A request for investigation filed regarding Terrafame’s previous emergency discharges of purified waters 19.8.2016 09:11

Terrafame Ltd. has been informed by the Oulu Police Department that a request for investigation has been made to the police related to the additional discharges of purified waters, carried out by Terrafame in December 2015 and April 2016. 

In December 2015 and April 2016, Terrafame was forced to discharge purified waters from its Sotkamo mining area to a greater extent than would have been provided by the annual quotas of the company’s environmental permit. The discharges had to be undertaken in order to ensure dam safety and to prevent serious environmental damages. Prior to the discharges, the water at the dams of Kortelampi and Latosuo had climbed to a level where the risk of uncontrollable leakage of water into the environment had risen too high.

Terrafame started the ramp-up of the Sotkamo mine in August 2015 in a situation when about 10 million cubic metres of water were stored in the mining area due to previous operations. The use of the discharge pipe, leading from the mining area into Lake Nuasjärvi and playing an essential role in the water management of the mine, was started in November 2015. However, in September 2015, the Vaasa Administrative Court had halved the discharge pipe’s sulphate load with its interim decision. Due to this, the amount of purified water that could be discharged was smaller than planned. In addition, the rainfall was exceptionally heavy in 2015 and the snows melted suddenly in late 2015. Combined, these factors resulted in a need for additional discharges in December 2015. In spring 2016, the water storages were critically full already before spring floods, forcing Terrafame to conduct emergency discharges in April.

About 2.7 million cubic metres of water was discharged via the old discharge routes into the Vuoksi and Oulujoki watercourse areas and via the discharge pipe leading into Lake Nuasjärvi. The additionally discharged water was duly purified so that its quality stayed within the concentration limits set by the environmental permit. Due to the additional discharges, the annual quotas of sulphate, sodium, and manganese, defined in the environmental permit for the old discharge routes, were exceeded. However, despite the additional discharges, the annual quotas of the most critical metals such as nickel, copper, and zinc, were not exceeded.

“The decisions to execute the additional discharges of purified waters in December 2015 and April 2016 were reached on the grounds of continuous monitoring of the situation, carried out with the supervisory authority, the ELY Center of Kainuu, and based on a careful expert estimation. The goal was solely to ensure dam and environmental safety. We faced an emergency, where refraining from the discharges would, with high probability, have led to an uncontrollable leakage of water into the immediate surroundings. Thus, Terrafame had no choice to act otherwise when making a decision on the additional discharges. Water was discharged only to the extent that the water level in the dammed water storages stayed below the safety limit. According to the official results of the mandatory environmental monitoring, the additional discharges have caused no damage to the environment. Terrafame considers the request for investigation unfounded. Naturally, we act in co-operation with the authorities to clear up the matter,” says Joni Lukkaroinen, CEO of Terrafame Ltd.

“The primary reason and goal when starting Terrafame’s mining activities was to manage the environmental situation during winter 2015–2016. The company has been forced to act in an extremely difficult situation due to the 10 million cubic metres of water which were already stored in the mining area. Terrafame, acting as the operator of the mine, is responsible for preventing and minimising environmental damages as well as minimising environmental risks. Thus, in December 2015 and April 2016, the company had no choice to act otherwise when the water storages filled to reach a critical level due to heavy rainfall and melt waters,” says Lauri Ratia, Chairman of the Board of Terrafame Ltd.  

“In our view, Terrafame has acted in the best possible manner with regards to the environment and in good co-operation with the supervising authorities when implementing the additional discharges. Naturally, we take the request for investigation seriously, but we are also confident that the measures taken by us have been appropriate and responsible,” Ratia concludes.

In April 2016, the Vaasa Administrative Court gave its final decision regarding the matter of the discharge pipe into Lake Nuasjärvi. The decision has enabled the use of the discharge pipe at full capacity during the summer period from May onwards, which has had a positive impact on the water situation. In its decision, the Administrative Court halved the annual sulphate quota granted by the Northern Finland Regional State Administrative Agency in the original environmental permit. Due to this, Terrafame estimates that the removal of the extra water may take longer than planned. This is why Terrafame has appealed the decisions of the Vaasa Administrative Court to the Supreme Administrative Court.

Terrafame has worked purposefully to manage the water situation in the mining area. Due to the effective bioleaching process, evaporation from bioleaching heaps has been strong, so during spring and summer 2016, a total of 940,000 cubic metres of waters stored in the mining area were led to the bioleaching heaps. During 2016, the amount of extra water in the mining area has reduced from the about 10 million cubic metres in early 2016 to 6.5 million cubic meters in mid-August. Of this amount, 1.4 million cubic metres is purified water.

 

Additional information regarding Terrafame’s additional discharges is available in the press releases of the company, published on 19 December 2015 (in Finnish), 23 December 2015 (in Finnish), and 8 April 2016.

 

Additional information:

CEO Joni Lukkaroinen, tel. +358 50 590 0720
Chairman of the Board Lauri Ratia, tel. +358 50 2922

 

Terrafame Ltd. is a Finnish mining company producing primarily nickel and zinc by bioheapleaching at its mine located in Sotkamo. The aim is environmentally sustainable, safe and economically viable mining operations. Terrafame is owned by Terrafame Group Ltd., which is wholly owned by the State of Finland.

Article subjects: EnvironmentTerrafame