Safeguarding the Environment

Safeguard icon

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) is a plan-do-check-act framework that helps us identify risks and prevent negative impacts through consistent review, evaluation, and improvement in our environmental performance. It is a 13-key area approach to ensure continuous improvement around issues including climate change, compliance, management of change, air quality, water and waste management, energy management, training, and reporting, while promoting a culture of environmental awareness and innovation from our employees. Our EMS system also complements Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) program, which includes a set of tools and indicators to drive performance and ensure that key mining risks are managed responsibly at their members’ facilities.

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.

Watch this video to learn more about Hecla’s responsibility to the environment.

Climate Change

Climate change is expected to create more extreme weather patterns that can both increase frequency of droughts and increase the amount of rainfall leading to higher volumes of water requiring management. Potential key material 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, there are both opportunities and potential risks as we shift toward decarbonization. Technologies that support decarbonization include wind turbines, hydropower, solar photovoltaics, electric vehicles and energy storage, all of which require the metals we produce here at Hecla – silver, gold, lead and zinc. However, as we transition to these renewable energies we may not have the same reliability as conventional energy sources. Thus, in a transition we could see possible curtailment of our energy supply. In addition, these new energy sources may cost more in the future than our current supplies.

As a result, Hecla has adopted a robust and on-going continuous improvement approach to identify and manage climate change related risks and continue our efforts to reduce our footprint on the climate. In addition, as a component of our EMS, we conduct on a triennial basis, or sooner if the need arises, structured high-level risk assessments (HLRAs) which include climate change considerations and appropriate materiality re-assessments. From these assessments we develop site specific management action plans which are assigned to the site management team for resolution. Each material risk identified in the HLRA response action plan is designated an appropriate performance metric by which progress can be measured.

We meet quarterly with the Health, Safety, Environmental and Technical Committee (HSET) of the Board of Directors to present project updates and key issues, including results from HLRAs and progress on material HLRA action plans. Climate-related topics on a site-specific basis are included in these deliberations. The HSET then reports to our Board of Directors which actively oversees and monitors the most significant issues that could impact Hecla’s operations, and ensures that necessary steps are taken to foster a culture of risk-adjusted decision making.

We understand that mining operations can have a direct or indirect impact on all aspects of the environment such as climate, water, and air. At each operation, we endeavor to reduce water and energy consumption, set reduction targets, and are implementing and continuously improving efficiencies into facilities, projects, and operations. To reflect increasing stakeholder interest in climate change we benchmark our reporting against the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) metals and mining standards as well as relevant aspects of the Task Force on Climate-Change Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

Energy Consumption and Renewable Energy

Reducing energy consumption through streamlined processes and adoption of technology is positive for the environment and for our operating efficiency. In addition to creating efficiencies to reduce energy intensity consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity emissions, Hecla utilizes renewable energy sources whenever possible to further reduce our carbon footprint. Specifically, hydropower helps us reduce costs, minimizes our fossil fuel use and emissions, and in Juneau, Alaska, it even reduces the electrical bill for all ratepayers. In 2019, 81 percent of our electricity was from the grid and 55 percent estimated from renewable sources of utility providers.

Renewable energy sources are an important part of our efforts to reduce our environmental impact. Our Lucky Friday Mine in Idaho gets power from the local electric company that includes hydropower, and we purchase excess hydroelectric power from the local electric company at our Greens Creek Mine in Alaska when it is available. Since 2006, hydropower usage has been instrumental in decreasing our diesel fuel consumption at Greens Creek by 60 percent. However, Greens Creek was cut off from hydropower throughout most of 2019 due to drought conditions in Southeast Alaska, requiring more onsite diesel power generation, which increased our energy consumption as well as our GHG emissions at the site in 2019.

The lack of available hydropower and the addition of our Nevada operations increased our energy intensity (kWh per tons of ore milled) 12 percent companywide (from 217 in 2018 to 243 in 2019). In early 2020, wet conditions allowed Greens Creek to once again use hydropower. Our energy intensity numbers include the total kwh per ton of ore milled, which provides us with more useful information to make key decisions around energy management.

In addition, the Lucky Friday has converted to 100% biodiesel in our underground fleet which includes all trucks, loaders and other equipment. Biodiesel is a much cleaner fuel that is produced by algae rather than petroleum. This conversion has reduced our sulfur dioxide emissions by 100%.

Hear about how Lucky Friday’s conversion to biodiesel reduced underground emissions.

At the Casa Berardi Mine in Québec, Hecla Québec is partnering with Indigenous Peoples from the surrounding communities (including representatives from La Sarre; the Cree Community of Wemindji; the Cree Community of Waswanipi; and the Algonquin Community of Pikogan) to install a forest biomass heating project. The project was schedule to begin in fall 2020 but due to COVID-19, it has been postponed until fall 2021.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

We also track on-site consumption of carbon-based fuels at all operating properties. Our company-wide Scope 1 CO2 equivalents measured 101,718 metric tons in 2019 and Scope 2 CO2 equivalents measured 32,626 metric tons. This was higher than in previous years due to the acquisition of our Nevada operations in 2018.

In 2019, we produced 47.2 million silver equivalent ounces, which equals 351 silver equivalent ounces per ton of CO2 emitted. This compares to 2018 where we produced 43.6 million silver equivalent ounces but had lower CO2.

Despite an increase in our overall energy intensity and GHG emissions, we exceeded our 2019 performance targets for energy consumption and GHG emissions at our Casa Berardi Mine in Québec. We installed timers on the underground mine ventilation system, which reduced electricity consumption by 23 percent and propane consumption by 7 percent by timing the ventilation needs and heating requirements.

Air Quality

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.

Water Management

To protect shared resources and avoid negative impacts, all water discharged from our operations must meet applicable federal and state (or provincial) water quality permit conditions. We constantly monitor water through a robust program of sampling, quality analysis, and audits. These audits help us better understand usage, identify opportunities to reduce consumption and to increase recycling to reduce the associated volume of treated water to ensure that natural waters are protected.

For example, more than 90 percent of the water was recycled from the tailings pond at the Casa Berardi Mine in Québec and 95 percent of the process water was recycled at the Lucky Friday Mine in Idaho. In addition, company-wide, the volume of water recycled increased by 4 percent in 2019 from 1.177 to 1.229 billion gallons of water reused.

We are advancing efforts to meet our 3-year freshwater intensity (gallons/ton ore milled) reduction of 5 percent from the 2019 baseline year in 2021.

Watch our video to learn how water management is critical to Hecla’s operations and our communities.

Montana Water Quality Testing
Montana Water Quality Results
Commitment to Protecting Water
Tailings Management

Dry-stack at Greens Creek.

Tailings are the fine-grained material that remain after the valuable minerals have been separated from rock. Our Tailings Management Standard (TMS) helps guide actions and policies the company is implementing to mitigate risks around tailings management. We design and operate in a manner that ensures tailings are responsibly managed. We work to continually improve the management and closure of these facilities. Our comprehensive TMS provides procedures and protocols to ensure the safe operation and monitoring of tailings facilities. These measures align with industry best practices. Hecla was an early adopter of the dry-stack method of tailings management at the Greens Creek Mine in Alaska.

In 2019, 24 percent of the total tailings produced company-wide were returned to the mine as backfill rather than stored on the surface, and we updated our TMS as part of our continuous improvement process which is consistent with the goals of the new Global Tailings Review Standard. At our Greens Creek and Lucky Friday mines, nearly 55 percent of the volume of tailings produced in the milling process is returned to the underground mine as structural fill. This increases stability, improves safety, and reduces surface storage requirements.

As a component of our updated TMS, we have created at each site a tailings, waste and water working group which meets formally at least twice per year. These working groups include our Chief Operating Officer and Engineer of Record for our tailings facilities, among other members. The working group considers climate change aspects affecting site operations and design of key mine facility infrastructure (e.g. tailings systems, waste rock management and water management and treatment).

Responsible Use and Materials

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.

Biodiversity Impacts — Mine Closure and Reclamation

Troy Mine Tailings Storage Facility June 2020

Troy Mine Tailings Storage Facility August 2016

Before we even begin, we think of the end. After mining has ended, the goal is to return the mined lands to other productive land uses such as wildlife habitat or grazing. To accomplish this, mine reclamation is fully integrated into the earliest stages of development and operations. Hecla requires all sites and subsidiaries to develop and maintain current plans for reclamation and ultimate closure. These plans are reviewed annually and include updating the financial assurance requirements. Hecla has committed more than $180 million in financial assurance for such efforts.

For example, final reclamation was completed in accordance with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) standards on 97 percent of the 317-acre Troy Tailings Storage Facility in Montana and more than 200,000 trees and shrubs were planted. The goal is to create a self-sustaining native forest community which has already begun to grow.

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.

Learn more about our efforts at the Troy TSF.

Reclamation at Troy Mine

Sustainable Development

Tribal grown native plants used in Troy reclamation.

Fish passage at Greens Creek.

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.

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 Québec continues to be a major partner of the Industrial Research Chair NSERC-UQAT on northern biodiversity in a mining context. Their mission is to work toward developing strategies that reduce the potential impacts of development throughout the mine life cycle, including climate change.

Hecla Montana continues to support grizzly bear/human conflict reduction in northwest Montana by contributing funding to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks in support of their Grizzly Bear Conflict Management Program.

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.

Environmental Stewardship Award

Our Lucky Friday Mine was one of only four businesses to receive the State of Idaho’s Pollution Prevention Award in 2019 for environmental stewardship practices at the mine. Specifically, the Lucky Friday was recognized for:

  • Implementing a water recycling program that reduced the average freshwater use in process by 95 percent.
  • Investing in state-of-the art water treatment facilities that reduced the concentration of lead and zinc in the water discharged by over 95 percent.
  • Reducing waste generation by minimizing hazardous waste, improving recycling, and repurposing.
  • Partnering with the Idaho Department of Transportation to repurpose as capping material approximately 120,000 cubic yards of waste highway material as part of our tailings’ impoundment reclamation project.

Learn more about why Hecla received this honor.