(Jim Mitchell) – How about a round of congratulatory applause for Barrick’s landmark achievement at its Turquoise Ridge (TR to its friends) mine, of two years without a lost-time injury and had no environmental permit violations.
And once the well-deserved thunder of applause has subsided, how about an equally enthusiastic ‘thank you’ for the way these accomplishments enhance the reputation of mining by showing mining’s critics what can be done.
Having spent nearly my entire working life either in, or very closely associated with natural resources-related industries, which has included mining, chemical manufacturing, and lumber manufacturing, one of the constants has been how difficult it is to produce their end-product on the face of almost constant attack from those who do not believe these industries should exist.
I’d like to call them the “who-needs-cows? Milk-comes-from-the-store” crowd.
For most of my career, I have worked for companies which chanted the “Safety First” mantra. This falls in line with the Environment-First attitude that many of the natural resource industries’ opponents expect. Neither effectively engages reality of the natural world or any other.
If safety is first, then nothing can happen because everything is inherently unsafe at some level. Similarly, ‘environment first’ fails to acknowledge that everything disturbs the environment at some level – even organic gardens.
It’s just that some things are “approved” and others are not.
TR has accomplished their two-year milestones by taking a different approach. They call it Safe Production. This acknowledges that their productivity objectives can be met by making the thousands of small decisions needed to manage the hazards of our pursuit, and that they can – and Barrick says ‘they will’ – accomplish their goals in a safe and environmentally-responsible manner.
And to prove that they are on the right track, the past two years have seen months of record production, while simultaneously achieved these safety and environmental records. It turns out that safety and environmental responsibility support high productivity. Synergy is the buzzword.
One thing missing in all of this is the acknowledgement from mining’s detractors of the significance of these accomplishments.
All natural resources industries, including agriculture, have well-earned reputations of being dangerous and ecologically harmful by today’s standards. But, as values change and technologies advance and these industries better understand the impact they have on their people and the environment, they are getting better at protecting both.
But, do the detractors give credit to these accomplishments?
Rather than becoming partners with these industries which produce the very things that make modern life possible – including theirs – they insist on being part of the burden these industries have to bear.
How many of us would like to be judged for our entire lives by the mistakes we made in our youth; especially the ones we made because we did not know better? Imagine if your life were judged by your parents’ failings. Are the prejudices of our opponents which are based on our industries’ past any more reasonable?
Not only do these industries have to atone for their past, but they have to be perfect just to keep the regulators from becoming parasitic with their fines and capricious regulations. Ironically, the EPA found out how difficult it is to be perfect when some of their workers breached an active tailings dam in Colorado, discharging 3 million gallons of mine tailings and turning rivers in three states toxic and orange.
Human nature will continue to require the regulators to help keep all of us honest. But they and their handlers who keep shouting “sic ‘em”, should also be honest.
What Turquoise Ridge has done, along with many other mines, sawmills, chemical plants, and agricultural operations, proves that we can produce without living up to the antiquated reputations by which we are still being judged.
The world needs what the natural resources industries produce whether it be from mining, timber, agriculture or, chemicals.
Where do you think Tesla is going to get the lithium for the electric car batteries that are going to be made in their new Reno factory? Maybe the new lithium mine in Humboldt County?
Partnerships between our industries and those who are willing to help us improve how we do things for the benefit of everyone should be encouraged. And, we, in these industries should express our thanks to Turquoise Ridge and all the others who are doing their part to successfully prove our critics wrong.