In the fall, I moderated a roundtable discussion on mine closure at The Northern Miner’s inaugural Progressive Mine Forum. Unfortunately, about half of the audience got up and left the room just before we started.
It was the last discussion of the day, so one might be tempted to chalk it up to fatigue or an effort to get an early jump on post-conference drinks. But, in reality, it’s not an unusual reaction to the topic of mine closure. It just seems to make miners’ eyes glaze over.
The paradox, however, is that mine closure is actually the subject that the public is most interested in – and the source of a lot of opposition to mining (see Page 29).
Water and tailings management – especially in the wake of the 2014 Mount Polley tailings dam failure – is at the heart of the mining industry’s ability to earn a social licence to operate. That makes it an existential issue for miners.
A timely example is Western Copper & Gold’s Casino project in the Yukon (Page 25). The large porphyry copper-gold deposit had already entered the permitting process when the Mount Polley failure occurred. But the 120,000-tonne-per-day proposed project, which would require sizable tailings facilities, is seeing increased scrutiny as a result of Mount Polley. In response to concerns around tailings, Western Copper & Gold is having to make changes to some elements of its original proposal. Chiefly, the company is investigating design changes to the tailings dam that would reduce the amount of stored water – and therefore the impact of any potential failure – at Casino.
Water and environmental management are also top concerns for another group that has an even bigger say in whether resource projects get approved – Aboriginal groups.
Indigenous communities across the country have found their voices when it comes to resource development and many other issues – and the courts and governments are listening (see Page 15).
Some communities are using their growing power to demand a different approach to environmental assessments – an emerging trend that Hans Matthews, president of the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association (CAMA) sheds light on in an interview with CMJ (Page 11).
In British Columbia, we see something of a perfect storm when it comes to conflict around mineral development. The province is mineral-rich – including in porphyry deposits whose development necessarily has a big and visible impact on the land; there are unsettled land claims across much of the province; and its dramatic landscapes of majestic mountains and wild rivers invite the passionate efforts of environmentalists to protect it and preserve it from change (Page 20).
Mining companies hoping to develop mines there will increasingly have to prove much more than the economics of their projects – they’ll have to shrink their project footprints and meet an extremely high bar in environmental management.
There’s no better reason for miners to get interested in mine closure and what they leave behind when a deposit is mined out.
Because what companies have left behind in the past haunts the entire industry
today. And the pressure is on to do better.