Mining University graduate on protecting environment in Russia

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Large-scale environmental disasters, both caused by manufacturing enterprises and brought by natural calamities, happen each year. Such incidents take place in Russia, too. What can be done to prevent them, though? This is what Svetlana Lemanova, St. Petersburg Mining University’s graduate, is working on. 

Svetlana, now heading the Department of Environmental Protection at Polymetal Group, notes that in Russia, ecology-related matters had not interested the authorities and public for long. Universities had not offered specialised programmes; organisations had neither established corresponding departments nor offered respective positions. 

“When I entered Mining University (then St. Petersburg Mining Institute) in 1997, I chose the Mining Environmental Studies programme taught at the Faculty of Mining Engineering. I did not quite understand what I would do once I graduate; it was a new study field, opened only a year before. I guess no one knew then how relevant the speciality would become. Twenty years ago, at least in Russia, environmental responsibility was something only rare activists would care for. Nowadays, it is a global issue of concern for everyone – from schoolchildren to Hollywood celebrities and international corporations. At school, children are taught the rules of waste sorting and told about energy-saving technologies. Ecological surveys are as much in demand as geodetic ones,” says Svetlana.

According to her, no university had advanced field-specific laboratories at the time, not even the Mining Institute until opening its first one in the early 00s. Therefore the main focus of studies was on field trips and activities. Teachers gave lectures and then went on with their students to quarries, mine sites, sewage works. Therein they were provided with in-depth explanations of potential environmental impacts and told what could trigger them.

New environmental policies, new mentality are being shaped now. To be an environmental engineer has become unprecedentedly prestigious, and there is a catch in it. The topic is so much spoken about that people with neither knowledge of nor experience in it start discussing environmental issues. Ecology is used as a tool for political and economic leverage on the global stage.

“Climate campaigners demand humanity completely abandon oil & gas extraction. But what would happen if we shut down all factories, mines, and power plants? How can we ensure our development? Who will supply us with water, what will we eat, and how will we keep ourselves warm?” asks Mining University’s graduate.

There are still places where giving up on nuclear energy, coal, or diesel fuel is impossible. 

“For instance, we have facilities in the Far East, and we are building solar plants there. Yet, they can’t generate as much energy as is required. Their capabilities are limited,” explains Polymetal’s environmental expert.

Svetlana earned a Specialist’s degree at the first higher technical university in Russia, continuing with PhD studies. After graduating, she was offered the position of an environmental engineer at Polymetal. The company was commissioning a new facility back then – the Khakanjinskoye gold-silver deposit in Okhotsky District.

“When I started working, we had no ecology department; hence, I was admitted to the technical engineering department. But now, each of our mine sites and each of our regional branches has its own environmental department. And in St. Petersburg, we have the Department of Environmental Protection, which I headed in 2015 and have been working at ever since. I am functionally responsible for the operational activities of our facilities in terms of their environmental impact. I am also in charge of the work done by all of the company’s ecologists,” says Svetlana.

Mining companies are starting to pay more attention to the quality of specialists they hire. I am inclined to choose graduates of Mining University. Unlike graduates of other universities, mostly studying urban ecology, they receive a field-oriented education. They are familiar with work processes. They know what corporate economics is and are aware of the market situation,” sums up Svetlana.