There is such a profession - to protect the nature
21,000 tons of oil products in Norilsk, most of which found their way into the waters of northern rivers. Pollution of the ocean and the death of marine fauna in Kamchatka, one of the causes of which was named the Kozelsk pesticide landfill. And, of course, Usolye-Sibirskoye, where the bankrupt Usoliekhimprom poses a danger to the entire Irkutsk Region. Here mercury concentration exceeded the maximum permissible level in wastewater by 34 thousand times and in the air by 367 times.
These are completely different stories, but with the same ending.
In the first case, there is a responsible person, which the court ordered to compensate the damage in the amount of 146 billion rubles. In the second, local officials still attribute what is happening to a natural cataclysm - microalgae blooms.
Usolye is the result of a long haphazard attitude. The plant, opened in 1936, has experienced chlorine leaks and emissions in 1955, 1964, and 2001, an explosion at a synthetic rubber plant in 1970, and a silicon leak in 2018. It’s taken decades to make a difference. A total of 88 such sites have been identified in Russia...
Today, the agencies responsible for environmental protection say they are ready to force businesses and society to reconsider their attitudes toward the environment. This week, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Federal Supervisory Natural Resources Management Service have announced several bills and initiatives, prepared after the mentioned disasters. How effective will they be, and what can the growing social responsibility of citizens be dangerous for?
First of all, a bill was submitted to the government for consideration that would make plant owners responsible for decommissioning facilities and liquidating accumulated damage. In particular, this applies to chemical plants, metallurgical plants, and refineries.
It is clear that reclamation of land and water resources is extremely expensive. Therefore, until recently, the scheme was often as follows: the owner of an industrial site declared it bankrupt, and then the restoration of territories fell onto the shoulders of the state. It was done at the expense of the country, i.e., you and me.
“We proceed from the need to close the loophole that allows owners to abandon such industrial enterprises,” said Deputy Prime Minister for Agriculture, Environment, and Real Estate Victoria Abramchenko, explaining the new bill.
Companies will now be required to include measures for the elimination of harm in the project documentation. Transitional provisions and deadlines are provided for existing enterprises. Then there will be requirements for their financial security - through a bank or independent guarantee, a contract of insurance, a reserve fund.
An essential innovation is that without an assessment of the environmental damage caused by the company, it will be impossible to exclude hazardous production facilities from the state register, remove them from the state account of facilities that harm the environment, sell, convert it, or subject them to bankruptcy.
The second innovation was announced on Thursday by the head of Rosprirodnadzor Svetlana Radionova. She believes that it should be profitable to protect the environment and not pollute it. That is why she intends to strive for higher fines for environmental violations.
“When it becomes expensive to violate, the situation will change. The inevitability of punishment makes businesses conscious. By the way, last year we won 90% of suits,” she says.
Besides, the department proposed to create an eco-rating of enterprises that would show citizens and authorities who and what contribution they make to atmospheric pollution in each particular city. Rosprirodnadzor offered the companies to open their data on emissions.
Svetlana Lemanova, head of the environmental protection department of AO Polymetal Management Company, says that many mining companies have previously published data on compliance with various environmental requirements in their annual reports.
|Polymetal is Russia's largest primary silver producer and the second-largest gold producer with a diversified portfolio of high-quality assets. Today it has 9 enterprises in 2 countries and 4 development projects. It is among the top 10 gold mining companies in the world.|
Will new measures be able to further eliminate large-scale environmental emergencies? Or are there more effective solutions?
“In my opinion, liquidation funds should be created, where the user of natural resources would make annual payments according to the estimated project documentation for the liquidation/reclamation of production facilities. This practice exists in many countries, such as Armenia and Kazakhstan. This fund gives a guarantee to the state that in case of bankruptcy of the enterprise these funds can be used for liquidation of damage,” thinks Svetlana Lemanova.
For a long time, environmental protection was of little interest to the authorities and the public. There were no dedicated lines of training at universities, positions, and departments in organizations.
“When I entered St. Petersburg Mining Institute in 1997, I chose the specialty of Environmental Protection Engineering. I did not fully understand what I was going to be, it was a new field, only opened a year ago. No one knew how important the specialty would become. If 20 years ago the care for the environment was the destiny of rare activists, today masses of people from schoolchildren to Hollywood celebrities and corporations are concerned about it. At school, children are taught about separate garbage collection and energy-saving technologies. Environmental surveys are as much in demand as surveying. But the starting point in the development of the topic is the accumulated negative factor of the Soviet industrialists and the consequences of their work,” says Svetlana Lemanova.
According to her, advanced field-specific laboratories in higher educational institutions did not exist then, even at the Mining Institute such one appeared only in the early 2000s, therefore the key emphasis in the training was on industrial practical training. Teachers taught lectures and then visited quarries, mines, sewage treatment plants, and even subway mines with students. There they were explained in detail where and what environmental impacts could be produced.
Today a new environmental policy and a new mentality are taking shape. According to the head of Rosprirodnadzor, the industry is slowly getting used to the constant presence of the state and the public in its life.
"Increasing the consciousness of each of us is the only possible way to improve the environment. Oo those who operate, inspect, just live - everyone. We constantly tell people how to become a public inspector," says the head of the department.
The profession of environmentalist has developed tremendously, it has become prestigious. And this is the trap. Due to the “fashionableness” of the subject, environmental issues are discussed by people who have neither knowledge nor experience. It is used for political and economic influence in the international arena.
“Environmental activists make such radical demands as completely abandoning oil and gas extraction. I don’t take Greta Thunberg seriously, because I have a reasonable assessment of her statements. What would happen if the factories, mines, and power plants were shut down? How will everything develop, who will supply water, what will we eat, how will we keep warm? The activist has to be well informed about energy production. We came across NGOs who were categorically against the activities of this or that enterprise but were unable to justify their position. When you tell them what measures are being taken, they don’t go into detail. Pure emotion!” – the Polymetal’s “chief environmentalist” explains.
There are locations where it is impossible to give up TPPs, NPPs, coal, or diesel fuel.
“So at our facilities in the Far East, we are building solar plants, but they will not be able to fully provide the necessary amount of energy. The resource is limited. This winter in Germany, which is actively switching to ‘green energy,’ due to bad weather conditions - snow and low temperatures - wind turbines shut down, and residents were left without energy. The question arose: should we start up the TPPs again?!” - says a graduate of Mining University.
Svetlana Lemanova completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at the country’s oldest higher technical school. After receiving her diploma, she took a position as an environmental engineer at Polymetal. She defended her Ph.D. in September, and already in October, she left for the Khabarovsk Krai. At that time the company was commissioning a new facility - the Khakanjinskoye gold-silver deposit in the Okhotsk Region.
The responsibilities of the young employee included obtaining all permits, setting up industrial and environmental control (IEC), and involving the production workers themselves in the process. If the IEC reveals a deviation somewhere, the environmental engineer must eliminate it together with them. All of the company’s production activities, emissions and discharges, and waste management are subject to internal inspection. Rosprirodnadzor sets the standards.
“In the early 2000s, we didn’t have an environmental department. Initially, I got into the production and technical department, and my specialization was indicated in brackets. Today, each site has its full-fledged department, the same in the regional branches, and in St. Petersburg - the Environmental Protection Department of the Health, Safety and Environment Directorate of Polymetal UK, which I have been heading since 2015. Functionally, I manage all the company’s environmental specialists and am responsible for the operational activities of our facilities in terms of environmental impact,” explains Svetlana Lemanova.
Compared to coal or uranium mining, extraction of nonferrous metals is much less dangerous, but there still is a negative impact. In particular, the matter may concern the generation of various pollutants in wastewater. As a result of mine stripping, when interacting with oxygen and moisture, some of the metals may pass into the liquid phase. The intensity of the process largely depends on the composition of the ore and the acidity of the environment. If necessary, methods of water purification, an increase of pH, and subsequent neutralization of the environment are applied.
“We don’t have significant emissions during beneficiation. We use cyanide, but all the equipment and the resulting waste - tailings - are decontaminated. Compared to the mining and leaching processes, the placement of tailings dumps poses more danger to the environment. That’s why we changed our policy and instead of constructing them we move to semi-dry storing - we dispose of dewatered slurry. This helps reduce the amount of land used and the potential for environmental risks associated with dam failure or erosion.”
Forpost-sz.ruwrote about a similar accident that occurred a few years ago in Brazil.
“In this context, mining companies pay special attention to the level of personnel they hire. I give preference to graduates of Mining University. Unlike graduates of other universities, who study urban ecology, they receive an education with a specialized bias, are familiar with the production process, understand the economics of the enterprise and the market situation,” summarized Svetlana Lemanova.
Today, environmental protection is the main trend in Europe. Renewable energy sources, “a world without exhaust fumes”, the coming tax on hydrocarbons, the hydrogen panacea... This story has two ways out - either stagnation of industrial production or development and implementation of technologies that reduce the burden on nature. We can be populist dreamers or practitioners. The desire to enjoy the benefits of progress should coincide with the ability to produce them. Otherwise, today’s catastrophes will seem like little more than flowers. Uncontrolled production leads to real tragedies, but its total cessation is more terrible than pandemics. The conclusion is obvious: the voice of professional environmentalists should be louder than that of activists and bloggers. They are, at the very least, more responsible…