Once a mineral deposit is exhausted, mining companies have a responsibility to work towards land rehabilitation – the return of disturbed land to a stable and productive condition. For an older site this post-closure phase may even last longer than its operational life.
As a mining operation approaches the end of its life, there should be a clear plan for transitioning from operational to closure and decommissioning and, ultimately, post-closure. Properly done, such a transition is characterised by:
- engineering works to decommission and dismantle infrastructure, complete rehabilitation, grade landforms for effective drainage, cap and cover tailings facilities, implement post-closure monitoring networks
- administrative works relating to transferring assets, demobilising the labour force, relinquishing agreements, and other government and NGO agreements
- due diligence monitoring and reporting on the post-decommissioning status of environmental and social aspects of the site.
Rehabilitation of the land disturbed by mining needs to not be an afterthought, only starting towards the end of an operation but should instead be a continual activity. Responsible mining companies should undertake rehabilitative actions, including remedy of environmental risks, return of disturbed land and stabilisation of creeks and drainage channels across the full lifetime of an operation.
Land rehabilitation, like any other post-closure activity, requires regular review to best reflect evolving events and requirements. Mining operations should for example, be sensitive to:
- new environmental risks (eg acid rock drainage or topsoil loss)
- changing land use practices
- changing climatic conditions beyond impact assessment assumptions
- new infrastructure affecting a mine’s footprint
- evolving community dynamics, including population and demographic changes.
This adaptive approach better allows mining and metals operations to reflect the potentially changing nature of operations and social and environmental conditions.