Sei sulla pagina 1di 16

Environmental Earth Sciences

Discussion Paper, September 2012

Environmental Mine Management

Mine Closure and Waste


Responsibilities and Liabilities
Discussion paper by Philip Mulvey, Alan Baker and Peter Scott

WWW.ENVIRONMENTALEARTHSCIENCES.COM

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
In a perfect world, mines would only close when their economic reserves and resources are exhausted and a mine closure
plan is in place and progressively implemented, e.g. the coal seam is completely extracted, or the mineral orebody has been
completely recovered, and no more coal or ore can be extracted economically. Mine closure is a process: a period of time
when the operational stage of a mine is ceasing or has ceased, and the final decommissioning and final mine rehabilitation is
being undertaken. Closure can be temporary in some cases, and/or may lead into a program of care and maintenance. The
term mine closure encompasses a wide range of drivers, processes and outcomes. A century ago when mines ran out of ore,
production stopped and mines were simply boarded up and abandoned. That was mine closure. Even today, that practice is
sometimes still followed. However, most countries and most companies now recognize that mine closure is much more than
stopping production and decommissioning the mine. They readily accept that mine closure also requires returning the land to
a useful purpose (Sheldon and Strongman,2002).
Mine completion ultimately determines what is left behind as a benefit or legacy for future generations. If mine closure
and completion are not undertaken in a planned and effective manner, a site may continue to be hazardous and a source
of pollution for many years to come. The overall objective of mine completion is to prevent or minimise adverse long-term
environmental, physical, social and economic impacts, and to create a stable landform suitable for some agreed subsequent
land use. Effective mine closure is dependent on correct management of the mining waste through the life of the mine. This
is best facilitated by understanding the potential mine waste before mining commences. Mine closure planning therefore
commences before mining starts and continues through the mine life till the lease is handed back.
Mine closure planning is an essential component of any mining operation. It is a process that must be ongoing from the
mines inception and throughout the entire life of the mine to ensure, as far as practicable, that the post-mining landscape
is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. Although mine closure planning has been practiced since the mid
1970s, voluntary forfeiture of mining leases and closure acceptance by regulators has been rare. To help understand why, this
position paper provides an evaluation of a few successful closure cases and discusses the technical and commercial aspects
required for successful closure.
This discussion paper provides a follow- up to a seminar series presented by Environmental Earth Sciences throughout 2011
at various locations around Australia. The seminars were held for scientists, engineers, planners and lawyers who work directly
or indirectly in the mining industry, including mining companies, suppliers, consultants and regulators.
Environmental Earth Sciences

CONTENTS
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
2
WHY HAS MINE CLOSURE BEEN SO DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE?
3
The Mining Legacy
3
Tools for gaining a social license to operate
5
Communication with the publicpoints to ponder
6
TECHNICAL ISSUES OF MINE CLOSURE
7
Key concepts and issues of mine closure
7
Traditional mining waste cover designs
8
MANAGING THE CLOSURE PROCESS
11
Current closure practices
11
Lessons from successful relinquishment of mine lease
12
How to calibrate your CSM for closure: process monitoring
13
Systematic management of mine waste
14
A working example of systematic mine waste management
15
Conclusion 15
References 15
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
16
About Environmental Earth Sciences
16
Contact 16

Acid and metaliferous drainage from a rock wall in the in-filled pit of
Mt Todd Gold Mine, NT. The mine closed in 2000 leaving the NT
Government to fund around $10M deficit from the mining bond to
manage the site. (Source Philip Mulvey)

2 WWW.ENVIRONMENTALEARTHSCIENCES.COM

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012


closure. At the same time, because of this lack
of communication, the farming community points
to the failure to achieve closure as justification for
not allowing exploration on their land.
Since anti-mining protestors started targeting
funding groups such as banks and wholesale
investment funds, the funding groups have
become increasingly reluctant to fund projects
that cannot demonstrate sustainability and good
community relations. Therefore, future funding
of projects will depend on effective environmental
management in order to gain a social licence
to operate. Similarly, gaining access to land for
exploration will depend on the companys current
and previous environmental performance in
sustainable practices.
It is apparent that a social licence to operate
depends entirely on:
1. current and previous performance;
2. honest and clear communication with the public
and authorities regarding closure; and
3. meeting stated commitments.

Acid mine drainage from legacy mining waste at Brukunga SA.

The Mining Legacy

WHY HAS MINE CLOSURE BEEN SO


DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE?
Written by Philip Mulvey

In the late 1990s triple-bottom-line reporting became popular and


the concept of social licence to operate also gained prominence.
The impacts of social licence to operate became increasingly
apparent across the world, with public social conflicts slowing
mining exploration, shutting down mine operations and indirectly
preventing voluntary relinquishment of mine leases (mine closure)
as governments refused to take the leases back. As Pierre
Lassonde, President of Newmont Mining Corporation stated:

Many historic legacy sites exist throughout Australia and overseas


where mines have disposed of mining waste inappropriately, and
often have just walked away without any attempt at rehabilitation of
the mine site and in some cases with the equipment left in place.
Prominent owners of mining legacies, in Australia and across the
world, with substantial acid metalliferous drainage liabilities are listed
in the tables overleaf. The damage from these mines is visible to
the public and is regularly reported in the media. As such, it is essential for the mining industry to demonstrate that it has improved in
environmental management and learned from mistakes of the past if
it is to establish a positive reputation with the public.

Social Licence is the acceptance and belief by


society, and specifically our local communities, in the
value creation of our activities, such as we are allowed
to access and extract mineral resources... You dont get
your social licence by going to a government ministry
and making an application or simply paying a fee...It
requires far more than money to truly become part of the
communities in which you operate .
Pierre Lassonde, President of Newmont
Mining Corporation, 2003.
Social conflict not only impacts the operators, but
also affects their financiers who may withdraw from
socially sensitive ventures for fear of reputational and/or
financial damage.
An increasing demand for both coal and gas has
fuelled the rapid expansion of the coal mining and coal
seam gas industries. However, these industries are also
experiencing increased conflict with local communities.
Across the Hunter Valley, NSW, the scars of open
cut mining are visible to the public when flying over the
Hunter in commercial airliners, and through viewing
satellite Google Earth Images. Unfortunately, the
successful cases of progressive closures in the Hunter
Valley have not been adequately communicated to the
public, and so there is a public fear that these mine
sites will look as they currently do, even after mine

The numerous scars of open cut coal mines in the Upper Hunter Valley, NSW as
visible to the public via Google Earth images. (Source: Google Earth)

20

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012

AUSTRALIAN MINING LEGACIES


Yerranderie NSW is currently in a National Park and in the
Sydney water supply catchment, this site comprises numerous
abandoned mine workings, waste rock piles and tailings heaps
that contain high metal concentrations, including As, Ag, Cu, Pb,
Zn, Sb.
Ardlethan, NSW is an abandoned tin mine with sulfidic waste
rock and tailings; serious acid and metalliferous drainage from
tailings, waste rock, pit, stockpiles and the processing facility.

Hercules Mine, Tasmania is the highest mine site in Australia;


mined Pb, Zn, Cu, Ag and Au; discovered in 1894 and mined
periodically up until 1980s. It contains metal sulfides and
discharges acid and sulfate drainage and metal leachate.
Mount Lyell Copper Mine, Tasmania was mined from the late
1800s to 1980s; acid and metalliferous discharge into both the
King and Queen Rivers and Macquarie Harbour, continuing
today at a discharge rate of 80 tonnes of sulfuric acid per day.
Brukunga Pyrite Mine, South Australia mined pyrite for the
manufacture of superphosphate between 1950 and 1972. Has
serious acid drainage generation such that it costs $1M annually
to treat two tonnes of sulfuric acid per day.
Mount Morgan Copper Mine, Queensland was founded
as a gold mine in 1882 and, as the Mount Morgan Mine, has
produced gold, silver and copper. Since operations ceased
in 1981, significant acid drainage and metal leaching into the
local river system from waste rock, tailings and the mine pit
has occurred. The mine generates 20 tonnes of sulfuric acid
seepage daily.
Mount Todd, Northern Territory was originally a gold mine with
cyanide and acid drainage generation, it was opened and closed
several times, with limited rehabilitation. Eventually closed in
the early 2000s due to bankruptcy. The cost to remediate far
exceeded the bond.

Acid mine drainage from a tailings dam at the Ardlethan Tin Mine, NSW.
The mining company went into liquidation without undertaking any
remediation, leaving a $1.9M clean up bill, mostly funded by taxpayers.

GLOBAL MINING LEGACIES


Rio Tinto mine, Spain, initially mined in 3000 BC.
Iron Mountain, California, USA (Superfund) generates 20-40
tonnes of sulfuric acidity per day. This will cost over US$950
Million and take over 30 years for remediation.
Equity Silver in British Columbia, Canada, generates 20
tonnes of sulfuric acid per day.
Berkeley Pit in Montana, USA generates 30-50 tonnes of
sulfuric acid per day.
Bingham Canyon in Utah, USA generates more than 20
tonnes of sulfuric acid per day.
Abandoned or orphaned mine sites cover more than 240,000
km of the Earths surface and can be a hazard to humans and
the environment.
There are more than 50,000 polluting, abandoned mine sites in
the US.
And more than 200,000 polluting abandoned mine sites
worldwide.

Ballarat mines, Victoria where arsenic calcined tailings are


scattered throughout residential areas.
Wittenoom, Western Australia is a blue asbestos mine where
the local impact is asbestos tailings and mine waste discharged
into the local creek. The regional impact is still being felt.
Other key legacy sites in Australia include Woodlawn, Savage
River, Cosmo-Howley, Woodcutters, Rum Jungle, and many
other major mines.

Mining Legacy - flooded pit void at Mt Morgan Gold-Copper Mine, QLD

4 WWW.ENVIRONMENTALEARTHSCIENCES.COM

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012


Australian Accountancy Standards Board. This discussion
paper focuses on the process of updating the Australian
Equivalent International Reporting Standard (AASB 137)
to be in line with International Standards IAS137 regarding
contingent mining liabilities and how to account costs for
plant decommissioning and dismantling where it has direct
application to the mining industry. AASB 137 is based on the
best estimate of the expenditure required to settle the present
closure obligation at the reporting date. The standard update
is proposed to ensure that bundled debt structures, which
precipitated the Global Financial Crisis in late 2008, have full
liability expressed in the current accounts. The manner of
the proposed wording has resulted in environmental liabilities
being required to be expressed in current accounts - that
is, the amount the entity would rationally pay to settle the
environmental obligation at the present day. However, the
Mine protestors from a community in Boggabri, NSW. (Source: Rising Tide,
http://www.risingtide.org.au/)
proposed accounting standard does not consider gains from
the disposal of the asset.
Tools for gaining a social license to operate
The current accounting standards only consider closure costs
Maintaining compliance
when there is more than 50% probability of an event occurring
In the last three decades there has been an increase in public
that would lead to mine closure in that year (such as a drop in
awareness and involvement regarding environmental issues
metal prices). Whereas the proposed Standard states that the
associated with mine development. As a result of this growing
estimate of closure costs has to be bought into current year if
environmental awareness, miners are now expected to meet
probability of closure in the next five years is greater than 10%.
local laws, be compliant with environmental codes and address
It is anticipated that this new accounting standard will come into
community outrage. There are three developing compliance
force before 2015 and is awaiting the Australian Accounting
regulations relating to sustainable practices and liability
Standard Board decision. However, the mining industry is lobbying
management will impact greatly on closure planning and costs.
to further postpone the Standard, and as yet, no other country has
These are:
introduced it.
1. compliance with United Nations Principles of Responsible
Investment (UNPRI);
Lessons from industry polluter pays
2. International Accounting Standard (IAS137)in Australia,
The community expectation is that the polluter must pay for any
the proposed AASB 137; and
environmental damage caused by their operation or activity.
3. the application of the principle of polluter pays to mining.
This precedent has already been set in the industry, whereby if
the polluter sells the operation or property, and the buyer goes
United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI)
bankrupt or does not ameliorate the pollution/ contamination, it is
The wholesale investment community of Australia, including
the polluter who is held accountable.
superannuation management funds, have agreed to adopt
This means that companies who transfer mines when reserves
UNPRI sustainability principles - a decision that applies to all new
diminish may no longer be exempt from paying their contribution
investments. In the future, companies complying with UNPRI
for closure. So with regard to historical contamination in industry,
principles are likely to be able to obtain investment funds at a lower buyer beware is no longer the case. As such, in the mining
cost due to having a lower beta valuerisk based pricing. That is,
they will obtain cheaper rates on capital borrowing. Consequently,
in the future it will no longer be an option for ventures comply with
UNPRI or not, as not doing so will mean the cost of capital will
render the venture non-competitive compared with those that do
comply. During a mining boom this may not be of great concern
but it will become so when the boom tapers off.
Currently, asset investors do not know how to apply UNPRI and
asset owners do not know how to report to it. However they are
learning, and the gap is closing as the ANZ and Gunns scenario
indicates.
Accounting the costs of environmental liabilities
Provision, Contingent Liabilities and Contingent Assets (AASB 137)
is an Australian Equivalent International Reporting Standard (AASB
137), which is used to calculate financial liabilities associated with
mining projects.
On 15 March 2010, a discussion paper (ED 191) entitled
Measurement of liabilities in AASB 137 (Limited re-exposure
of proposed amendment to AASB 137) was released by

Mining legacy - abandoned mine workings with eroding mine wate at


Yerranderie, NSW. (Source: Philip Mulvey)

20

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012


Communication with the publicpoints to ponder

mine office usually displays the number of operational days


that have been accident and injury-free, which is evidence that
If environmental liabilities can be predicted and mitigated so that
mines can readily achieve closure, why is voluntary lease forfeiture the Mine takes health and safety seriously. However, there
still not being accepted by government? In light of a history of obvi- is no mention of progressive rehabilitation displayed on a
ous closure failure, the real question is how do we demonstrate
billboard at the entry to the mine site.
that closure can be successfully achieved? Are successes being
Further, with most tours, there is no attempt to show
communicated effectively? Mine closure is clearly more than just a and discuss the environmental program, the progressive
technical problem.
rehabilitation, the nurseries, the rehabilitation trials, the
The photograph to the right is copied from a brochure placed
management of mine water and dust, and the environmental
monitoring that is undertaken routinely throughout the mine
in accommodation in the Hunter Valley by anti-coal seam
life. The story of the mine closure plan is an important story
gas protesters. It is a photo of an
that needs to be told.
operating coal mine, not a closed
mine or an abandoned mine, though
key features in this photo may have
been unchanged for many years.
The brochure used the photo as an
example of the legacy of mining,
arguably to imply that this photo
represented mine closure. The reason
why the public may see this picture as
the mining companys closure strategy
is either a poorly closed mine or a
poorly communicated closure process.
When the public takes a tour of a
major mine, what are they shown?
Most tours will include a huge pit,
the load-out area and an impressive
processing facility. A large board at the Photograph of an open cut mine in the Hunter Valley taken from a pamphlet by Greening Lovedale
Hunter Valley, July 2010 (Photo Source: Cate Faehrmann http://www.catefaehrmann.org/)

industry, there is a need for a stronger focus on closure during the


years when the mine is most profitable.

Redefining risk
Public involvement in environmental issues was first proposed by
Risk Communicator, Professor Sandman in the mid 1980s. He
realised that the traditional way of assessing risk was incomplete
when considering environmental impacts.
Traditionally, the risk of a hazard occurring = consequence +
likelihood of occurrence. However, Sandman noted that some
projects were still being stopped or had failed to gain approval
due to political and public pressure, even when the risk was low.
Consequently he redefined risk by introducing a new term
outrage:
risk = hazard + outrage

Governments are cautious to accept leases back, because


they are afraid of inducting more members to the List of Minings
Legacies.

In this way, the risk of a project not proceeding or succeeding


is calculated by assessing the hazard (the scenario of potential
harm) and the likely occurrence of community outrage.
Not meeting responsibilities = Outrage
Outrage occurs when a mining company is perceived to have
not, or actually has not, met the responsibilities of operating a
modern mine. An absence of outrage means responsibilities
are understood, communicated and met. Operators must be
aware that in this age, the failure to comply with either liabilities
or environmental responsibilities can be communicated globally
and very quickly. Specifically, this may involve how closure
is approached throughout the life of the mine and how it is
communicated to the community, thereby creating the social
license to operate and to close.
Successful closure is important because if they are not
successful and perceived to be successful by the public, further
conflicts are likely to occur when operators:

seek new exploration licenses ; and


attempt to source capital funding for new ventures

Planning for mine closure using over 45 years of experience


1973 - Mine rehabilitation was first required by law in New
South Wales in 1973, and the other states soon followed.
1976 - The first Australian conference on mine closure, or
as it was known then, mine rehabilitation,. It was called
Rehabilitations of mined lands in WA, and was held in Perth
in October, 1976 at the WA Institute of Technology (now
Curtin University of Technology).
1978 - The first journal publication on mine rehabilitation
in Australia was a special issue of the Journal of the Soil
Conservation Service of NSW, which included a paper on Mt
Whaleback, WA, regarding the first mine site rehabilitation
trials, May 1975 to December 1978 by J. Riches and H.
Jones, barely seven years after the mine commenced
operations.
The Industry has been carrying out mine rehabilitation and
preparing for mine closures for at least 45 years. One would
expect that there should be a very good understanding of the
mine rehabilitation processes. So why arent authorities signing
off on mine closure to enable lease relinquishment?
Are technical issues the problem, or are processes of closure
currently not followed? New, unsustainable mining legacies
should not be created, but they are. Why is this so? These
questions are explored further in the following sections on mine
waste and mine waste management and the commercial aspects
of mine closure.

6 WWW.ENVIRONMENTALEARTHSCIENCES.COM

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012

TECHNICAL ISSUES OF MINE CLOSURE


Written by Peter Scott & Alan Baker
Key concepts and issues of mine closure
Closure is the permanent cessation of operations after
completion of the decommissioning process and tenement
relinquishment. A century ago, when mines ran out of ore,
production stopped and the mines were simply boarded up
and abandoned (World Bank Group, 2002). That action was
considered to be mine closure. Even today, that practice is
sometimes still followed, however, most countries and companies
now recognise that mine closure means much more than
simply ceasing production and decommissioning the mine and
equipment; mine closure also requires returning the land to a
useful purpose.
Mine completion ultimately determines what is left behind as
a benefit or legacy for future generations. If mine closure and
completion are not undertaken in a planned and effective manner,
a site may continue to be hazardous and a source of pollution
for many years. In Spain and England, the Roman mines still
remain a source of pollutants into river catchments between
1700 and 2000 years after mining ceased. The overall objective
of mine completion is to prevent or minimise adverse long-term
environmental, physical, social and economic impacts, and to
create a stable landform suitable for some agreed subsequent
land use.
Decommissioning is not just an end process it may begin very
early in the mine life, peak after cessation of mine production and
end only with tenement relinquishment. It involves the removal
of unwanted infrastructure, making excavations and waste
repositories safe and stable, surface rehabilitation and minimising
any adverse environmental impacts remaining after mineral
production ceases. It includes the maintenance that may be
needed until relinquishment of the tenement.
Mine closure planning is an essential management tool for the
industry to achieve successful closure. It is necessary to identify
early the risks associated with the mine closure so that early
and progressive mitigation and rehabilitation can be planned.
Any uncertainty associated with projecting the effectiveness of
mitigation should be reduced by replacing assumptions with
actual measurement, which will also provide increasingly more
accurate cost of closure for inclusion in company accounts.
The closure plan should also ensure that the accountability
path is clear and that there are adequate resources available
for the implementation of the plan, as well as for a monitoring
and review program to calibrate the models of prediction. Such
modelling and other data are used to establish a set of indicators
to demonstrate the successful completion of the closure process,
rather than assumptions.
During the planning stage for mine closure, all relevant
stakeholders should have their interests considered to ensure
successful long-term management of the final plan.
Though mine closure planning is ongoing, the technical
outcome is an agreed Rehabilitation plan, which considers:
characteristics of the mine land and surrounding
environment;
the need to stabilise the mine land;
the desirability to return agricultural land to a state that is as
close as is reasonably possible to its state before the mining
licence was granted; and
any potential long term degradation of the environment.

Peter Scott inspecting a waste rock dump at Brukunga, SA. (Source: Philip
Mulvey)

The planning of closure rehabilitation works should be


undertaken in consultation with the land owner, land custodian and
the local community. If it is to meet mine closure objectives, mine
site rehabilitation must be carried out progressively throughout
the mine life, and the way it is undertaken will have a substantial
impact on the length of monitoring time required by the authorities
before the lease is allowed to be relinquished.
Mining waste may include: mine process tailings; waste rock;
heap leach material; mine water treatment sludges; or low-grade
ore stockpiled on site whilst waiting for changes in metal prices
or metallurgical improvements. The most common issues faced
when managing mining waste include the wastes erodibility, its
chemical reactivity, redirection and containment of surface waters
and runoff, difficult rehabilitation, and keeping out weeds and
vermin. These issues are discussed below.
Erodability of mining waste can be due to either mechanical
properties of the waste material, for example, the physical
transport of fines, or chemical dispersion of fines such as with
clays. Chemical dispersion is more significant in materials with
high clay content than in materials with less than 10% clay. The
degree of dispersion that occurs will also be affected by salinity,
which tends to suppress dispersion. Sodicity is also of concern
because sodic materials are more prone to clay dispersion when
wet. Sodic materials are generally materials with more than 5% of
soil cation exchange capacity (CEC) dominated by sodium. Sodic
mining waste can have extremely low permeability, poor drainage,
are hard-setting when dry, and have considerable potential for the
development of tunnel erosion. This problem is well-known and
proven techniques have evolved to mitigate adverse impacts from
this type of waste if it is identified early in the mining process.
Reactive waste acid metalliferous drainage is caused by
sulfides (such as iron sulfides e.g. pyrite), which are common
and widespread across the Earths crust. When sulfidic waste
materials are exposed to air and water, sulfuric acid is produced.
This sufuric acid is then able to dissolve other minerals in
the waste material to release potentially harmful soluble metals.
These reactions are summarised in the following equations:
pyrite + water + air (oxygen) = sulfuric acid + iron in
waterways and groundwater
sulfuric acid + soil + rock = elevated metal release into
waterways and groundwater
20

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012

Iron sulfate salts forming on the surface of exposed tailings in the presence
of water and oxygen. (Source: Philip Mulvey)

Metals that often leach from mine waste material include: iron,
aluminium, manganese, copper, lead, zinc, cadmium, arsenic,
antimony, cobalt, chromium, nickel, mercury and molybdenum.
Aluminium is the most toxic of these metals to aquatic organisms
and plants, and is amongst the most common of the metals
released as a result of acid drainage. While acid drainage
most often occurs in areas where mining waste is stored such
as waste rock dumps, stockpiles and leach piles, and tailings
storage facilities, it may also occur in mine voids (both open
cut and underground mines), wall rocks, and from high walls.
The environmental impacts of acid drainage from historic poor
practices can be readily seen by the public in aircraft or access to
these abandoned mines, and include impacts to water supplies
and resources such as those used for drinking, irrigation, livestock,
fishing, recreation, tourism, aquatic ecosystems and loss of
habitat.
Community outrage is often a result of these environmental
impacts or the perception that they may occur. Economic
and business impacts can also be extreme, and the costs
are usually borne by the community or government. This can
lead to accumulating liabilities for governments, for example
superfund sites, and governments are decreasingly willing to
accept the liabilities. As such, liabilities remain with the mining
companies in the form of prevention of lease relinquishment,
expensive remediation and rehabilitation processes and potential
compensation payouts in the event of environmental and
social damage, all of which will negatively impact on the mining
companys reputation and future project approval prospects, as
well as creating a negative perception of the mining industry as a
whole.
In Australia, there are more than 100 mining companies
and government organisations committed to acid metalliferous
drainage treatment in perpetuity, although many sites have been
returned to the community to fund. The Australian examples listed
in the List of Minings Legacies on Page 4 are all orphaned sites,
that is, sites in which the profits have been privatised and the
liabilities socialised, so the public picks up the bill (through tax) for
the environmental damage caused.
Surface water issues regarding mining waste primarily relate
to limiting the erosion caused by water run-on, containment of
contaminated runoff water, and limiting the flow velocity and flow
volume of water over the site. Any reshaping of stockpile side
slopes crushes and buries boulders, which causes decreasing
erosion resistance and leads to an increase in slope length

and catchment size. This increases the runoff coefficiency by


smoothing the surface which, in turn, increases erodability and
increases the amount of sedimentation in streams leaving the
site.
Mine-influenced water is water that has been chemically
affected by mine waste rock, mine walls, ore and tailings, mining
and mineral processing. Chemical effects on water may result
from exposure of mining waste to oxidation (see reactive waste
above), release of process chemicals, and the introduction of
nutrients such as nitrates from explosives used in mining. Mineinfluenced water can be classified as:
acidic;
acidic metal rich;
alkaline;
alkaline with cyanide;
neutral with reduced iron;
neutral but metal rich (for example As, Se, Cu, Ni, Zn);
neutral but sulfate dominated;
highly turbid (usually due to a high sodium adsorption ratio);
saline water; and
nutrient-rich neutral water.
Each classification requires a different approach to prediction,
monitoring, and control. Whilst these approaches are not
discussed in this paper, a paper on how to monitor mine waters
has previously been published by the authors (Mulvey, 1998).
Traditional mining waste cover designs
Mitigation of the above issues associated with mine waste can
be achieved through appropriate, well-informed landform design,
encapsulation and final cover design. It is a requirement that
cover landforms are constructed to minimise environmental
impact in both the short and long term. The landforms must also
fit appropriately within the topography and use of the surrounding
landscape. The main objective of waste cover design is to limit
the exposure of erodible and reactive waste to air and water.
Cover design and construction must be undertaken in a
manner that ensures the cover and final landform will perform
and evolve predictably. Reactive material such as sulfidic waste
rock or tailings and/or metal-leaching materials , will require
isolation from rainfall infiltration. This is most commonly achieved
in drier climates like Australia through encapsulation using benign
waste material and a low-infiltration cover. In the case of waste
rock dumps, placement of reactive waste beneath slopes should
not be undertaken as rainfall infiltration cannot be prevented from

Philip Mulvey inspecting a seepage point at the toe of a waste rock dump,
NT. (Source: Philip Mulvey)

8 WWW.ENVIRONMENTALEARTHSCIENCES.COM

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012


reaching the reactive waste in this position. Reactive waste
should only be placed under horizontal surfaces.
Mine waste requires an appropriately-designed cover, the
design of which must consider a range of factors, including:
climate (wet, seasonal or dry);
the nature of the mining waste;
physical properties of the waste dump (degree of
segregation, particle size distribution, plasticity, moisture
content and density);
geochemical behaviour (salinity, acid forming potential,
metal leaching, potential for dusting and presence of
radioactive materials);
mode of mine waste storage;
construction;
physical and geochemical nature of the cover materials;
and the post-mining beneficial land uses.

achieved by also including phytostabilisation in the cover design


by using plants more effectively to remove excess water in
growth medium layers coupled with the installation of a drainage
layer using plants and slowly oxidise the waste without causing
long term damage to the cover.

A cover usually consists of:


A growth medium that has high water storage capacity and
sufficient depth for plant roots (>0.5m) to ensure a healthy
growth of plants during the long term seasonal variation
expected.
An outer capillary break and drainage layer to limit root
penetration into the sea below. The capillary break must
have a low air-entry value > thickness and water storage
capacity;
A seal with a low hydraulic conductivity (< 10-8 m/s) and
high air-entry value. The seal is to remain saturated;
An inner capillary break is required if mine wastes are
saline and/or potentially acid forming; and
Waste from the mining process, such as waste rock or
tailings.

A significant volume of research has been undertaken


regarding cover systems, but there are still uncertainties about
the effectiveness of cover system seals. These include concerns
about clay and its longevity due to reported failures especially in
arid areas, and concerns about composite membrane costs and
the failure of membranes.
There is an increasing body of research on phytoremediation,
phytocovers and phytostabilisation for waste rock dumps, tailings
storage facilities, heap leach piles and mine water treatment
sludges but there still remains a lack of long-term monitoring data
on the effectiveness of engineered covers. Work undertaken
by the USEPA has found that, no matter how thick, engineered
covers have the potential to fail due to variability in climate and
impacts by vegetation.
Understanding and managing water is the most crucial issue
in the rehabilitation of mining waste. This includes too little
water in arid/semi-arid zones, too much water in the tropics,
and seasonal variability, distribution and intensity. Other issues
include managing impacts of: run-off, percolation and run-out
seepage rate and leachate quality, variable soil moisture water
storage, and seasonal variability in evapotranspiration. Two
solutions are currently being investigated and utilised to address
these problems: 1) an evapotranspiration cover, and 2) a
phytostabilisation cover, both of which are discussed below.
An evapotranspiration (ET) cover, or water-balance cover,
comprises soil and plant system that maximizes water storage
and evaporation/transpiration process. This cover is primarily a
form of hydraulic control and achieves risk reduction by relying

Minimising impacts and liabilities using sustainable green


cover systems
The problem with the above cover design is a lack of compatibility with an uncontrolled growing medium. Invasion by plants
post closure will occur, and with time tree roots and shrinkage
cracks may develop causing the integrity of the cover to be
potentially compromised. If this was to occur, the oxidation
of the entombed sulfidic waste could cause the release of
acid and metals to the environment. An alternate method is
to design the covers to leak at the rate at which neutralisation
mechanisms can keep up with the acid released. This can be

When considering waste entombment, the following questions


should firstly be considered:
Can we make it work forever?
What is the life expectancy of the cover materials such
as clay, synthetic liners, growth medium, capillary break,
drainage layer?
What are the operating and maintenance requirements?
What is the final land use and what is its impact on the
performance of the cover?
Is it viable to entomb waste given the answers to all of the
above?

Schematic cross-section showing encapsulation of mineralised waste (PAF) (Source: Williams, Scott and Gerrard, 2012)

07
20

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012


on plant transpiration to control seepage/leachate. With an
evapotranspiration cover, any water infiltration is stored as soil
moisture in the cover to be transpired and lost to the atmosphere.
However, potential problems with evapotranspiration cover
systems arise when their design does not take into account soil
moisture availability and depth, and when they fail to specify
the right vegetation for the conditions to ensure diversity of root
depths. During the establishment phase, it is important that there
is good control of weeds and an abundance of early colonising
plants. Many covers fail because of cracking, which develops
during variable weather patterns or variable swell response
to trees. Cracks, known as macropores, allow fast ingress of
water and air, which allow for reactive processes such as acid
production to take place. The design needs to either have a built
in capacity to negate the impact of macropores by being thick
and multilayered, or be designed to ensure that macroporosity
does not develop, which is difficult in all climate zones except
temperate.
To create an effective evapotranspiration cover for mining
waste, the cover must:
require minimum maintenance;
be self-sustaining; and
have a final vegetative cover that adequately controls
interception of run-off and leachate, is self mulching or, at the
very least, has been designed to mitigate macroporosity and
stabilises and protects the cover from uncontrolled erosion.
An Alternative Cover Assessment Program (ACAP), utilising
evapotranspiration (ET) covers was introduced in the United
States in the early 1990s for landfills. Its equivalent in Australia
was the Australian Alternative Assessment Program (A-ACAP).
Both have spin-off applications for tailings facilities and mine
waste dumps. The three main aims of A-ACAP were:
to extend the knowledge gained from the original USEPAbased ACAP initiative;
to develop national design guidelines for phytocovers; and,
to expand the use of phytotechniques throughout Australia.
The major outcomes of the program were the demonstrations of
cover systems incorporating sustainable vegetative phytocovers
and no clay barriers appropriate for all the major climatic zones
of Australia. Native species of grasses, shrubs and trees formed
the basis of the initial plantings to generate working ET covers to
effectively control rainfall percolation and subsequent leachate
issues. Information from this work is applicable to the minerals
industry in designing sustainable phytocovers. Information on
the program is available from the following sources:
USEPA (2010) Evapotranspiration landfill cover systems
Fact Sheet, July 2010
WMAA (October 2011) Guidelines for the assessment
design, construction and maintenance of phytocovers as
final covers for landfills. Ref. No. 20100260RA3F.
Though these systems have their applications, research has
been limited to two decades of trials. During this time it has
been shown that macroporosity develops and considerable
maintenance is required if vegetative covers are the sole method
of eliminating moisture. This is applicable when management can
occur, but outside 30 to 50 years it is difficult to set up a system
that ensures cover maintenance. As evapotranspiration covers
require ongoing maintenance, this type of cover system may not
be suitable for many mine sites as a walk-away closure strategy.

10

Phytostabilisation covering utilises different process to


evapotranspiration covers. Phytostabilisation covering
involves direct planting into mining waste, with minimal surface
amendment/amelioration. This type of cover is suitable for toxic
materials if appropriate tolerant excluder plants are available
to prevent food chain transfers. Excluder plants (such as the
majority of grasses and eucalypts) restrict the transport of metals
and metalloids from their roots to above-ground parts. Many such
plants are early colonists of wastes and commence successional
vegetation establishment and diversification as well as kickstarting the ecological processes necessary for soil formation.
Once established, these systems should require minimal
management as weeds are less of a problem on toxic substrates.
Phytostabilisation represents an ecological approach to
sustainable mine closure. This approach emphasises the
importance of establishing appropriate biological processes which
are part of ecosystem functioning, including:
nitrogen fixation and carbon sequestration;
decomposition and microbial activity;
nutrient cycling and retention;
mycorrhizal systems;
important biotic interactions, for example pollination;
successional processes and biodiversity stability; and
minimisation of risk of contaminant transport into potential
food chains.
A comprehensive program, supported by the Australian
Government, Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism,
known as the Leading Practice Sustainable Development
Program for the Mining Industry has developed a series of
handbooks including the following, which have application to mine
waste covers:
Mine Rehabilitation (2006);
Mine Closure and Completion (2006); and
Biodiversity Management (2007).
The handbooks address some of the issues associated
with cover design and in particular, phytostabilisation and
evapotranspiration covers.
Appropriate design of a cover system is essential to achieve
long-term mine waste closure that is low maintenance and low
impact. However, the notion of no impact beyond the mine
waste emplacement is often not realistic. Rather, mine managers
should aim for natural attenuation or an impact zone of minimal
size, in which the surrounding environment attenuates discharges
to background or to no adverse impact.

The early development of a phytocover at a landfill site in Victoria where


the cover material was dolomitic quarry waste. Locally-sourced eucalypts,
native shrubs and grasses have been established directly into the cover.
(Photo: Alan Baker)

WWW.ENVIRONMENTALEARTHSCIENCES.COM

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012

MANAGING THE CLOSURE PROCESS


Written by Philip Mulvey
Current closure practices
Most mine closure planning occurs with the initial mine plan,
before operational data is available. At this stage, closure
planning is founded on baseline surveys and predictions as to
what will happen during mining. These predictions are known
as a conceptual site model (CSM). A CSM should include
designed/engineered features of the mine, which act to mitigate
environmental impacts. Any foreseeable or likely impacts from
the mine operation are usually included as conditions of the
mine lease, including environmental and engineering monitoring
conditions. For most mines, adequate investment in the
closure plan does not usually occur again until the mine plan
changes or the mine is approaching the end of its production life.
Consequently, although it is critical to undertake mine closure
planning progressively throughout the entire life of the mine,
confirmation and application of the closure plan is usually left until
cessation of mining is near.
Recently, the authors of this paper undertook a review of
mines around Australia and found that although many mines
had closed, very few had successfully forfeited their leases. If
quarries, alluvial mining and other surface deposit mines, such as
bauxite, and underground mines with no surface processing are
removed from the list of mines who have successfully voluntarily
forfeited their leases, the list becomes very short. Government
regulators were also interviewed as part of the authors review.
Following these interviews, the authors noted a distinct difference
between the regulators expectations for mine closure at mine
commencement, and at the end of mine production, when
expectation is replaced with cynicism from the regulator.
Example 1 below shows this relationship diagrammatically to
represent the confidence of regulators over the life of a mine, and
the mines closure costs resulting from poor closure planning over
the same period.

From Example 1, we can see that initially there is high


confidence from regulators and the community that the design
for closure will be effective, that costs are realistic and can
be managed. However, as mining proceeds, and limited or
no rehabilitation works are undertaken, and/or insufficient
communication with regulators and the community occurs,
confidence in the mining companys ability to manage the site for
mine closure diminishes.
At this point, the miner only collects the environmental data
required by their license and no more even when it becomes
apparent that the monitoring is insufficient to provide all the
information needed for closure. When production ceases, costs
start to rise rapidly as it becomes apparent that the closure plan
is inadequate and ineffective, so corrective earthworks and
rehabilitation are required. At this point, the expectation and
confidence shown by the regulator and community reaches its
lowest point, while costs for rehabilitation and closure continue
to rise and exceed the original budget. The regulator and the
community have lost faith in the ability of the mining company
to rehabilitate the site and return it to a suitable land-use whilst
minimising environmental impacts. As a consequence, the
regulator is likely to impose an extended compliance monitoring
program for the site, and insist that the mining lease be held in
perpetuity.
This lack of confidence in the miners ability to predict
environmental impacts of mine closure is the primary factor
stopping the successful forfeiture of mine leases after the
cessation of mining. Communities and regulators no longer want
to privatise profits and socialise the liabilities.
It is apparent that the two main factors leading to the loss of
confidence are:
1. a lack of acceptance of responsibility for mine waste, which is
the primary cause of environmental damage; and
2. a failure of the mine to calibrate the conceptual model used to
design the mine closure plan.

EXAMPLE 1: CURRENT APPROACH


Confidence

Expected maximum
closure cost
(planning stage)

Cynicism

Cumulative cost ($)

Design

Operations

Production
ceases

Closure

Monitoring

TIME
Schematic diagram of community and regulator confidence (red) and costs (green) over the mine life.

20

11

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012


real site-specific data had to be
generated for all the technical
aspects of closure. Therefore,
a detailed understanding of the
biogeochemistry, water in the
landscape and geomorphological
setting had to be developed
prior to closure. Current data
was collected and the long
term behaviour of the mine
was considered. The result for
the conceptual site model for
closure was that actual data was
maximised, and assumptions
were minimised.
Uranium is a radioactive
ore and the greatest amount
of radioactivity from uranium
mines generally reports to the
tailings dams. Consequently,
at Mary Kathleen, leachate
experiments were undertaken
using columns of tailings to
Investigation of tailings at the Mary Kathleen Uranium Mine tailings dam. (Photo: Philip Mulvey, 1980)
simulate long-term leachate
Therefore, the reason why there are not more success stories
chemical characteristics. Because tailings leachate is dependent
is not due to the mines lack of technical capability to do the
on pore-water volumes, rainfall intensity and rainfall duration,
work, but the current lack appropriate progressive action towards
this simulation created projected data for 100 000 years of acidic
closure.
weathering for input into the site conceptual model, rather than
using assumptions derived from chemical equilibrium.
Lessons from successful relinquishment of mine lease
As tailings geochemistry was a relatively new science at the
time, the emergence of somewhat contradictory research data
Where are the success stories, and what can we learn from
from leaching and weathering trials on alkaline uranium tailings
them? In their 30 years of experience, the authors are only aware
of one mine in Australia that has been successfully closed and the dams in Canada (Elliott Lake Mine) meant that a great deal of
effort was put into understanding the weathering behaviour of
lease handed back The Mary Kathleen Uranium Mine in northwestern Queensland.
tailings, waste rock dumps and pits at the Mary Kathleen Mine.
So what was it that worked at Mary Kathleen Mine? One of
Whenever a conceptual site model is created or a computer
the authors of this paper was involved in the closure design and
model set up, real data is needed to calibrate the model. In the
supervision of the Mine in the late 1980s, and looking back 30
case of Mary Kathleen Mine, the models for pit inflow, tailings
years, it is clear now that certain circumstances and conditions
seepage and weathering behaviour benefited from having what
was essentially a 10-year calibration during the mines closure
resulted in a process that was, in retrospect, unique.
Mary Kathleen was a uranium mine which commenced
in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Before the mining operations
operation in the early 1950s, operated until the mid-1960s and
was then placed under care and maintenance
for a decade. It was subsequently reopened
in 1976 with a known but limited life. The
groundbreaking Fox Commission Report into
Uranium Mining released 1978 and 1979
for the first time in Australia, highlighted the
environmental impacts of uranium mining. The
findings of this report were immediately applied
to the management of Mark Kathleen Mine to
actively pursue the process of closure. The
Mine began the active integration of closure
into the mine plan six years before cessation of
mining and processing. In addition, a substantial
monetary provision was made for investigating
and undertaking the closure process.
At the time, very little research had been
undertaken to understand the behaviour of
radionuclides in the environment, and studies
into tailings behaviour and seepage were in their
Rocky mulch cover riprap placement on the Mary Kathleen tailings dam (Photo: Philip
infancy. This meant that assumptions were not
Mulvey,1985)
available for a site conceptual model, and so

12

WWW.ENVIRONMENTALEARTHSCIENCES.COM

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012


recommenced in the mid 1970s, water samples
from the pit and tailings seepage were collected
and analysed, resulting in the models having a 10year calibration with real weathering data.
In the 1980s, computer modelling was very new,
and although the Apple II was released in Australia
in 1982, computer modelling was still expensive
and did not allow for numerous iterations on
parameters for sensitive analysis. This meant
that it was cheaper to spend money collecting
real data than running numerous computer
models., whereas today it is cheaper and easier to
undertake computer modelling than to collect real
data.
It is important to note that the Mary Kathleen
Mine was handed back to the regulatory authorities
in 1986. These days, it would be handed back
to the public and closure requirements are likely
to be different. Another point to note is that the
Monitoring piezometer installed at Mary Kathleen Mine to test seepage quality and rate.
Mine was closed for economic reasons and then
(Photo: Philip Mulvey)
reopened with the specific objective of closing it effectively, so
great efforts were made to calibrate the closure design model
using real data. Also, being a uranium mine, the expectation
was that it would close and never be re-opened again. With
many mines today this is not the case, and in the last several
years many abandoned mines have been reopened as the ore
becomes economic to mine again.
In conclusion, the reason why the Mary Kathleen Uranium
Mine was successful in achieving closure was due to the
1.
Is monitoring
development of a conceptual model using real data to predict
undertaken in
the long term geological behaviour of the mine waste, and
accordance with
associated
confirming the model projections with real-time calibration
Yes
No
potential risk?
throughout the life of the mine.
Consistent integration of the closure plan into mine operations
2.
was
essential. Final landform of waste rock dumps and
Category 1 Gap
Is monitoring
tailings was undertaken during mine operations. In this case,
sufficient in design
(frequency, type,
closure was not considered a separate activity but part of the
No
location etc.) to
responsibilities of the Mine Manager. During the last six months
address and mitigate
potential risk?
the milling was altered to suit the desired physical characteristics
Category 2 Gap
desirable of a self sealing tailings dam to aid long term closure
- an example of how closure planning was incorporated into the
final years of the mines operation.
Yes

Gap Analysis Process Flowchart

No

3.
Is monitoring data/output
information assessed,
interpreted and managed
to track risk alteration and
evaluate the need for
improved risk mitigation?

Category 3 Gap

Yes

No Gap identified

Gap analysis process flow chart used to identify and define gaps in
environmental monitoring systems.

How to calibrate your conceptual site model for closure:


Process Monitoring
There are two types of environmental monitoring in the mining
industry; compliance monitoring and process monitoring.
Compliance monitoring is reactive, that is, monitoring undertaken
in order to comply with a license to operate. In this type of monitoring, the mine waits for an exceedance of monitoring criteria to
occur, and subsequently reacts to the outcome of the monitoring.
Because compliance monitoring is required as part of the mining
license, it is usually done without thought on the mines part. In
compliance monitoring, only environmentally damaging parameters are monitored.
Environmental Earth Sciences have audited a range of
mines across Australia through which we review the monitoring
undertaken, and perform a Gap Analysis to identify shortcomings
in the monitoring. As a result of this experience, we have
created a flow chart for identifying and categorising gaps in
environmental monitoring programs. This chart is shown in flow
chart to the left. We rarely find that the mandated monitoring
is not undertaken (Category 1 Gap), but we frequently find it
20

13

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012

EXAMPLE 2: CONSTANT CALIBRATION


Confidence

Expected maximum
closure cost
(planning stage)

1
Cynicism

Cumulative cost ($)

Design

Production
ceases

Operations

Closure

Monitoring

TIME
Constant calibration of confidence and closure costs over the life of the mine.

is inadequate for the purpose, improperly located or incomplete


(Category 2 Gap) or the monitoring results are not interpreted
correctly or appropriately (Category 3 Gap). The problem with
this type of monitoring is that it is seen as an externality that does
not assist the process of mining; therefore it is undertaken for
the lowest cost and thus becomes prone to the types of Gaps
indicated above.
The type of monitoring undertaken to assist the process of
mining is called process monitoring. Process monitoring actually
saves the mine money over the life of the mine and, after initial
set up, is often cheaper to run than compliance monitoring.
The aim of process monitoring is to confirm the conceptual
site model for closure by confirming that the type and rate of
likely environmental impact is consistent with the model, and
the mitigation measures are behaving as designed. Process
monitoring is used to constantly calibrate the site conceptual
model by generating real data to replace assumptions in the
model.
Process monitoring also includes a designed response
strategy, which is implemented if the rate and type of
environmental impact is greater than the model predicts.
Therefore, unlike compliance monitoring, process monitoring
has contingencies built in at commencement, in case of adverse
monitoring results. For a more detailed explanation of process
monitoring and compliance monitoring, see Mulvey (1998).
Undertaking process monitoring substantially reduces the cost
of closure and the post closure monitoring time by providing a
greater understanding of the environmental impacts from mine
waste, including the chemical reactions and width of the natural
attenuation zone. This capacity to extrapolate into the future with
surety provides assurance to the community and to regulators.
As a result, process monitoring reduces scepticism and, if
consistently applied, leads to the temporal based schematic as
shown above in Example 2.
As seen in Example 2, two cost scenarios (green) are plotted
progressively, representing: 1) a progressive bond release
(release of bond subject to achieving certain benchmarks); and 2)
a single release of the bond, (release of the bond at the end of the
monitoring period). When comparing Examples 1 and 2, it can be

14

seen that constant calibration requires a small increase in costs


during production, but substantially lower costs during closure,
and a significantly reduced monitoring period.
Systematic management of mine waste
Most people have experienced the frustrating problem of computer failure, when the supplier of the hardware said that the problem
was caused by the software that they did not provide, and the
software provider said it was a hardware problem. Neither took
responsibility for the breakdown. The consumer has now learnt
that it is best to have only one supplier configure the computer
and take responsibility for its performance. Mine waste suffers a
similar hardware/software problem that has a substantial impact
on the success of mine closure. It can be summed up as follows:


mine designers do not supervise mine operation;


audits of monitoring are generally for compliance, not
technical adequacy, and so audits may miss systemic issues
that take a long time to appear or cause a problem;
ongoing monitoring is undertaken by a contractor for the
lowest cost and therefore is limited to compliance monitoring.
As such, opportunities to collect data for closure planning are
missed;
contractors undertaking earthworks for closure did not design
the closure plan and are usually paid per m3 of material
shifted. Impacts from poor earthworks may take years to
appear, by which time the contractor is gone.

The problem with this closure scenario is that there is no


systematic involvement of key players in the mining team and
their design consultants, and there is no incentive for the mine
production team to meet and implement closure objectives
throughout the mines operation. Consequently, no-one takes
responsibility for closure throughout the life of the mine and mine
managers have no incentive to do so.
A sceptical summary of key performance indicators (KPIs) of a
Mine Manager in the past might have been:

WWW.ENVIRONMENTALEARTHSCIENCES.COM

Go as fast as you can, safely and cheaply with no


environmental incidents.

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012


Note that there is no reference to being involved in an ongoing
process of achieving, economical, environmentally-sound, swift
closure. There is no incentive for process monitoring and no
system to ensure it is part of the mine culture.
So how might mine managers be encouraged to become
constantly aware of mine closure? One way is to offer them
incentives to include closure in their KPIs by the creation of a
mine closure levy. In this way the above mine managers KPI
might be rewritten as:
Go as fast as you can, safely and cheaply with no
environmental incidences, and achieve reduction in the closure
levy at the 3, 5, 8 and 12-year marks.
A closure levy is a type of user pays system, where the
department or group that creates the waste (for example,
the Mining Department) is responsible for properly handling
and storing the waste in accordance with the conceptual site
model. This is an internal process that should be controlled
by the environment department of the mine using the following
protocols:
process monitoring, not compliance monitoring;
prove initial conceptual site model assumptions with data;
closure trials; and
continual model calibration.
At the commencement of mining, performance benchmarks
should be set based on replacing assumptions in the CSM with
data and on calibration of the CSM. An example this is shown in
the box to the right.
Conclusion

A Working example of Systematic Mine


Waste Management
At commencement of mining, closure costs are estimated at
$3/m3, for example. The mine makes provision for closure to
this amount but applies an internal levy for closure. This starts
at 400% of planned closure cost per tonne, assumed to be $3/
m3 of waste rock/tailings. Thus $12/m3 for closure is allocated
to costs. The environmental departments use the money to
eliminate assumptions such as the acid/metal generation rate
in the waste rock, and the attenuation processes and capacity
of the natural environment to attenuate acid and metals. Once
the agreed, data have been derived to eliminate assumptions
in the model, the levy drops to the next level, say 250%. This
occurs progressively at each bench mark until 100% of closure
costs are put aside. Assumptions that will need to be eliminated will include weathering rates, erosion potential, revegetation
process and inputs to sustainability.
Measurement of runoff, seepage, weathering revegetation,
plant colonisation, response to storms, dust and so on, can be
used during the life of the mine for constant calibration of the
conceptual site model. With the replacement of assumptions
with real data and calibration of the conceptual site model, the
closure levy can be reduced progressively to 250%; 175%;
150%; 125%; and 100%, as the agreed monitoring benchmarks
are met for the conceptual site model.
The levy acts as an incentive for the mine management to
increase profitability, and in doing so reduces the uncertainty
associated with the site conceptual model for closure. This in
turn increases the confidence of the authorities in the site conceptual model as a predictive tool for post closure environmental impacts and therefore, reduces the post closure monitoring
time.

Today, not only is a social license to operate essential, but so too is a social license to close. For
authorities to allow the successful relinquishment of
a mining lease, it is essential for the mine operator
to reduce uncertainty in the closure predictions regarding future environmental impacts of mine waste.
To achieve this requires the systematic constant
management of mine waste and voids for closure by
either mine management or a designer-contractor
combination. Part of this systematic management is
likely to include incentivising mine managers to be
actively engaged in reducing uncertainty of the site
conceptual model for closure.
References
Mulvey (1998) Conceptual model for groundwater
monitoring around tailings dams evaporation
ponds and mills Groundwater Monitoring Mining
Environment Magazine, July 1998 pp13-20.
Rising Tide (No Date), Boggabri ProtestPhoto,
available at: http://www.risingtide.org.au/
node/1165?size=_original
Sheldon, C.G. and Strongman, J.E. (2002) Its Not
Over When Its Over: Mine Closure Around the
World; Mining and Development, World Bank
Group Mining Department, World Bank and International Finance Corporation.
Williams, Scott and Gerrard (2012) Rehabilitation
Commitments for Pits and Waste Rock Stockpiles
at Frances Creek Iron Ore Mine, ICARD 9 Proceedings, Ottawa Canada, May 2012.

Modern mine tailings storage facility with clay dust cover placement over the inactive
tailings cell, and tailings beaches in the active cell to encourage evaporation of water.
(Source: Environmental Earth Sciences, 2012)

20

15

MINE CLOSURE AND WASTE - RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIABILITIES, SEPTEMBER 2012

ABOUT THE AUTHORS


Philip Mulvey
Philip is the Chief Executive
Officer of Environmental Earth
Sciences and Technical Director
of Centre for Contaminant
Geoscience. Philip is a specialist
in soil and water chemistry as
well as interactions between the
two media. He has over 30 years
experience in environmental
geochemistry and hydrogeology
in the mining industry in both Australia and overseas. He also
has experience in contamination, landfill design, management
and decommissioning; and investigation, amelioration of acid
sulfate soil and is a statutory auditor in four states. Often, in so
doing, providing innovative new solutions that have impacted
on industry practices. He has several registered patents in soil
remediation and carbon sequestration.
Peter Scott
Peter is a Senior Principal
Environmental Geochemist, with
over 35 years experience in the
mining and mineral exploration
industries in Australia and Asia
Pacific region in geology, applied
geochemistry, and data analysis.
He is a leading specialist in the
assessment, management and
mitigation of acid, metal, and
saline drainage.
Peter specialises in mining waste management projects,
waste rock characterisation studies, leachate control and
modelling, baseline studies for monitoring leachate development
from mine waste, rehabilitation and remediation of mine waste
facilities, and development of environmental management
plans for life of mine operation. He has extensive project
management experience and supervised acid drainage
remediation projects in the gold and base metals mining, coal
mining industries. He has undertaken forensic geochemistry
studies to determine the location and quantify distribution and
volumes of reactive mining waste within existing waste rock
storages to enable effective cover design, remediation and
closure.

Professor Alan Baker


Professor Alan Baker heads
the research division of
the Environmental Earth
Sciences International
(EESI) Group, the
Centre for Contaminant
Geosciences. Professor
Bakers experience includes
pioneering roles in the fields
of botany, biotechnology
and particularly in
phytoremediation.
Alan has pioneered the
field of direct seeding and
planting of salt and metal tolerant plant species into degraded
land, tailings and waste rock in arid, temperate and sub-tropical
climates.
Alan was Professor of Botany (Ecology and Environmental
Science) at the University of Melbourne from 20002008,
where he headed the Applied Ecology Research Group in
the School of Botany. His group was involved in restoration
and revegetation projects of mineral wastes, remediation
of contaminated land and phytocapping of landfill sites, in
addition to carrying out fundamental research on heavy
metal uptake and accumulation and on the development of
new phytotechnologies. On retirement from the University of
Melbourne in 2008 he has been made an Honorary Professorial
Fellow, and Visiting Professor at the Centre for Mined Land
Rehabilitation (CMLR) at the University of Queensland and the
Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of
Sheffield, UK.
He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, and of
the UK Society of Biology, and is a Founder Member of the
UK Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management;
elected Fellow 2004. In addition to extensive work experience
in Europe, Australasia and the USA, he has worked in many
developing countries including The Philippines, Thailand,
New Caledonia, Sri Lanka, PR China, Democratic Republic of
Congo, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba and Chile. He is the author of
180 original scientific papers and articles and holds 3 patents.
Professor Baker was Editor-in-Chief (Inorganic Contaminants)
of the International Journal of Phytoremediation 1999-2009.

About Environmental Earth Sciences


Environmental Earth Sciences is a specialist environmental geosciences
firm that began operations as a consultancy firm, providing groundwater
and environmental geochemistry to the mining industry in 1984, commencing with closure of uranium mines.
With time, we have expanded to include contamination investigation and
remediation and cap design to our service, in fact any aspect associated
with the nurture, repair and sustainable utilisation of land. In order to provide a better delivery of scientific innovation we expanded our services
from consulting to include specialise contracting and research such that
environmental Earth Sciences now comprises Three Operating Divisions
providing services to the Mining Industry:
Consulting Environmental Earth Sciences
Research Centre for Contaminant Geoscience
Contracting EESI Contracting

16

WWW.ENVIRONMENTALEARTHSCIENCES.COM

Contact:

CENTRAL REGION
Sydney
PO Box 380, North Sydney NSW 2059
Ph: +61 2 9922 1777
eesnsw@environmentalearthsciences.com
office also in Orange
SOUTHERN REGION
Melbourne
PO Box 2253, Footscray VIC 3011
Ph: +61 3 9687 1666
eesvic@environmentalearthsciences.com
NORTHERN REGION
Brisbane
PO Box 3207, Newstead QLD 4006
Ph: +61 7 3852 6666
eesqld@environmentalearthsciences.com
office also in Ballina