The mining and processing of potash and phosphate rock produces large volumes of materials that could cause a variety of environmental impacts if they're not managed and disposed of in a safe, stable and environmentally sound manner.
At our phosphate mines, to expose the ore, we remove topsoil and other materials and either place it directly into adjacent mined areas as part of reclamation or remediation efforts, or stockpile it in specifically engineered containment areas. Water from the tailings area is tested and treated prior to release to surface waters.
An output at our phosphate production facilities is phosphogypsum. This material is mixed with water to form a “slurry” and is pumped into a specially designed and monitored phosphogypsum pond. As the solids settle out, the liquid is drained to another pond and then returned to the plant for reuse. As the phosphogypsum ponds fill, containment dikes are raised. New settling ponds have an impermeable liner installed at the bottom of the basin prior to construction to minimize impacts to soil and groundwater. Local air and water monitoring is also conducted. Learn more about phosphogypsum.
One of our major successes is our Vanscoy potash operations. Vanscoy is a zero liquid discharge facility, meaning no surface water from the tailings management area is released to adjacent surface waters. Learn more about tailings management at our Vanscoy operations.
With Agrium, the reclamation process begins before mining even starts. The first step is drawing up detailed engineering design plans. Prior to implementing mining activities, reclamation or mine closure plans are developed for submission and approval when required by governing agencies, following preparation of environmental studies. Regular environmental testing and sampling is part of the rigorous reclamation and remediation processes of the state, provincial and federal regulatory agencies.
At the first step of mining, soil is removed and stockpiled for later use in reclamation. The overburden is removed to expose the phosphate ore beds. The overburden is rigorously tested and classified for future use before being placed in existing open pits to backfill the excavations left by historic mining. Re-contouring the land and seeding the backfill with native plant species complete the reclamation process. Several years of monitoring are carried out before the reclamation is considered to be complete.
At our production, distribution and retail sites we employ numerous best practices to prevent the chemical products we produce and handle from migrating into the environment. Primary and secondary containment systems are built, inspected and maintained to exacting standards. Material handling procedures are similarly thorough.
Watch this video for a behind-the-scenes look at our reclamation, remediation and environmental work in Canada and the United States, and to meet some of the passionate and creative professionals who help us feed the world responsibly. Read about Agrium's reclamation and remediation activities in Idaho.
Wetlands play an integral role in improving water quality. In partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), Agrium has provided $1.15 million to purchase property with drained wetlands or degraded habitat in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba for restoration. The program began in 2009, and as of 2015, has been implemented on 1,490 acres. With DUC, our funds are used to purchase marginal but strategic land, restore it to its original ecological function and at time of resale, place perpetual conservation easements or long-term agreements on all or most of the land. The net proceeds of the resale of the land are reinvested in new conservation land. Read more about Agrium’s Legacy Wetland Restoration Program.
Health of a River
Agrium has also worked collaboratively to improve the health of the Upper Blackfoot River. In 2011, we joined two other companies that mine phosphate ore in southeastern Idaho to form a partnership with two conservation groups. This innovative partnership, the Upper Blackfoot River Initiative for Conservation (UBRIC), now called the Upper Blackfoot Confluence (UBC), includes Agrium, JR Simplot, Monsanto, the Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited. Their aim is to carry out conservation projects to improve water quality and fish habitat in the Blackfoot River. Read more.
Preventing unintended releases of anhydrous ammonia and other products ensures that we minimize harm to the environment and remain in regulatory compliance. Such releases are a leading indicator of systemic problems with process reliability and process safety.
As part of our Commitment to Zero, we introduced two new key performance indicators in an effort to measure what matters most and focus on the elimination of environment-altering incidents.
New key performance indicators include:
Environmental Incident Rate - This includes recordable quantity releases (e.g., spills, escaped gases), non-compliance incidents, and enforcement actions.
Serious Environmental Events - Agrium has developed severity and consequence matrices to score all environmental events and provide the criteria for such an incident.
The majority of these events are unplanned ammonia releases that exceed regulated amounts. We continue to work to identify root causes of these events and implement effective corrective action to reduce recurrence of similar incidents. Making performance on the Environmental Incident Rate a part of compensation for all employees indicates the importance Agrium accords to preventing spills and releases to the environment.
The intent is to baseline these incidents and events and develop reduction goals in the coming years.
In this photo, Agrium employees are standing at the edge of an area that was a holding pond, just one year earlier.
This green research space is the only one of its kind in the world because it was filled with soil and phosphogypsum. Agrium and the University of Alberta are using this space to research methods of reusing gypsum in ways that reduce our environmental impact and benefit the surrounding community. Read more.
Agrium does generate hazardous and nonhazardous waste, which are managed and disposed in accordance with applicable regulations. Hazardous waste quantities fluctuate considerably from year to year due to varying schedules for facility maintenance turnarounds and cleanups. Agrium is focusing on ways to reduce non-hazardous waste from going to landfills. For example, at the end of 2009, we developed a plastic container recycling program for our Retail customers.