Orphaned or abandoned mines are those mines for which the owner cannot be found or for which the owner is financially unable or unwilling to carry out clean-up. They pose environmental, health, safety and economic problems to communities, the mining industry and governments in many countries, including Canada.
Abandoned mines exist within all mining jurisdictions in Canada. These sites, however, are not well documented with respect to either their numbers or their associated physical/health/environmental impacts and liabilities. Further research and compilation of information on abandoned mines is necessary to enable sound decision-making, cost-efficient planning and sustainable rehabilitation. Such information is also necessary to ensure transparency of decision-making and access to information by governments, civil society, industry and other stakeholders.
In 1999 and 2000, a number of stakeholders put forth requests to Mines Ministers in Canada to establish a joint industry-government working group, assisted by other stakeholders, to review the issue of abandoned mines. The Ministers supported this initiative and requested that a multi-stakeholder workshop be organized to identify key issues and priorities.
The Workshop on Orphaned/Abandoned Mines in Canada, held in June 2001 in Winnipeg, reviewed the issues of orphaned/abandoned mine sites in Canada and identified processes to move forward. Five major themes were discussed:
- Building a National Inventory;
- Community Perspectives;
- Setting Standards and Rational Expectations;
- Ownership and Liability Issues; and
- Identification of Funding Models.
Participants developed consensus on objectives and guiding principles for further work and recommended that a multi-stakeholder national Orphaned/Abandoned Mines advisory committee be formed to study various issues and initiatives relating to the development of partnerships in the implementation of remediation programs across Canada. Workshop participants considered that with adequate resources and resolve, significant progress can be made in the assessment, characterization and remediation/reclamation of orphaned and abandoned mine sites within 5-10 years.
Workshop recommendations were presented at the Mines Ministers’ Conference held in September 2001 at which Ministers agreed on the importance of a large-scale program for the rehabilitation of orphaned/abandoned mine sites and endorsed the recommendation to form a National Advisory Committee. The guiding principles and objectives from the 2001 Workshop will underpin the terms of reference for activities of the National Advisory Committee throughout its duration.