Reframing mining as a ‘temporary land use’
The ﬁeld of mine closure has changed dramatically over the past few decades, with vast improvements in the technical aspects of closure, ﬁnancial assurance and community engagement.
But the ﬁeld is far from ﬁnished evolving.
Case in point is the Social Aspects of Mine Closure Research Consortium. Established in 2019, the consortium is an industry-university research collaboration with the University of Queensland in Australia that aims to challenge accepted industry norms around mine closure. That includes going beyond current industry best practices and placing people at the centre of closure. Industry partners include Anglo American, BHP Billiton, MMG, Newcrest, Newmont, Oceana Gold and Rio Tinto.
In March, the consortium released a report on the repurposing of mine sites after closure. Aiming to enhance the industry’s contribution to sustainable development, it reframes mining as a “temporary land use.” (The report, Mining as a temporary land use: industry-led transitions and repurposing, is available at https://www.mineclosure.net.)
The researchers developed a global database of repurposing cases building on the S&P Global Market Intelligence database, relevant literature and other public information. Ultimately, they put together a database of 141 cases around the world.
The research, focused on ﬁnding cases of a sub-set of those projects led by industry, found that post-mining land use and associated economies have become a priority in mine lifecycle planning.
What is interesting is that even with the greater importance being placed on post-mining land use, there is very little public data available on the topic, especially compared to data on abandoned and historical mines.
“The little information available about repurposing from company websites may reflect a focus on rehabilitation over repurposing, but also that barriers to repurposing exist (either imaginative or practical),” reads the report. “Where we did ﬁnd examples of repurposing, we nonetheless found it difﬁcult to access detailed information about the social, regulatory, ﬁnancial processes that enabled repurposing.”
As such, the report can only represent the start of research into this ﬁeld, but the authors did make some interesting observations.
First, there were very few cases of repurposing relative to the thousands of closed mines that exist around the world.
Of repurposing cases that it did ﬁnd, the most common land uses were community and culture; conservation and ecosystem services; non-intensive recreation; education and research; and construction.
Of the 141 cases identiﬁed, 47 of the projects were led by industry, with companies with long-life mines more likely to lead this type of investment. That association is notable, as it implies that mines become part of the community in a real and tangible way, given a long enough time span for the mining company to “put down roots.”
While many of the more common post-mining land uses, such as hiking trails or wildlife habitat, are not economic drivers, given the report’s ﬁnding that economic diversiﬁcation is a growing focus for companies, communities and governments, we expect to see income-generating uses gain prominence. These discussions can be challenging (see our interview with mine closure expert Jeff Parshley on page 22), but with all stakeholders motivated to see positive post-mining outcomes, we are excited to see the innovative new possibilities they generate in future.