Frequently Asked Questions

What companies comprise Nova Scotia’s mining and quarrying industry?

Approximately ¾ of Nova Scotia’s producers – the companies that actually do mining and quarrying - are local paving and construction companies. They are mostly multi-generation, family-owned, rural businesses that are pillars of their communities. We are also fortunate to have producers from neighbouring provinces, across Canada and the United States who have also invested and created jobs here in Nova Scotia.

The industry also includes prospectors and exploration companies that in some cases do their exploration work in Nova Scotia, and in other cases are based here but have interests in sites all over the world.

Lastly, there is a wide range of service, supply and consulting companies who support the industry, providing everything from technical expertise to equipment to corporate and administrative services.

All together, these companies provide 5,500 jobs, mostly in rural areas, and contribute $420 million dollars to the province’s economy each year. Mining is the highest-paying natural resource industry and one of the highest-paying of all industries in the province.

What do we mine and quarry in Nova Scotia?

Nova Scotians explore and mine for a range of minerals, including aggregate, gypsum, limestone, salt, coal, gold, sand and anhydrite. About ¾ of the industry is aggregate production, most of which is used in the province for construction, such as building homes, roads, schools and hospitals.

Mining and quarrying are vital to our economy and way of life. Mining contributes to everything in our daily lives, from houses to electronics to food production.

How is the mining and quarrying industry regulated?

The mining and quarrying industry is stringently regulated by the provincial government. Everything from environmental considerations to dust, noise and blasting activities are closely controlled by the province. The province’s regulatory regime helps ensure that Nova Scotians enjoy the full benefits of the materials we take from the ground, and that the industry operates in a safe, sustainable, responsible fashion.

You can learn more about how the industry is regulated from an environment perspective here, and from a safety perspective here.

How do companies consult communities about new mine/quarry/pit proposals?

While the consultation process varies depending on the type and size of the proposed operation, and what is appropriate for the specific community, the general approach to consulting residents about new projects typically includes several of the following methods:

  • Making project details available for public viewing within the community;
  • Publishing notices about the project in newspapers, usually the Chronicle Herald and a community publication with weekly distribution;
  • Community Open House;
  • Newsletters;
  • Door-to-door surveys;
  • Written responses to questions from the public;
  • Outreach to community leaders, such as elected representatives, residents’ associations and other stakeholder groups;
  • Aboriginal consultation with local First Nations; and
  • Establishment of a Community Liaison Committee to allow for ongoing dialogue with residents.

The government takes into account the quality of a company’s public consultation when considering whether to approve project proposals.

The industry believes very strongly in the concept of a “social license to operate” – that the acceptance and approval of the local community and stakeholders is vital to the success of a mining/quarrying operation. Indeed, the term “social license” originated in the mining industry in the 1990s.

How do I know that a mine or quarry in my community won’t harm the environment?

Mining is an environmentally-responsible industry that makes temporary use of land, and then reclaims it for other purposes, such as natural space, recreational areas and commercial and residential development. For example, Point Pleasant Park, one of Nova Scotia’s most beautiful natural spaces, contains over 50 former quarries, and shopping centre Dartmouth Crossing was built where several quarries used to operate.

Reclamation, or preparing a mine or quarry site for its next use, is key to ensuring future generations will continue to enjoy an area after we have taken from the ground the materials that we need to support our modern society. Mining and quarrying companies are committed to minimizing our environmental impact while working on a site, and then to reclaiming it in ways that maximize its use for communities.

You can learn more about the industry’s commitment to the environment and reclamation, and how it is regulated, here.

What is aggregate and what is it used for?

Aggregate is the word used to describe sand, rocks, gravel, crushed stone and shale.

Aggregate is used virtually everywhere – in all buildings and infrastructure, including homes, roads, schools and hospitals. Without aggregate, we could not build these essential parts of our modern world.

It is also used extensively in other ways, such as on playgrounds, golf courses, baseball fields, to make roads less slippery in winter and around your home. It is used in water filtration systems to make our water safe to drink. It is even used in a wide range of products, including paint, paper, plastics, glass, fertilizer, pharmaceuticals, toothpaste and household cleaners - not to mention it is necessary to build the factories that most products are made in.

How much aggregate does Nova Scotia need?

On average, each person uses 10 to 15 tonnes of aggregate each year – that's one full tandem truckload per person! We need 10-15 million tonnes of aggregate each year to keep Nova Scotia running. For example:

  • Building one kilometre of two-lane highway requires about 18,000 tonnes of aggregates – enough to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools!
  • Building a typical single family home requires about 160 tonnes of gravel (that's about 11 truckloads). You'll find it beneath your basement floor, as drainage rock around the foundation to prevent basement flooding, and in concrete walls, floors, steps, sidewalks, patios and driveways. Even your home's windows are made with sand.
  • Building an average-sized school or hospital requires about 15,000 tonnes of aggregate.
  • Construction of a tall office tower uses more than 100,000 tonnes of aggregate, mainly in the concrete.

Can’t quarries just be built further away from homes?

Like most things, aggregates vary in quality and only good quality aggregate can be used in construction. Otherwise roads and buildings could not withstand the wear and tear of heavy vehicles, cold Nova Scotian winters and the weight of the buildings they are part of. Mother nature put the good quality aggregate where she put it, so we have limited choice in terms of where we quarry it.

It is also important in construction and paving to have access to aggregate as close as possible to the construction site. This reduces costs and makes projects more efficient. The farther a quarry is from the construction site, the more trucks are needed to transport it and the more expensive the paving project is for taxpayers. Trucking longer distances also harms the environment by increasing fuel consumption and generating more emissions.

Since minerals and aggregate are non-renewable, shouldn’t we leave them in the ground as much as possible?

The fact that minerals and aggregate are finite makes them all the more important and precious, but they only have value if we make use of them. We should extract them and make the most efficient use of them we can to support our modern society, and continually come up with new ways to recycle them so they continue to be used for years to come. Just as you wouldn’t bury your money in the ground and leave it there forever, we should not leave valuable materials in the ground when extracting them benefits society. When we prevent minerals and aggregates from being mined/quarried by protecting land or building over it, we cut off our access to those precious materials, both today and in future.

Also, while the materials we take from the ground are not renewable, they are highly recyclable and reusable. Indeed, materials such as metals can be recycled and reused for decades, and perhaps much longer. Even old asphalt can now be reprocessed and reused as aggregate in new asphalt. Advances in technology are extending the lifecycle of all manner of materials, making the mining/quarrying industry not only vital to our modern way of life, but increasingly environmentally-friendly. Extracting materials from the ground today means they can be recycled and reused so they are available to future generations as well.

It’s also important to remember that minerals and aggregate are necessary for supporting other environmentally-friendly industries. For example, you cannot build hybrid vehicles, solar panels or wind turbines without the materials we take from the ground.

How do I know that blasting in a quarry won’t harm my well or my community’s water supply?

We are not aware of any cases in Nova Scotia where quarry blasting harmed a neighbouring property’s well or a community’s water supply. Quarries in Nova Scotia almost always operate above the water table which means it is extremely unlikely that vibrations from blasting generally could impact groundwater. Vibrations generally take the path of least resistance and travel along the ground or through the air, not underground. Since blast vibrations usually dissipate within about 30 metres of the blast site and regulated blasting buffers in Nova Scotia are 800 metres, the risk to groundwater or anything else is extremely low.

When designing new quarries, companies usually do surface and groundwater mapping as part of their Industrial Approval application to ensure any potential impacts on water are addressed. Companies also often establish monitoring wells so they can track any changes in the water supply. All aspects of blasting and other quarry operations are stringently regulated by the provincial government to ensure water is not harmed.

Blasts are also carefully designed to keep virtually all the explosive energy at the immediate blast site, both to prevent impacts on neighbouring properties and the environment, and because that is the most efficient and inexpensive way to do it.

Why do pits and quarries have to be close to road construction projects?

Most quarries in Nova Scotia are established to provide aggregate for road and highway construction. Aggregate is usually used relatively close to where it is quarried to improve the local public road system and make it safer for residents.

It is important in construction and paving to have access to aggregate as close as possible to the construction site. This reduces costs and makes projects more efficient. The farther a quarry is from the construction site, the more trucks are needed to transport it and the more expensive the paving project is for taxpayers. Trucking longer distances also harms the environment by increasing fuel consumption and generating more emissions.

How are quarries that are four hectares or smaller regulated?

The mining and quarrying industry is stringently regulated by the provincial government. All environmental and operational aspects of quarries, regardless of their size, are closely controlled by the province. The province’s regulatory regime helps ensure that Nova Scotians enjoy the full benefits of the materials we take from the ground, and that the industry operates in a safe, sustainable, responsible fashion.

Quarries that are smaller than four hectares are held to the same environmental and safety standards as any other quarry – i.e. the buffers are the same; the noise, dust and water management rules are the same; and the reclamation requirements are the same. They go through the same Industrial Approval (IA) process that larger quarries do, and it is the IA that rigorously addresses these operational and environmental issues, not environmental assessments as is sometimes suggested. The only difference is that quarries under four hectares are considered by the government to be lower risk for the environment so they do not require an environmental assessment. They are simply too small to have the sort of impacts that are addressed through an environmental assessment and the IA process is the more effective and appropriate way of regulating them. Regardless, quarries smaller than four hectares are regulated just as stringently as any other quarry.

Why are there so many quarries that are under four hectares?

Paving companies generally establish a series of small quarries throughout the areas of the province they operate in so they have access to aggregate as close as possible to paving projects, and can keep their transportation costs down. If a company does not have access to aggregate within 30 or 40 kilometres of a paving project, they can’t competitively bid for the job because they cannot compete with companies that do have quarries in the area. This means several important things for communities:

  • Aggregate quarried in a community is generally used in the community to improve the local road and highway system and make it safer for residents.
  • These smaller quarries reduce paving costs for taxpayers and make it possible for governments to do more paving.
  • These smaller quarries also make aggregate available to local contractors for other types of construction projects in the community.
  • Under-four-hectare quarries generally only operate for a couple months at a time, and often only operate every few years when there is a paving project in the local area. These quarries operate for short periods but their benefits are long-term.

Having smaller quarries distributed throughout the province is necessary for financial reasons, and beneficial to local residents and taxpayers.

Why don’t companies do environmental assessments of smaller quarries just to be safe?

Environmental assessments are very expensive, usually between about $100,000-$200,000 each. That cost is ultimately borne by the taxpayer so it would not make sense to do environmental assessments for quarries whose footprint is simply too small to have the sort of impacts that are addressed through environmental assessments. For example, if a company had 15 small quarries and did an environmental assessment on each one at an average cost of $150,000 each, that would cost $2.25 million dollars, a cost that would have to be passed on to taxpayers. And that’s just one company! This would result in less paving and roads that are less safe.

Quarries that are smaller than four hectares are held to the same environmental and safety standards as any other quarry – i.e. the buffers are the same; the noise, dust and water management rules are the same; and the reclamation requirements are the same. They go through the same Industrial Approval (IA) process that larger quarries do, and it is the IA that rigorously addresses these operational and environmental issues, not environmental assessments as is sometimes suggested. The only difference is that quarries under four hectares are considered by the government to be lower risk for the environment so they do not require an environmental assessment. They are simply too small to have the sort of impacts that are addressed through an environmental assessment and the IA process is the more effective and appropriate way of regulating them. Regardless, quarries smaller than four hectares are regulated just as stringently as any other quarry.

How big is four hectares?

Four hectares is a very small industrial site. It is only 200 metres x 200 metres (40,000 metres squared). The world record for sprinting 200 metres is just over 19 seconds but most of us could walk from one end of a four hectare quarry to the other in only two or three minutes.

It is also worth noting that only part of an under-four-hectare quarry is actually quarried at any given time. A significant portion of a site is used for other purposes, such as stockpiling material, the crusher plant, space for parking and manoeuvering vehicles, storing dirt and rock for reclaiming the site when operations are done and a laboratory for testing the quality of the aggregate.

Can a prospector or a mineral exploration company enter my property without permission?

No. Access to private lands must be allowed by the landowner.

Who owns the minerals if I own the land?

The Government of Nova Scotia owns all minerals in the province. This ensures that all Nova Scotians benefit from the shared resource of our geology. Nova Scotia’s Mineral Resources Act strikes a delicate and important balance between protecting the rights of landowners and the right of all Nova Scotians to benefit from the province’s mineral resources.

What if damage or injury occurs on my property: who will be responsible?

Normally a clause is included in the land access agreement – the contract that is usually signed between a landowner and the explorationist - that specifically removes all liability to the landowner and places it wholly on the explorationist. Also, if any of the planned exploration work might cause any surface damage, the landowner and explorationist negotiate all the details of the worksite remediation beforehand to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. Work might include the placement and routing of access roads, specifying how and where trees are cut and stacked, and how the area is re-graded. All costs are borne up by the explorationist.

Why should I allow access to my private land for mineral exploration?

Allowing access is a personal choice, but there are several reasons why allowing access is a good idea:

Direct benefits to the landowner - Generally there is a modest payment to the landowner when access is granted, depending on the scope of the work planned. Also, improvements to the property can sometimes be done at reduced cost or no cost to the landowner. For example, access roads, ditches to improve drainage and stacking of felled trees can sometimes be easily done while the explorationist has equipment on-site anyway.

Benefits to the community - Explorationists use local companies whenever possible to support their field operations. These include retail and commercial stores in the community such as grocery stores, gas stores, equipment rental stores, hotels and restaurants.

Benefits to all Nova Scotians - Mining exploration is also vital to the economic well-being of the province, particularly rural areas. The industry employs thousands of Nova Scotians, mostly in rural areas, and contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the province’s economy each year. Mining is the highest-paying natural resource industry and one of the highest-paying of all industries in the province.

Are there consultation guidelines for prospectors or exploration companies?

The Mining Association of Nova Scotia, in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, the Sierra Club and the Ecology Action Centre, launched “Community Consultation: A Guide for Prospectors and Mineral Exploration Companies Working in Nova Scotia.”

These guidelines provide direction and resources to assist prospectors and exploration companies with community consultation.

The mining and quarrying industry is committed to working in partnership with communities, and to operating in a safe, sustainable, responsible fashion. The guidelines are a good example of the high standard the industry sets for public consultation.

Activities can be classified as low, medium or high impact. For example, a prospector collecting rock samples for a few days could be considered a low-impact activity. Six workers doing limited core sample drilling for a few weeks could be a medium-impact activity. A large work crew clearing land for several months and building roads into a prospective mine site could be considered high-impact activity.

Higher impact activities call for greater interaction with communities, such as town hall meetings with residents, information sessions for municipal officials and meeting with stakeholder groups who may have special concerns about a project.

The consultation guidelines are available at http://novascotia.ca/natr/meb/data/pubs/ic/ic68.pdf

What if I have more questions about my rights as a landowner?

The Department of Natural Resources’ Registrar of Mineral and Petroleum Titles is available at (902) 424-4068 to answer any questions about the Mineral Resources Act and its regulations.

You can also review the Mineral Resources Act at http://nslegislature.ca/legc/statutes/mineralr.htm, and learn more about the Department of Natural Resource’s Mineral Resources Branch at http://www.gov.ns.ca/natr/meb.

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