Respect for the environment is at the heart of our operating and development strategy. We are committed to preventing, or otherwise minimising and mitigating the impact of our operation on the environment.
The Gobi Desert is a unique environment, which requires protection. Our overarching goal is to have a net positive impact on the environment by the time our operations finish. This means minimising the environmental impacts of our operation and contributing to its conservation to ensure the region ultimately benefits as a result of our activities.
To achieve our goal, we draw on the advice of environmental experts, and the communities around the mine. We operate a large number of programmes and management approaches. For example, we undertake a wide range of activities and monitoring programmes in areas such as water, air, biological diversity, waste, and land management.
We comply with the following regulations and requirements:
- All relevant environmental laws, regulations and standards of Mongolia.
- Internationally recognised mining standards.
- Environmental requirements and standards of project lenders (e.g. International Finance Corporation, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development).
- Rio Tinto's environmental policies, strategies and standards.
- Regular monitoring of environmental performance and complying with our internal environmental monitoring programmes.
We continuously monitor and improve our environmental policies and plans in consultation with local residents, communities, the government, experts, and professional institutions.
We are committed to being transparent about our environmental impact and we publish a large number of detailed studies and independent reports on our performance, including data from our own monitoring activities.
Our approach focuses on a number of areas, including:
Water is the most precious natural resource in Umnugovi aimag. To ensure ongoing availability of surface water, we are committed to using water carefully, balancing our operational needs while ensuring water is fully available for local residents and future generations.
We operate some of the best water conservation standards worldwide, using less than half the global average of water per-tonne of ore processed for similar mines. This has been achieved through a number of measures:
- High efficiency tailings reclaim.
- 100 per cent cooling water reuse.
- 100 per cent mine water recovery and reuse.
- 100 per cent treated domestic waste water reuse.
- 100 per cent truck wash water reuse.
- Measures to prevent evaporation.
- Ongoing water conservation measures.
We also have a policy of zero direct discharge, meaning that no waste water will be directly released into the environment. This means that all of the water at Oyu Tolgoi is used and reused until it is lost through evaporation.
Discovering new water sources
Given the dry nature of the Umnugovi region, coupled with the requirements of an operational mine and growing population, we have been undertaking detailed hydrogeological investigations in the region since 2003. Through these programmes we have identified two large aquifers, geological formations containing underground water, which are at least 150 metres below the surface - far deeper than the surface water sources used by local people and animals.
Under our water permits, we can only use less than 20 per cent of the aquifer over 40 years, ensuring the majority of the water remains underground for future generations.
Other reserves have also been identified by hydrogeological surveys and water exploration efforts. With proper water management at Oyu Tolgoi, sufficient water resources are available to provide for the needs of the mine and local communities.
Oyu Tolgoi is committed to protecting the quantity and quality of water in local wells and to supporting the development of new water supplies for the local community. We have been performing extensive monitoring of wells, springs, and boreholes since 2003.
Ongoing monitoring and assessment continue to be undertaken and any identified issues are proactively addressed. In the event of any impact on community water as a result of our activities, we are committed to mitigating the impact in a manner agreeable to the people involved and which guarantees the provision of equivalent water quantity and quality.
Our Participatory Environmental Monitoring programme aims to create and maintain active community participation in our environmental monitoring. This two-way dialogue improves our monitoring and the transparency of our environmental performance.
In addition, we have spent MNT1.7 billion to help explore and investigate new water resources for Khanbogd soum centre. Further tests and modelling will take place to help develop a detailed plan for a sustainable new water source for the town.
Managing air quality
To ensure the best possible quality of air locally, we are committed to managing dust, greenhouse gas emissions, and noise and vibration from our operations.
Dust control and suppression
Dust storms occur frequently in the Umnugovi region. We have measures in place to combat any increase in dust levels from our operations, including blasting, loading and unloading, and vehicle movement.
We monitor dust levels at 33 monitoring points installed at strategic locations inside and outside the mine to ensure we are meeting our regulatory requirements.
Managing greenhouse gas emissions
Potential sources of greenhouse gas emissions at Oyu Tolgoi include vehicles, heavy equipment, generators, and heating units. We routinely measure the air quality at 40 monitoring points to ensure our emissions stay within acceptable limits and national air quality standards.
Minimising noise and vibration
We aim to minimise the effects noise and vibration can have on the health of our employees, on the environment, and on local wildlife.
Potential sources of noise include the airport, drilling and blasting, mining operations and movement of heavy equipment.
To mitigate these impacts, we have implemented a range of engineering and operational controls, including:
- Noise control specifications as part of our procurement process.
- Fitting noise controls on our equipment.
- Adjusting the site layout to provide increased sound shielding.
- Management procedures to control the use and operating times of equipment.
- Regular noise level monitoring at different times of day and night.
Flora and fauna
To Oyu Tolgoi, biodiversity refers to the variety of life on earth - the different animals, plants and micro-organisms, and the ecosystems of which they are a part of. Our approach aims to minimise the impact of our operations and contribute to biodiversity conservation.
Details of our biodiversity protection activities, studies, and monitoring results, are contained in the report into the Implementation of our Environmental Protection Plan as well as in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.
Flora: Protecting the plant life of Umnugovi
A study identified an estimated 158 plant species in the area surrounding Oyu Tolgoi. By implementing effective controls, we believe we can operate whilst mitigating any adverse impact on existing vegetation within the project area.
To achieve this, we have developed a range of strategies focusing on land, reclamation, and vegetation protection to ensure disturbance to vegetation is minimal and any land disturbed is fully rehabilitated.
We also maintain a comprehensive Vegetation Monitoring programme, contained in the report into Implementation of the Environmental Protection Plan, which covers the mine site and surrounding area.
Fauna: No adverse impact on local wildlife
Despite its harsh climate, the Gobi region is rich in biodiversity, including several rare and protected species. We aim to prevent disturbance and other adverse impacts on species, their habitats, populations, and migratory patterns. This includes changes to vegetation that would affect migratory mammals and bird species, nesting sites for birds, and shelters for small mammal species.
To achieve this, we carry out extensive wildlife observations and research studies and have established partnerships with national and international wildlife conservation organisations to carry out wildlife surveys and ensure that there is no loss of biodiversity in Umnugovi.
Oyu Tolgoi is committed to exercising responsible waste management practices through a waste minimisation strategy, reducing our waste, reusing where possible, and recycling what we can.
We have introduced dedicated waste collection containers near waste-generating points and carry out routine awareness training to reinforce proper behaviour among our workforce. Our waste is classified into four types based on its recyclable, non-recyclable and hazardous properties. It is then further sorted into 33 types for proper management.
We also carrying out trials to recycle food waste and introduce biological methods to remediate contaminated soil.
As part of our sustainable land management policy, our mine closure and rehabilitation plans were developed in accordance with Mongolian laws and standards. This keeps land degradation to a minimum.
Land disturbance management
To ensure minimal land disturbance, we require an environmental inspection and assessment before any land disturbance occurs. A permit for work is only approved after protective actions identified in the assessment are completed.
This process eliminates or minimises potential impact on local water, biodiversity, the community, cultural heritage, and many other areas. It also ensures compliance with environmental and other relevant legislation. This procedure also applies to Oyu Tolgoi sponsored projects.
The Oyu Tolgoi topsoil management plan is one of the most important elements in rehabilitating land affected by the mine's operations and infrastructure development, helping to restore vegetation and biodiversity.
Before the start of any land disturbance activity, we strip and store the topsoil so it can be used to rehabilitate the land after the work is complete.
Areas that were disturbed during exploration, development and operations are rehabilitated during and after the project, including through the development of a mine closure plan at the start of the construction phase.
Making disturbed areas safe for people, animals, and the environment is the goal of rehabilitation. To make an area safe, technical rehabilitation has to be completed to high standards. We have a dedicated team to work with contractors to monitor rehabilitation.
Continuous and steady rehabilitation efforts reduce the risks of incidents after mine closure. At this time, new methods and technologies, based on the best practice perfected during years of rehabilitation work, will be used.