Mine closure has become a hot topic in recent years as stakeholder engagement and investor concerns over mining’s sustainability credentials have risen up the company agenda.
With Gecamin’s 4th International Congress on Planning for Mine Closure only a month away (May 10-13, online), IM touched base with Kim Ferguson, Global Practice Leader of Closure at BHP, and Chair of Planning for Closure 2022, to find out what attendees can expect from the event and how the sector has evolved in the last decade.
IM: Why is now an important time to hold a mine closure congress? What makes this gathering integral to the future of the industry?
KF: As the ESG (environment, social and governance) concept receives increased awareness, so too does the concept of applying these considerations across the full life cycle of a mine, including the closure and post-closure periods. Planning and implementing responsible mine closures take time, and it is imperative that, as an industry and as stakeholders involved in the process, we all learn from each other and, together, improve our performance.
Mining is an inevitable part of our modern life and the pathway to global decarbonisation and through improved performance in closure, we contribute to the ongoing viability of the industry and the benefits the industry brings. Planning for Closure 2022 provides a critical interactive platform for sharing of this knowledge and networking for ongoing connectivity.
IM: Reflecting on the last Planning for Closure event in 2020: what has changed? Are there any congress themes to have emerged that were not present two years ago?
KF: There are no themes that were not present two years ago, however there are two themes which have increased in prominence in the technical program. The first is mine closure regulation and standards. Revision of mine closure regulations has occurred in a number of countries and jurisdictions in the past two years, evolving to better reflect current
stakeholder expectations. The second is stakeholder engagement in closure planning. The increase in technical papers for this theme reflects the improved awareness globally that mine closure is a collaborative and participatory process with all stakeholders having a role.
BHP has committed to integrating closure into its planning, decision-making and activities through the entire life cycle of its operated assets. From what you see, is the rest of the industry taking similar steps to ensure operations are responsibly concluded for the benefit of all stakeholders?
KF: Absolutely. As part of the International Council on Mining and Metals, we regularly discuss closure with our peers as we all face similar challenges. The industry, in general, is taking similar steps to increase the uniformity of good practice across the sector.
IM: How has the process of planning for mine closure changed in the last decade? Have you seen more stakeholders come to the table interested in mine closure from a much earlier stage in a project’s life?
KF: The evolution of the ICMM Integrated Mine Closure: Good Practice Guide from the 2009 version to the 2019 version indicates how far the industry has come and provides a valuable resource for responsible mine closure planning and execution. The evolution has been predominately around expansion of closure considerations from rehabilitation to a
more holistic concept including environmental, social and economic aspects from the earliest stages of mine development. There has also been an increased awareness that closure planning, along with mine planning and external influences, is dynamic and iterative.
IM: At the same time, have you seen the evolution of mining software and real-time monitoring solutions improve the mine closure planning process? Is this making it easier to effectively outline the long-term plans to these stakeholders?
KF: There has definitely been an evolution of mining-related software and monitoring systems that improve the efficiency and accuracy of monitoring. This in turn improves data availability and integrity across the full life cycle of a mine. When this data is combined with other information, it contributes to a reduction in uncertainty and allows for more informed closure planning, leading to improved outcomes for all.
IM: How do you see the concept of mine closure changing over the next decade? Will it become even more embedded in the project development process with the post-closure mine future becoming a more important part of companies gaining and retaining their social licence to operate?
KF: Closure is already an important component for the industry to obtain and retain regulatory licences to operate as regulation evolves to increasingly require closure planning and progressive execution as an integral part of resource operations. Responsible mine closure is also already an important component in the industry being able to obtain and retain our social licence to operate and enable access to new resources, and, with growing awareness of ESG, this will likely increase.
I believe over the next decade mine closure concepts will continue to evolve to reflect stakeholder expectations and that the industry’s role is as a responsible and respectful temporary steward of the land on which we operate. This requires ongoing embedment of closure considerations in all stages of a mine life cycle until integrated closure is simply part of the way we do business.
IM is a media sponsor of Planning for Closure 2022