Climate Smart Mining and the Equator Principles
NioCorp plans to construct and operate an underground critical minerals mine and surface processing facilities that are designed to minimize environmental impacts. Many innovations have been build into the surface processing plant, including recycling loops, treatment of all produced mine and process water, and a zero process water discharge footprint.
In the underground mine, a large amount of produced mine tailings will be mixed with cement and fly ash and placed back underground after mining operations are complete in parts of the mine. That reduces the need to store mine tailings above ground and also helps to provide additional stability to the underground structure and enhanced safety for our workers.
Our approach to producing critical minerals is guided by the Equator Principles, which serve as a common baseline and risk management framework for financial institutions to identify, assess, and manage environmental and social risks when financing Projects such as ours. The Elk Creek Project is in compliance with the latest version of the Equator Principles (EP4).
You can see more about our approach to working under the Equator Principles here.
In 2022, NioCorp commissioned an independent Environmental and Community Assessment of the Elk Creek Critical Minerals Project from Olsson & Associates, a nationally recognized, employee-owned engineering and design firm based in Omaha, Nebraska.
A summary of the Environmental and Community Assessment can be seen here.
Design Features to Enhance Sustainability
Our goal with the Elk Creek Project is to build and operate a “Climate Smart” critical minerals mine. Here are some elements that we believe will help us deliver on this goal:
Zero Process Water Discharge
The Elk Creek Critical Minerals Mine has been designed to operate as a zero process water discharge facility. Water produced from the mine, and process water produced from operations, will be purified and recycled using reverse osmosis systems. This will be a major driver of the circular economics NioCorp plans to incorporate into the Project’s operations.
Artificial Ground Freezing
NioCorp will utilize artificial ground freezing while sinking its production and ventilation shafts into the ground. This time-tested technique will help isolate and protect existing groundwater resources in the area during shaft sinking operations. Cement casings put into place after freezing is stopped will continue to protect groundwater while the mine is in operation.
Avoidance of Impacts to Waters of the US
The Elk Creek Project was designed to avoid virtually all permanent impacts to federally jurisdictional waters. As a result, the Project does not require a federal permit under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The project now has obtained all of the local, state, and federal permits necessary to move to a construction start.
The surface operating facilities will employ several recycling loops for chemicals used in mineral processing. This helps to reduce waste streams, avoid air emissions and other environmental impacts from transporting chemicals to the site, lower operational costs, and facilitate circular economics into the Project.
Tailings Used as Mine Backfill
Much of the mined material that does not contain target minerals — often called mine tailings — will be mixed with cement and fly ash and will be placed back underground as backfill. This is done after mining operations are completed in various parts of the mine. This reduces above-ground storage of mine tailings as well as provides added stability and and an increased safety margin for our workers.
Local Employment in Economically Challenged Areas
The Elk Creek Project will create approximately 450 full-time, permanent jobs when in operation. During the Project’s 3+ year construction period, approximately 1,200 construction-related jobs will be created. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Employment Multiplier for Metal Ore Mining, an additional 2,000+ indirect jobs will be created or supported as a result of the project.
Support for Local Businesses
According to estimates in the Project’s 2022 Feasibility Study, NioCorp will spend an average of nearly $200 million annually in operating costs for the mine over its expected 38-year life. Coupled with the forecast economic activity and local spending of its ~450 full-time workers, the Project can be expected to generate a large amount of economic activity that will benefit local businesses.
The Equator Principles
NioCorp has committed to integrating sustainability as much as possible in the development and eventual commercial operation of our Elk Creek Critical Minerals Project.
Part of our sustainability mission is incorporating elements of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles into our business model and planned operations, such as environmental performance, sustainability, resource use, health and safety, engagement with local residents, corporate governance, respect for human rights, and operational transparency.
Corporate ESG performance is increasingly vital to both business risk assessment and to the identification of business opportunities. This is especially true as markets, and government regulation, are assigning higher value to companies that deliver product and/or services that can lightweight transportation and other systems, reduce fuel consumption, cut air emissions, and mitigate other environmental impacts. A number of large mining and strategic materials producers have integrated ESG frameworks into their business and production operations.
Corporate ESG performance also is key to investment decision-making by an ever-larger number of global investment groups. For example, sustainable investing strategies now represent more than 60% of professionally managed assets for investors in the European Union, according to research conducted by the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance. Further, signatories to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (“UNPRI”) now manage an estimated $60 trillion in assets, according to the UNPRI.
NioCorp's Environmental and Social Governance Policy
On August 11, 2023, the NioCorp Board's Safety and Sustainability Committee approved the following as the Company's Environmental and Social Governance Policy:
As an environmentally informed and socially responsible company, NioCorp has implemented an Environmental and Social Management System (“ESMS") that conforms to the Equator Principles. Our directors, officers and employees are committed to the following:
This policy statement and NioCorp’s ESMS represent our commitment to maintaining a high level of performance with respect to environmental and social issues that impact our business. We are committed to periodic audits to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of our ESMS.
/Mark A. Smith/
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