In this article:
- Mine closure was the topic of discussion at the recent Future of Resources Technology luncheon, hosted by Business News and Decipher
- In 2017, researcher Matthew Fincuane-Woodman reported that there had been just three cases of relinquishment in WA; while CRC-TiME, CEO Guy Boggs added BHP’s Beenup Titanium Minerals Project in 2018 to that count
- THE collapse of Vale’s Brumadinho tailings dam in Brazil in January 2019 shook confidence in the global resources sector. While WA’s drier, flatter and less populated conditions differ from Brazil’s, making a Brumadinho-style collapse unlikely here, Decipher CEO Anthony Walker said safety and trust issues still need to be addressed, as tailings dam failures are a global threat
- There are now a number of international bodies researching and reporting on risks posed by tailings facilities, setting standards and recommending best practice procedures including ICMM, PRI, and UNEP
- Decipher’s Tailings solution has been specifically designed to adhere to the recommendations and requirements of these organisations
- See what score you get for your Rehabilitation and Closure program
- Find out about Decipher’s Rehabilitation and Closure solution
The mining industry has a big focus on the development of new projects but there is a lingering issue around the management of mine closures. While circumstances differ across jurisdictions and commodities, there’s enough common ground for it to be a rich topic for discussion at the recent Future of Resources Technology luncheon.
THE life of a mine starts with a hunch, followed by investigation, establishing proof, securing funding and approvals and bootson-the-ground work. What happens at the other end is less clear cut. The resource runs out, promises made at the outset about leaving the site in good order should be met, and then the land is relinquished to its next custodian and the tenement is technically closed. In theory, that’s the relinquishment process, but it’s a messy business for a number of reasons and one that has only happened in a handful of cases. In 2017 researcher Matthew Fincuane-Woodman reported that there had been just three cases of relinquishment in WA: Norgold/Rio Tinto’s Bottle Creek gold project in 2001, Alcoa’s Jarrahdale bauxite project in 2005, and Iluka Resources’ Yoganup mineral sands project in 2013.
See what score you get for your Rehabilitation and Closure program
Cooperative Research Centre for Transformations in Mining Economies (CRC-TiME), CEO Dr Guy Boggs added BHP’s Beenup Titanium Minerals Project in 2018 to that count and estimated that less than 12 mines have been officially relinquished Australia-wide. In contrast, the number of abandoned mines in Australia was estimated to be over 50,000 in 2012; and that figure still echoes through more recent federal government papers on the topic. While some of these are small and historic, there are 180 mines currently operating that, according to their paperwork, are due to close by 2030.
So, while there are processes that are supposed to be followed, they usually aren’t and the issue is getting more pressing. There are clues about why in a study by David Laurence published in 2002. It showed that almost 70% of the mines that closed in the previous 25 years in Australia did so for unexpected or unplanned reasons, other than the depletion of reserves. These included economic, geological, technical, regulatory and community-based reasons that left good intentions about end-of-mine-life by the wayside. There’s agreement across government and industry that poorly closed, abandoned mines are bad for the industry’s reputation, bad for the communities living nearby and bad for governments left with legal and financial responsibility for the land, and as a result there has been a swathe of research and a number of policy decisions aimed at holding companies accountable.
But the problem is not yet solved. Researcher Chris Tiemann and his colleagues conducted a review of policy across Australia and told a 2019 Mine Closure Conference that “no clear pathway to relinquishment exists within mine closure legislation.” Giving an industry perspective, IGO Ltd CEO Peter Bradford said:
“One of the main problems is the use in existing agreements of phrases like ‘reasonable standards’, where there are no clear parameters given to define reasonableness, and society’s expectations are changing over the course of a mine’s life.” – IGO Ltd CEO, Peter Bradford
Iluka Resources General Manager Strategic Development and Closure, Tim Bartholomew, said a sticking point with risk transfer was often that “future custodians are reluctant to accept responsibility, if they perceive unquantified risks.” He said the industry needed to reframe the risk discussion, and seek innovative solutions to quantify, communicate and mitigate risk, to avoid a situation where it can be said: “You have ticked all the boxes, but the residual risks are still unacceptable.”
Regis Resources CEO Jim Beyer added that:
“Overlapping regulatory requirements at the outset of a project could cause confusion and uncertainty that can, in turn, delay the start of mining, and the flow of revenue and royalties.” – Regis Resources CEO, Jim Beyer
Dr Boggs said that these are the challenges the CRC-TiME was established to investigate, and there’s a lot of work to be done over the next decade. He added that as well as focussing on the problems, it’s important to also consider the upsides of accelerating relinquishment, as in many cases the land could be used for purposes with more community benefits. In March the Federal Government announced funding of $29.5 million in support of the CRC-Time, topping up the $105 million in cash and in-kind contributions it raised from its state government and industry partners. According to Dr Boggs one of the first things the CRC will be doing is getting groups together to talk about levels of acceptability. While legislation is progressively being implemented by state governments to limit common practices, such as selling near end of-life mines to smaller, less stable companies that can go bankrupt and abandon responsibility for rehabilitation, Dr Boggs said the thinking needs to be broader than just looking at policy. He hoped the CRC would usher in a new vision for mine closure and positive mine transitions through effective stakeholder engagement, research planning and innovative solutions.
A sticking point with risk transfer was often that future custodians are reluctant to accept responsibility, if they perceive unquantified risks. – Iluka Resources General Manager Strategic Development and Closure, Tim Bartholomew (right)
Cloud platform company Decipher is among the 74 partners in the CRC-TiME, because of the innovative technical services it can provide to support interactions between mining companies, regulators and other stakeholders. Decipher CEO Anthony Walker said its main aim is to put meaningful data onto the desks of the people who can use it in practical ways. It can arrange for data to be gathered via a wide range of technologies and contractors, and also ensure it is presented in a way that is useful.
One of the innovative ideas gaining traction is the notion that rehabilitation can begin during the productive life of the mine, and progress can be regularly reported. He said progressive rehabilitation allowed companies to gain the trust of communities during the life of an operation, and that this aspect is also aligned with new global thinking about tailings facility management. Last year the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) and Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) co-convened a global tailings review to establish an international standard, that is scheduled for release in the next few weeks. According to Mr Walker, the standard is likely to call for better monitoring and reporting and that innovative technology will play a key part in enabling companies to comply.
“Decipher works closely with the regulators, to find out how they want to see the data, then we work with companies on how we can get that right.” – Decipher CEO, Anthony Walker
Lynas Corporation VP of operations Kam Leung said that in the rare earths industry there was growing demand for transparency, leading to greater demand for better monitoring and reporting. He said: “A lot of our products are used in digital and green technology where there is a need for assurance about the supply chain processes.”
Perseus Mining CEO Jeff Quartermaine, added that while he preferred working face-to-face with stakeholders of his company’s operations in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the Covid-19 travel restrictions had underlined the value of remote sensing and monitoring in circumstances where site visits were not possible. Dr Boggs said that Australia’s wealth of knowledge about mining and its technological capabilities meant it was well positioned to become a global leader on mine closure and that the question that industry and governments needed to consider was: “How do we take advantage of that?”
Driving progressive closure
Tailings Management – Mitigating Risk
THE collapse of Vale’s Brumadinho tailings dam in Brazil in January 2019 was the 11th serious tailings dam failure in a decade. With a death toll of 259, it shook confidence in the global resources sector. The dam was constructed using the “upstream method”, meaning it was made from tailings, and this was the construction method used to build 131 of the 800 tailings facilities in Western Australia. While WA’s drier, flatter and less populated conditions differ from Brazil’s, making a Brumadinho-style collapse unlikely here, Decipher CEO Anthony Walker said safety and trust issues still need to be addressed, as tailings dam failures are a global threat. There are now a number of international bodies researching and reporting on risks posed by tailings facilities, setting standards and recommending best practice procedures. These include Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative, International Council on Mining and Minerals, Global Tailings Portal, Principles for Responsible Investment, and the United Nations Environment Programme.
Mr Walker said:
“Decipher’s proprietary monitoring, data management and cloud platform were specifically designed to adhere to the recommendations and requirements of these organisations.”
The secure, cloud-based product brings together data from Internet-of-Things devices, monitoring, LiDAR, and remote sensing to provide up-to-date information to improve decision making and operational visibility. He describes the integrated end-to-end information management system as one that offers both a macro view, from technologies like satellite imagery “that give a big chunky overview of everything happening on the ground”, and micro level imagery “from technologies such as LiDAR imagery, that can be deployed quickly and have the ability to hone in on those areas of concern, giving results in real time. He said it combines compliance management software with mining waste management, stakeholder engagement, environmental monitoring, and environmental management system tools to help drive safety improvements in the most cost-effective manner.[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YiWhH_qXQY[/embedyt]
TO a fast-growing extent, the Internet of Things is trumping the tyranny of distance in the WA mining sector, providing precision data in real time. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the catchphrase for technologies that connect sensors on a range of devices and appliances to the internet and to other machines and equipment. IoT provides a huge amount of data that, handled efficiently, can diagnose faults, detect seismic activity, and enhance safety and security.
According to Decipher CEO Anthony Walker, the key to making it work is having systems in place to reliably store, process and present the data. He explained that a range of new, relatively low cost, devices were available that could provide live alerts and real time data from mine, and oil and gas, sites. One of the best examples of this is the Edge IoT LiDAR module Decipher is now deploying with partner, GlassTerra. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology uses light or non-visible electromagnetic radiation to detect and measure the distance between objects. It can detect minute movements in structures, building topographical models that can be compared to previous data or the system can be programmed to scan continuously, triggering alerts if events happen, such as unplanned earth movements. He said the advantages of using IoT LiDAR were that it offered better real time monitoring of remote locations than Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) from satellite sources, in some cases reducing the need for staff to travel, and that data from a range of locations was stored and accessible from a single source. He explained that data could be integrated with GIS for easy visualisation and interpretations, and it could be formatted and aggregated for compatibility with government and corporate compliance processes, such as environmental monitoring. Decipher can also integrate the LiDAR data with data from other sources, such as maps and weather monitoring, and InSAR data.Originally published by Mining Technology.
Decipher’s Rehabilitation & Closure SolutionArmed with Decipher’s Rehabilitation & Closure solution, including GIS, remote sensing, monitoring and management tools means you can easily capture and analyse a wide range of environmental monitoring data, manage risks and issues around put backfilling, rapid flooding, slope instability and acid generation, and ensure you’re meeting your environmental obligations and compliance with alerts and notifications of exceedances.
Want to find out more about mine rehabilitation?
- What is mine rehabilitation and closure?
- What are some key challenges facing mine rehabilitation and closure?
- How much does mine rehabilitation cost?
- What are the advancements in mine rehabilitation technology?
- What are some best practice mine rehabilitation methods?
- How to take a macro and micro approach to mine rehabilitation
- What is CRC-TiME?
- How to become an industry leader in mine rehabilitation
- Download this free Guide to Mine Rehabilitation in Australia