Responsible mine closures ensure a sustainable environment and economy

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11-Mar-19

Dawn Brock
Senior Programme Officer

Responsible mining practices are continually evolving with ever more emphasis being placed on values-based behaviours that deliver sustainable benefits for people and the planet. Even long after a mine has closed. In working with the mining industry over the last seven years as a rehabilitation and closure consultant, and now as the lead on the closure work at ICMM, I have observed a major change in the practice of mine closure. 

Mine closure has been rated among the top five operating risks in mining (World Risk Report, 2018). Over the next decade many mines across the globe face closure making it an increasing priority for the industry, government and communities. Recognising this, in February 2019 ICMM published an update to its Integrated Mine Closure: Good Practice Guide. The guide is free for mining companies and regulators to use and contains a range of tools that can assist in formulating well-considered decisions when planning for and closing a mine. The guide is intended to support the goal of delivering a positive legacy while balancing environmental protection and social well-being with financial performance.

Good practice in integrated mine closure 

The closure process has historically relied on the mining company’s expertise to conceptualise and deliver results. In modern practice, communities and governments also play a key role in supporting successful closure outcomes. As such, integrated closure planning and implementation needs to capture and balance the views, concerns, aspirations, efforts and knowledge of both internal and external stakeholders to identify mutually beneficial closure outcomes for the company and its host communities. 

Integrated mine closure is a dynamic and iterative process that considers environmental, social and economic factors at an early stage of mine development and throughout the life of an asset. Early consideration of mine closure will make it easier and more cost effective to achieve final closure objectives and can improve the prospects for relinquishment. Fundamental to this process is the need to consider closure as integral to the mine operations’ core business.

Closure planning is cyclic as information relevant to closure is gathered and updated over time. The earliest progressive closure activities will typically provide learnings that can be incorporated into later progressive closure actions (during operations) and final closure. 

Understanding and planning for post-closure land use is challenging. But a clear definition of the desired post-closure land use greatly facilitates closure planning. When the post-closure land use is understood, it aids not only the definition of the closure vision and site-specific closure objectives, but also the selection of closure activities and the definition of success criteria.

The image below outlines some of the key elements of mine closure planning and implementation and a pathway through them, although the steps through the planning cycle will not necessarily be sequential. In practice, there are many feedback loops that interconnect each element – hence the need for an iterative process.

Getting it right

Effective planning is only one aspect of mine closure and must be followed by action. At the simplest level, the closure plan provides a description of the closure options that will be implemented for each aspect of the mine, while closure activities are the physical works/actions carried out to close the site. These may be done during operations or in the closure and post-closure period. 

Not all closure activities will be subject to the same level of evaluation. Some will be relatively standard and will not require significant consideration of alternatives. In other cases, there may be many alternatives considered, with significant differences among the options in terms of cost, social acceptance, effectiveness, opportunities, risk profile and other factors. In these cases, final selection of the appropriate closure activities may take years of effort, involving input from stakeholders, research programmes, design studies and specific risk evaluations.

The social and economic benefits of closing a mine are usually significant and underline the importance of early preparation. A wide variety of alternative uses for mined lands is available including adapting post-closure landscapes for forestry, agriculture or wildlife habitat, or use of land for recreational purposes. Some post-closure land uses have the possibility of generating economic benefits which could potentially facilitate transfer of the site to a third party once closed or provide for ongoing post-closure operating and maintenance costs.

The success of each closure activity depends on the extent to which  specific closure objectives are met. Success criteria (comprising specifications, measurements or requirements) is one concrete way of demonstrating that a closure plan has been executed effectively (assuming the correct criteria have been selected). 

Over the years, we have observed companies that not only ensured that their mines have been closed properly, they have left a positive legacy post-closure. Some examples from around the world include:

Conclusion

Mining companies must prioritise responsible closure of their mines – as responsible and compliant mine closure is good for business and society. There is potential for industry collaboration and innovation to support well-planned mine closures that ensure the sustainability of local communities and the natural environment. 

Planned mine closures around the world are expected to increase over the next decade offering an important opportunity to improve performance. By initiating a progressive and integrated mine closure process, we could better formulate innovative solutions to support the mining industry while supporting engaged and sustainable communities. 

To learn more about integrated mine closure visit ICMM’s website. It contains examples of good practice and a range of tools that can be used to make well-considered decisions when planning for the closure of a mine.