Glencore Hazardous Waste Triples, But Suspended Solids Fall

by | Sep 15, 2011

Commodities company Glencore incurred four significant environmental fines in 2010 and its hazardous waste output more than tripled last year, according to the company’s first sustainability report.

Glencore has come under harsh public scrutiny for the report – the first since it went public in May – above all for the company’s disclosure that 18 employees died last year.

The $145 billion-revenue firm, which made $6.2 billion in profit last year, has been described as “the biggest company you never heard of.” It produces, sources, processes, refines, transports, stores, finances and supplies commodities including metals, minerals, coal and grains.

Its sustainability report (pdf) reveals that in 2010, Glencore incurred four significant environmental fines with a total monetary value of about $780,000. These related to encroachment (infringement on protected land) and a three-day interruption in the licence to operate at one of its production sites in Kazakhstan. The license covered emissions, water discharge and tailings disposal.

Glencore says that 297 environmental incidents were reported in 2010, of which none were classified as major, 11 as moderate and 286 as minor. During the year there was a 2,436 m3 volume of spillages. All spills were cleaned up appropriately, and all the incidents were investigated fully, the company says.

In 2010, the total volume of water withdrawn by Glencore’s industrial activities for metals, minerals and coal products was 300 million cubic meters. The company says it recycled 309 million cubic meters of water in its production processes (compared with 294 million in 2009 and 301 million in 2008), meaning that on average it reused its water 2.1 times.

Last year the company discharged 147 million cubic meters of treated waste water to inland water courses. Its agricultural division’s farming activities used 45 million cubic meters of water for irrigation in 2010, while its biodiesel facilities, crushing plants and logistics facilities consumed 942,000 cubic meters.

Most of Glencore’s environmental metrics worsened in 2010. These included hazardous waste, which more than tripled from 93 million tons in 2009 to 314 million tons in 2010, and direct GHG emissions, up from 6.4 million to 7.6 million tons. Indirect GHG emissions, however, were down slightly from 2.79 to 2.78 million tons.

Glencore estimates that its open-pit coal mines emitted 15,251 tons of coal seam methane in 2010, resulting in 381,280 tons of CO2e (compared with 426,071 tons in 2009 and 434,128 tons in 2008). Its rice cultivation released 391 tons 22 of CH4 in 2010, corresponding to 9,774 tons of CO2e.

Direct energy use rose from 88 to 103 petajoules, and indirect energy use rose from 37 to 40 petajoules.

Glencore says its marketing activities’ energy consumption mainly takes the form of the maritime fuel oils used to drive approximately 300 time charter and 40 owned vessels, which transport oil, grain and coal. The company does not report energy consumption for other transportation activities, such as maritime transportation by voyage charter, inland waterway shipping and truck or rail transportation. This is because it primarily uses third-party services, which do not fall within its reporting boundaries, Glencore says.

The company says that nine percent of its direct energy consumption comes from renewable sources, mainly from its hydropower station in Kazakhstan. When contributions from maritime shipping are excluded from consideration, the percentage of energy from renewable sources rises to 21 percent.

Glencore also says that last year about half of its indirect energy use (about 19 petajoules) was generated from renewable sources, including hydro and geothermal power stations.

In other significant figures from the report, particulate matter emissions from land-based mobile machinery more than tripled, from 316 to 1,020 tons, and PM emissions from stationary operations rose from 2,144 to 2,925 tons.

SO2 from maritime shipping rose from 59,396 to 70,261 tons, and NOx from maritime shipping rose from 93,892 to 110,793 tons. Maritime bunker fuel consumption rose from 50,097 to 59,122 terajoules.

But SO2 emissions from industrial sources improved, with SO2 from stationary operations falling from 227,238 to 202,110 tons. SO2 emissions from land-based mobile machinery rose from 230 to 435 tons.

Glencore says that SO2 and PM are the air emissions most relevant to its industrial activities, with NOX of slightly lesser importance. For its mining activities, fugitive PM emissions are considered most relevant. These are caused by the blasting, excavating, moving and crushing of ore rock, or the removal of topsoil, overburden or waste rock.

Glencore’s total suspended solids in waste water from metals, minerals and coal fell significantly last year, from 15,623 to 9,510 tons. At the same time, however, biological oxygen demand in metal, mineral and coal wastewater rose from 3,496 to 3,866 tons.

Non-hazardous waste held steady at 22 million tons.

Glencore says that the majority of its waste, in terms of both volume and tonnage, consists of various types of mineral, which is typical for mining and metallurgical operations. Its next most common waste comes from its metallurgical operations.

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