Tactics to reduce your permitting time

September 7, 2016 Brian Buck

Leading up to MINExpo 2016, we will be sharing interviews with different experts.

Our first interview is on the topic of permitting with Brian Buck, Stantec’s US Mining Sector Leader for Environmental services.

Brian, thanks for meeting with us. In your experience, what is a major problem you see with obtaining environmental approvals for a mining operation?

I regularly see unanticipated delays in obtaining environmental approvals due to planning and communication failures. It becomes imperative to have clear coordination between the client teams and the agency or agencies early in the process. A tactic to minimize impact to permitting time is to agree on affected areas and resources, data quality, project communication and timelines, public involvement, and agency-to-agency interaction early in any permitting effort. Regardless of the type of approval action pursued; a clear, transparent, and documented process is key to keeping the project on schedule.

What are some of the other hurdles you’ve seen that can impact permitting projects? And how can one mitigate against impacts?

A common issue is making changes to the project while the permit is being reviewed. Ideally the proposed plan and all of the alternatives are well defined and unchanged though the course of the analysis. Yet sometimes changes are warranted – even to the best, most thoroughly thought through project – as new information becomes available or stakeholder negotiations progress.  Having an established and agreed process for incorporating changes can mitigate potential delays.

Sometimes small delays are compounded and become significant. When delays do occur, agency staff can be lost to other projects, leading to further slowdowns while new staff are integrated. Having baseline documentation and reports ready for use by the agencies when scheduled is an easily avoided delay that helps maintain the project pace.

One of the more challenging situations is when one agency is responsible for coordination of reviews by multiple permitting authorities, as is the case for an EIS in the US where the lead federal agency must complete interagency consultation on protected species or government-to-government consultation with indigenous populations. These efforts are done separately but in parallel with the EIS process and can delay final approval. Ensuring the lead agency has timely and accurate information for use during the interagency project review and that they have initiated the intergovernmental reviews is imperative to stay on schedule. One cannot assume these parallel activities will happen.

Together these factors have the potential to add months to the permitting and project schedule. This is particularly problematic for companies that have mining operations in cold climates where seasonal weather conditions make for shortened construction seasons, or for ongoing operations where a delay might force an interruption to activities.

What advice can you offer to a mining company just embarking on a new mining operation in the U.S.?

The common theme we see across all permitting efforts is the need for good planning, communication and execution. It is critical for a mining company to plan the approval processes along with the project, to ensure that the shared information is timely, well documented, and appropriate; that the proposed action and realistic alternatives have been thoroughly thought out and consistently evaluated. We cannot predict delays within the reviewing agencies, but we can avoid causing delays by delivering the required information as scheduled.

Have early outreach discussions with applicable government agencies and stakeholders. In the Western US, these groups may include federal land management agencies, state permitting agencies, tribal entities, county and local community representatives, landowners and land users such as recreation groups or grazing permit holders, and environmental interest groups. Many of these stakeholders will likely become involved in the official EIS permitting process so it’s best to consider their input early in the project-planning.

Mining companies typically consider various alternatives while developing their project plans. If an EIS will be conducted on the project, seek input from the regulatory agencies and other stakeholders during the planning and alternatives analysis phase to align on the alternatives to be examined. This will be extremely valuable when planning the scope of any environmental baseline studies and may lower the risk of delay caused by having a stakeholder interject a new alternative during the approvals process.

Finally, use the input received during early outreach discussions to identify the issues and potential environmental impacts most important to the agencies and stakeholders. Expert consultants can then provide estimates of the potential impacts and propose mitigation measures.  A plan that incorporates measures to reduce or eliminate potential impacts is easier to approve.

Content was originally published on Mining.com.

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