Mining projects: Focus on social risks



Major mining projects sometimes face opposition from local communities. Social issues that developers had not anticipated can slow and even block plans. To determine how receptive a community will be to a project, researcher Michel Jébrak at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and the members of his multidisciplinary team have developed a social risk index for mining projects: the Indice du risque social des projets miniers.

Several stakeholders share the social risks faced by the mining industry.

The index aims to ascertain the chances that a project will be well received and the potential obstacles that may arise as it evolves. The calculation is driven by the criteria that most impact a project's social acceptance. Indeed, several stakeholders share the social risks faced by the mining industry: "Mining companies risk losing their investments, communities risk losing their identities and governments risk funding projects that will never be carried through," affirms Michel Jébrak.

The early exploration phases, in which a company starts drilling and establishing itself in the community, appear to be the most critical. After studying 100 projects in five Canadian provinces and territories, the researchers are now conducting analyses of the best practices to be adopted nationwide.

To assess risk perceptions, the team is currently working to implement a participative website. Communities and stakeholders will be asked to fill in a questionnaire to calculate the index of a project's social risk. The data that is collected will then be used to determine the conditions that may help foster a mining project's acceptance by the local community. In the long run, the objective is to create a tool that will benefit all stakeholders.