The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) is a CEO-led industry group that addresses key priorities and emerging issues within the minerals sector. The following article came from the ICMM newsletter.
Planning for mine closure should be a core part of the business, involving local communities and other stakeholders. AngloGold Ashanti’s Paul Hollesen introduces a new ICMM guide on the topic and makes the case for a more integrated approach.
ICMM’s soon-to-be published Planning for Integrated Mine Closure offers valuable guidance for a key challenge in the mining sector: closing a mine in a sustainable manner. After all, what happens at a site after it is closed is what ultimately defines its long-term environmental impact and a significant part of its contribution to an area’s social, economic and institutional development.
One catalyst for the new guide was the 2002 report of the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project. This noted that “the planning and development of any mining project needs to be aimed at creating durable benefits on a number of scales” and that the social and economic dimensions of closure planning frequently receive insufficient attention.
Further Improvement Required
In 2006 ICMM conducted a survey of the status of integrated mine closure planning within the industry. This study found numerous examples of leading practices but also a number of areas that required further improvement. It was clear that more consistent implementation of good practices is required throughout the mining sector and the guide is designed to support this goal.
A key component of closure planning is highlighted by the word ‘integrated’ in the title of the new publication. Closure is not something to be considered only from an environmental perspective, but must also incorporate social and community aspects. Closure should also be planned as early as possible, ideally before construction, and not only as a mine nears the end of its productive life.
In the case of AngloGold’s Ergo operation in the East Rand area of Johannesburg, for example, planning for closure has been a natural outcome of active community involvement over a number of years. One of the prime objectives in this case has been to support urban regeneration, and consultation with the community has been a key part of this process. It is an integrated approach designed to produce viable economic activity once the mine is closed. Integration is about fully incorporating social and community issues into closure plans. In the past, closure planning has been the responsibility of operational management and focussed on environmental aspects.
Integrated planning requires community engagement to scope the challenge, conceptualize the solution, implement the design and verify the outcomes. The people involved in closure planning may hold different views on what can and cannot be achieved and expectations may vary among stakeholders. Understanding these differences, which may change over time, is key to closure planning today. Working with various stakeholders to come up with a balanced, realistic and achievable target closure outcome that can be funded and supported should be the goal.
Effective closure planning has numerous benefits. When communities get involved they can generate broader support for closure decisions and closure cost estimates will be more accurate. Early planning increases the likelihood that sufficient funds will be available for this phase. Potential liabilities will also be progressively reduced and the risk of regulatory non-compliance will be reduced.
The new planning guide is not meant to be prescriptive but it provides essential tools designed to support multinational mining companies as well as small and medium sized enterprises. The six chapters give an overview of the different facets of integrated closure planning for company personnel involved in all stages of the mine life cycle. The final chapter consists of 13 tools, most of which are new and have
been developed to cover gaps identified in current closure planning.
The guide describes three basic steps for developing an effective closure plan – steps that should blend into each other over time rather than being distinctive stages. The first step is the development of a conceptual closure plan that is used to guide activities during exploration, prefeasibility, feasibility/design and construction. When the conceptual plan is well defined and based on community and stakeholder input, it may not change much during the initial years of an operation. The plan should identify, at least conceptually, various environmental and social monitoring programs that may have to be instituted in order to verify that the closure planning process is meeting its goals.
The second step involves development and implementation of a detailed closure plan, which increases the depth and detail of specific goals and milestones from the conceptual plan. This plan remains active throughout operations, although it needs to be regularly updated. The backbone of a detailed closure plan are the action plans for each goal, indicating what is to be done and when, who is responsible for the action, the resources required and the costs to complete the action.
The third and final step is the effective transition to closure, which may take the form of a decommissioning and post-closure plan. This should be predominantly a project driven plan – the result of planning during the mine life.
The processes and tools in this guide would ideally be applied at the pre-feasibility stage and throughout the mine life. In reality though, many mines already in operation today may have had limited closure planning. The closure planning approach and guidance is still valid in these circumstances but may require more effort over a shorter period of time in order to develop and implement a detailed closure plan.
Balanced closure outcomes help create community ownership of the plan and increase the likelihood of successful closure. As the guide notes, “Increasingly today, management looks to community ownership of the post-closure goals as the well of energy that will permit closure initiatives to prosper when the mining company is no longer involved.”
The physical activities that are needed to close down a mine are relatively straightforward. The greater challenge today involves leaving a social and environmental legacy that operators, governments and communities can be proud of. The long-term viability of the industry depends on it.
To request a copy of the new guide, visit: