Officials from BacTech Environmental Corporation and Newalta Corporation were in Snow Lake for a public presentation Jan. 17. The event took place in the Lawrie Marsh Community Hall and close to 60 people were on hand to hear what the companies had to say about a recently proposed development that will extract gold from Toke Mountain and in the process safely do away with this longstanding environmental liability.
The meeting began with BacTech chief executive officer Ross Orr welcoming attendees and introduced the folks who sat with him at the front of the hall; Paul Miller, BacTech's vice-president of technology, "or the head bug guy, as we call him," joked Orr, as well as David Salari, chief operating officer; Pat Carswell, senior operations manager of technical development for Newalta Corporation; and Mary Ann Mihychuk, a company director, geologist and former Manitoba NDP mines minister.
After introductions, Orr gave an overview of BacTech as a company, his own background and that of others within BacTech as well as the process that they intend to incorporate in the plant proposed for Snow Lake.
Orr stated that BacTech has taken a technology that has been around the industry for 25 years and in addition to its mining applications, has been used to retrieve metals from, then render inert, arsenic and sulphide laden mine tailings with the stable end product being ferric arsenate.
He noted that a common thread with tailings disposal sites is that governments tend to own a lot of the nastier ones. "They are left behind through bankruptcies or whatever," said Orr. "We decided to challenge the conventional approach, which was to clay cap it and treat the water for the next 50 years at the taxpayer's expense. So our initial proposal to Innovation, Energy and Mines Minister Dave Chomiak was let us build a plant at for zero dollars to them, but we wanted to take the proceeds recovered from the actual pile."
Continuing, Orr spoke about the drill program they carried out in the spring of 2011. Noting that their 43-101 for the pile confirms that it contains a measured resource of 82,000 ounces of gold and 10,000 ounces in the inferred category. The grade of the 300,000-ton pile is 9.7 per cent. He also said that even though they aren't sure exactly where the plant will sit, they hope to begin construction later in 2012, after completing their environmental and bioleach work.
Prior to handing the floor over to Miller, Orr summarized BacTech’s affiliation with Newalta, a company that is an established leader in minimizing waste and maximizing the recovery of valuable products and resources.
Miller, a chemical and biochemical engineer, has been involved with the technology for over 30 years. He began by stating that the first question anyone asks is, 'Are these bugs harmful to us, or what are these bugs?' "As I'm sure you are all aware, there are good bugs and bad bugs, and you can rest assured that we only employ good bugs," said Miller. "But that assurance is probably not enough for you, so let me just explain what these bugs are. These bugs eat rocks! And they enjoy arsenic and sulphides. So unless you yourself have a diet of arsenic, sulphides, and rock, I really don't think that you have much to be concerned about. To be more scientific, the physiology of these bacteria is actually quite unique. They are one of the oldest life forms on this planet, and we are able to harness their energy and basically use them in an environment, a reactor, to actually speed up the process they undertake in nature. These bacteria are ubiquities, they are everywhere in the environment. And clearly, we have scientific programs where we go out and we identify these bacteria, bring them back into the laboratory and just culture them. The process is more akin to wastewater treatment than a type of mineral processing activity. And as you know, wastewater treatment plants are a good thing. They take our rubbish and create clean water. Effectively, that's what these bacteria are able to do in the mining environment." Miller went on to explain, in-depth, how BacTech's bugs will break down arsenic and sulphides and leave the gold and ferric arsenate behind, which they say can be disposed of safely. As well, he covered the standards of design for the plant being proposed for Snow Lake and explained by way of a flow sheet, exactly how it would operate.
Following his portion of the presentation, officials took questions from the floor. The questions were abundant, thoughtful in nature, and came in an orderly fashion. Their content proved that community members are as concerned about the disturbance of this long dormant, but leaching legacy, as they are interested in the jobs and spin-off development BacTech could possibly create. All the questions that were asked were answered and it appeared that people left the presentation generally pleased with what the project could mean for Snow Lake, both by way of development and in dealing with the legacy left behind by the community's initial employer.