UWaterloo leads national initiative to manage hazardous waste from mining

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has awarded $5.5 million to the University of Waterloo to lead a national team of experts in developing sustainable strategies for dealing with hazardous mine wastes.

David Blowes, Canada Research Chair in Groundwater Remediation and a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, will lead the initiative entitled Toward Environmentally Responsible Resource Extraction Network (NSERC-TERRE-NET). The five-year project received the funding as part of the NSERC Strategic Partnership Grants for Networks (SPG-N).

Flooded open pit at the Faro Mine, Yukon Territory, with waste-rock stockpiles in background.Flooded open pit at the Faro Mine, Yukon Territory, with waste-rock stockpiles in background.

While mining contributes billions to Canada’s economy and provides employment, resource extraction and processing operations often generate significant environmental liabilities associated with the long-term management of mine wastes and closures. Although modern mining companies are required to provide closure-assurance funds to deal with post-closure liability and clean-up, there are more than 10,000 abandoned mines in Canada. Local communities may experience lasting social, economic and environmental impacts.

This particular award is a first for Waterloo and represents further support and opportunity for research in this important area while leveraging expertise from many partners who represent government, industry and academia,” said D. George Dixon, vice-president, university research at Waterloo.

The multidisciplinary research team from universities and communities across Canada includes geochemists, hydrogeologists, and experts in waste-water processing, geotechnical and environmental engineering, nanotechnology, environmental sociology, and more. The NSERC-TERRE-NET research program complements the ongoing NSERC Training toward Environmentally Responsible Resource Extraction Collaborative Research and Training Experience (TERRE-CREATE), which the University of Waterloo also leads.

Combining the research focus of NSERC-TERRE-NET with the training aspects of the TERRE-CREATE program will provide outstanding opportunities for the next generation of scientists and engineers to address the complex challenges surrounding responsible resource extraction,” said Professor Blowes, a member of the Water Institute at Waterloo.

Environmentally sustainable mining practices will help to alleviate the costs associated with the perpetual treatment of mine wastes and contaminated drainage by anticipating potential environmental problems and planning preventative actions prior to initiating mining operations.

NSERC’s SPG-N program aims to establish large-scale, multidisciplinary research projects targeting complex problems that require a network approach.

NSERC-TERRE-NET includes co-investigators from seven Canadian institutions: The University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Ottawa, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and Memorial University of Newfoundland.  

The NSERC-TERRE-NET Program is currently seeking qualified graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Interested candidates are invited to contact Steve Holland (S2HOLLAN@uwaterloo.ca) to discuss current research projects and opportunities.