Xstrata Copper Canada recently reported that consulting engineering firm Genivar won the 2011 Schreyer Award—the highest prize of the Canadian Consulting Engineering Awards program—for its role in the decommissioning of the copper producer’s former Gaspé copper mining and smelting site located in Murdochville, Quebec, Canada.

On awarding Genivar the honor, the jury noted the rehabilitation of the 50-year old Gaspé site had “set a benchmark for future mine decommissioning projects.”

The decommissioning of the former Gaspé copper mining and smelting site, the largest project of its kind in Canada, took four years and was completed in 2010 at a total cost of C$130 million. Xstrata explained that, in accordance with its commitment to sustainable development, the project aimed to return healthy and safe land to local stakeholders, enabling them to pursue new opportunities for development.

The mine and smelting site housed roughly 40 buildings, including two concentrators, the copper smelter, a sulphuric acid plant, conveyors, garages, storage facilities and administrative offices. The project involved the rehabilitation of 650,000 m2 of land (the equivalent of 80 Canadian football fields); removal of 7 km of electrical transmission lines; and construction of 240 m of channels for water management.

After inspection, the site’s buildings were cleaned with dust vacuums and high- and low-pressure water washers and dismantled in sequence to maximize the amount of material that could be recycled:

  • Approximately 20,000 metric tons of steel were washed, sealed and sent to recycling centers;
  • More than 90% of the concrete and bricks from the site’s walls, ceilings, roofs and foundations were crushed on site and used as backfill for foundations;
  • 20,000 m3 of concrete was recycled; and
  • Material with a high copper content was recycled at Xstrata Copper’s Horne smelter.

Xstrata Copper completed remediation of contaminated soils around Murdochville in September 2008, one year ahead of schedule, and is in the final stages of rehabilitating contaminated residential soils near the former port operations at Sandy Beach, Gaspé.

“Even though the numbers tell the technical story, the decommissioning was first and foremost a human experience,” said Jacques Moulins, general manager, environment, site rehabilitation and resources conservation for Xstrata Copper Canada. “We were committed to ensuring that the communities involved in the project understood the work we were undertaking and we maintained regular contact with both residents and local authorities. Throughout the decommissioning process we held open house sessions for local stakeholders; published regular community bulletins; and implemented a dedicated community telephone line. We also met with each individual property owner to plan remediation work and ensure they were satisfied with the end result.”

With such a complex program to execute, the health and safety of the 250 workers involved was a high priority for both companies. Xstrata said a comprehensive health, safety and emergency response program resulted in no lost-time injuries for the duration of the project, which totaled more than 670,400 person-hours.

“At the end of our journey, I believe our success was the result of Xstrata’s clear commitment to sustainable practices, the dedication of the Xstrata Copper and Genivar teams to find sustainable solutions and liaise with local stakeholders, and the continued support of the local communities and authorities,” said Moulins.