‘Waste Rock’ vs. ‘Mine Rock’: Why Okane Chooses to Use ‘Mine Rock’

The mining industry commonly refers to rock excavated from open pit mines and/or underground mines, as “waste rock”. This rock most often stockpiled on the mine site near where it was excavated and referred to as a Waste Rock Dump (WRD). All words matter, particularly important ones, because when words are interpreted differently it causes confusion. The term ‘waste rock’, and ‘waste rock dump’, has caused confusion among stakeholders in the industry, particularly so for impacted communities.

Okane’s Choice

Okane has chosen to use the term mined rock, which is placed into a Mine Rock Stockpile (MRS). It is Okane’s perspective that referring to ‘mined rock as ‘waste rock’ has strongly contributed to the mining industry’s typical approach to WRD design; WRD design criteria is based solely on meeting minimum requirement with respect to cost and geotechnical stability. In other words, designs focused on managing today’s risk, today. However, WRDs represent, by far, the largest water quality risk in the mining industry (Brett et al., 2011, and INAP, 2019), and very often represent long-term unrecognized and underfunded closure liability (Aziz & Meints, 2018). 

Perhaps, if we thought of ‘waste rock’ as ‘mined rock’, our perspective on the value of managing tomorrow’s risk, today, might change.

Indigenous Peoples

Just as importantly, referring to mined rock as waste rock, and Mine Rock Stockpiles as Waste Rock Dumps, does not respect the creation story of many Indigenous Peoples. 

Our mined rock, placed in mine rock stockpiles, must be a reminder to all of us working in the mining industry, that our influence at a mine site is multifaceted, and impacts a broad range of Indigenous People and Communities.

Okane’s Experience Working with the Ktunaxa Nation  

Okane’s founder, Mike O’Kane, had a perspective changing experience with the Ktunaxa Nation while working on a mine project. The Traditional Territory of the Ktunaxa Nation is in the Kootenay region of south-eastern British Colombia, as well as parts of Alberta, Montanna, Washington, and Idaho (2022, Ktunaxa Nation).  

During a coffee break after a long discussion on managing metal leaching from waste rock dumps, an Elder pulled Mike aside for a brief chat. In an incredible example of leadership and patience, the Elder explained to Mike that referring to the rock as ‘waste rock’, was disrespectful to his People. The Elder went on to explain to Mike that the mountains being mined are part of the Ktunaxa Nation’s creation story and referring to the rock as waste was akin to calling his ancestor’s waste. 

Okane’s use of the words ‘waste rock’ and ‘Waste Rock Dump’ ended that day.  With simple and patient leadership, this Elder’s Traditional Knowledge, completely changed our perspective.  

Okane continues to incorporate Traditional Knowledge in all our work; as Mike often says, “…sometimes it’s as simple as just listening, and responding appropriately…” 

At Okane, we want to help our clients achieve positive financial, environmental, and social outcomes through  integrated mine closure solutions. Using the terms ‘Mine Rock’ and ‘Mine Rock Stockpile’ is a small, but effective, component of what we do to build trust and foster positive relationships during mine operations with surrounding communities and Indigenous people. When consulting with our clients, we keep ESG criteria and sustainability at the forethought of all our mine closure solutions, and it starts by using terminology that is inclusive to ensure we’re contributing to a positive reputation for both our clients, and the mining industry.  

Respecting Traditional knowledge and actively seeking out different perspectives is a key steppingstone Okane has taken towards achieving our purpose to Help Create a Better Tomorrow.

References 

Aziz, M., and Meints, C. Equity Mine – 25 Years of Closure. 25th British Columbia MEND Metal Leaching/Acid Rock Drainage Workshop. Vancouver. 2018. 

Brett, D., O’Kane, M., Scott. P., Taylor. J., McLeary, M., and Williams, D.J., 2011. A water-covered waste dump in an arid climate? A remediation concept for Brukunga Mine. Mine Closure 2011, September 17-21, 2011, Lake Louise, AB. Canada. 

INAP, 2019. Rock Placement Strategies to Enhance Operational and Closure Performance of Mine Rock Stockpiles, International Network for Acid Prevention (INAP), 2020. 

Ktunaxa Nation. (May 27, 2022). Who We Are. https://www.ktunaxa.org/who-we-are/