Hecla and its subsidiaries will be responsible environmental stewards and strive to minimize environmental effects and risks, both today and for future generations. Our Environmental Management System (EMS) consists of a set of standardized processes and practices that enable us to improve compliance, reduce our environmental impact, and increase operating efficiencies. It uses a proactive approach to help ensure continuous improvement with a focus on key issues, while promoting a culture of environmental awareness and innovation from our employees. Our EMS program complements TSM, the Mining Association of Canada’s Toward Sustainable Development (TSM) program, which is also a systematic approach that allows mining companies to turn high-level environmental and social commitments into action on the ground.
- Environmental Policy
We 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 Policy
Hecla 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.
The use of lower-cost interruptible hydropower at Greens Creek has led to a 60% reduction in diesel fuel consumption since 2006. Once all the Ventilation On Demand fans have been converted at the mine, we expect to save more than $1 million a year in energy savings and reduce our direct electricity usage by 7 percent.
In addition, our autonomous 24-hour truck operation at our Casa Berardi Mine has increased safety, increased payloads by 8 percent and decreased energy use by 17 percent per vehicle.
Company-wide, Hecla has established an energy intensity reduction target of 5 percent over the next three years from the 2017-2018 baseline years.
We track on-site consumption of carbon-based fuels at all operating properties. Our company-wide Scope 1 CO2 equivalents measured 49,000 metric tons in 2017; Scope 2 CO2 equivalents, 463 metric tons. Operations associated with our 2018 acquisition of the Nevada assets of Klondex Mines Ltd. will be included in the future to reflect 2018 consumption. We produced 43.6 million silver equivalent ounces which equals 500 silver equivalent ounces per ton of CO2 emitted.
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. Reducing lead exposure in mill operations at Lucky Friday and Greens Creek is also a priority. Annual blood tests measure employee exposure, which is minimized through personal hygiene training and the use of state-of-the-art respirators.
All water output must meet applicable federal and state (or provincial) water quality permit conditions – all monitored through a robust program of sampling, quality analysis, and audits. For example, at Casa Berardi more than 95 percent of the process plant water needs are met by recycling water from the tailings pond, rather than freshwater consumption.
Audits are completed at each operation to identify measures to reduce freshwater use and maximize recycling opportunities. Water audits are conducted to better understand usage, to find opportunities to reduce consumption, recycle water – add in and to reduce the associated volume of treated water to ensure that natural waters are protected. Our water conservation targets are a five percent reduction in the amount of fresh water used in our operations over three years. We’re currently establishing additional water conservation targets for 2019.
Tailings are the fine-grained material remaining after the valuable minerals have been separated. Responsible management of these materials is an on-going focus for Hecla. Tailings storage facilities at all our operations meet or exceed regulatory requirements, and we work to continually improve the management and closure of these facilities. We have comprehensive systems and procedures in place for the safe operation and monitoring of tailings facilities that follow industry best practices.
In 2018, more than 31% of the total tailings produced at Hecla properties (on average) is used as backfill, which in addition to stability and safety issues, also reduces surface management requirements. At our mines at Greens Creek (Alaska) and Lucky Friday (Idaho) approximately 50% of the tailings produced in the milling process are returned to the underground mine as structural fill. At the San Sebastian Mine in Mexico, the open pits will be backfilled with rock and soil and will be re-established as productive agricultural lands.
Hecla was an early adopter of the dry-stack method of tailings management at the Greens Creek Mine in Alaska, which minimizes the tailings surface footprint, reduces the amount of water retained in the tailings, and lessens the consequences of any potential failure. This method also allows the opportunity for concurrent reclamation that further enhances the site’s stability.
We completed independent tailings stewardship reviews at both Casa Berardi and Midas mines in 2018.
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.
Before we even begin, we think of the finish. Mine reclamation is fully integrated into the earliest stages of development and operations – we require all sites to develop and maintain current plans for reclamation and ultimate closure. The goal is to return the land to its natural state after mining has ended with minimal environmental impact so it can be used for other reasons, such as grazing cattle. Hecla has committed more than $175 million in financial assurance to guarantee that mined lands are successfully reclaimed following operations – with funds held by state and federal agencies to guarantee reclamation is completed.
For example, at our Hollister Mine, we partnered with the Western Shoshone Tribe both in concurrent reclamation and in siting exploration pads in order to minimize the environmental impact to cultural and environmental resources.
Reclamation continues on track at the former Troy Mine in Montana, where more than 90% of the tailings are either covered or top soiled and seeded, and demolition of the mill was completed in 2018. When complete, we will have planted over 200,000 trees and shrubs as part of the tailings facility reclamation project.
And in 2013, we completed reclamation of the 570-acre Grouse Creek Mine and saw the return of the financial assurance demonstrating governmental agencies acceptance of the site reclamation works.
Reclamation at Troy Mine
As part of Hecla’s reclamation efforts and our commitment to the communities around our mines, we have remediated the Lower Willow Creek Floodplain in Creede, Colorado to minimize the environmental impact and to improve the condition of the property.
The Cabinet Mountains are home to threatened grizzly bears and bull trout. More than 6,000 acres of grizzly bear habitat will be conveyed to federal management to improve conditions for the bear.
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.
Good Samaritan Legislation Testimony 2015
On behalf of National Mining Association, Luke Russell, Vice President-External Affairs, testifies on Good Samaritan Legislation before the House Water Resources and Environment subcommittee in October 2015.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) in September 2019 recognized our Lucky Friday Mine in Idaho for their environmental stewardship practices. The Lucky Friday was among only four Idaho businesses chosen for the prestigious “Pollution Prevention Champion” award.
According to a press release issued by IDEQ’s Pollution Prevent Coordinator Ben Jarvis, “The upgrades, process modifications, and recycling projects that have been implemented at Hecla’s Lucky Friday mine have resulted in significant reductions of waste, water, and energy used by the mine for the production of silver, zinc, and lead. With growing demand for these metals, eliminating waste and pollution from production is more important than ever.”
Learn more about why Hecla received this honor.