design requirements, management and governance, emergency response, and third-party review.
Early Adopter of the Dry-Stack Method
At our Greens Creek Mine in Alaska, Hecla was an early adopter of the dry-stack method of tailings management that minimizes the tailings surface footprint, reduces the amount of water retained in the tailings, and lessens the consequences of any potential failure.
A High Percentage of Tailings are Reused
In 2020, the total tailings produced company-wide that were returned to mines as backfill rather than stored on the surface increased from 24% to 28%. Returning these tailings as structural fill increases stability, improves safety, and reduces surface storage requirements.
Hecla strives to reduce waste output on all fronts specific to each operation, and we continuously explore the environmentally responsible use of resources, products, and materials. All sites have active programs for reuse, recycling, and recovery of specific waste sources.
In 2020, company-wide Hecla generated 3,208 tons of non and hazardous waste and recycled 1,600 tons or 50% of material (metals, batteries, oil, paper, paint/ solvents, and cardboard).
Reclamation is an integral part of every Hecla project from the initial design process. We undertake thorough planning before mining begins and take all necessary steps to mitigate against environmental impacts before, during, and after the mine is in active use.
All our sites are required to maintain up-to-date plans for reclamation and closure, and Hecla has committed more than $180 million to ensure mined lands are successfully reclaimed. These sums are held by state and federal agencies to guarantee the reclamation is completed.
Troy Mine Tailings Storage Facility
In 2020, we completed reclamation on the 300-acre Troy Tailings Storage Facility (TSF). We are returning the TSF to productive post-mining land uses and have partnered with local suppliers, contractors, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to harvest seed for, cultivate, and plant over 200,000 shrubs and trees. A self-sustaining native forest community and wildlife habitat is already growing and coming to life. In early 2021, the State of Montana reduced the required financial assurance by nearly $8 million because Hecla Montana met or exceeded reclamation requirements for the TSF.
Learn more about our efforts at the Troy TSF.
In addition, we are continuing with reclamation efforts at the San Sebastian Mine in Mexico which includes backfilling the open pits with rock and soil. In 2019, we placed 1.76M tons of waste rock material in backfilling the Middle Vein open pit. To date, approximately 2.4M tons of material have been backfilled. Once reclamation of the pits is completed, the land will return to the owners and its previous agricultural use.
In Nevada, we are also working with the Western Shoshone Tribe and the Te-Moak Council on a number of cultural and environmental matters, including siting and reclamation of exploration drill sites.
Reclamation at Troy Mine
As part of any project permitting process, we conduct detailed studies that consider the potential impacts on biodiversity and incorporate mitigation measures into any project plans. Where possible, we consult with local communities and indigenous peoples for guidance and insight about wildlife. Plans include monitoring, studying, protecting, and supporting ecosystems. Examples include:
- Hecla has been an active partner with and helped build the Angoon Youth Conservation Corps, a program targeted at the Alaska Native Youth. In 2020, the Hecla Charitable Foundation’s $15,000 grant supported the youth’s work on stewardship projects focused on restoring and conserving the Admiralty Island National Monument and the Kootznoowoo Wilderness.
- In Alaska, the Greens Creek mine constructed a fish passage to bypass a natural barrier to salmon spawning habitat, which has created nearly three miles of additional spawning habitat.
- Hecla’s two evaluation projects in northwestern Montana would provide a total of 893 acres of high-priority land as permanent grizzly bear habitat.
- Our Montana evaluation projects fund two Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks positions at each site for the duration of the project.
- Casa Berardi achieved a Level A rating for TSM’s Biodiversity Conservation Management Protocol.