Develop policy and program approaches for prevention of new orphaned/abandoned mines.
In 2009, the NOAMI Advisory Committee recognized that there is a policy void in the area of long-term closure, and began to examine legislative tools and policy approaches across Canada to ensure that current operating mines can be closed properly so that they do not become abandoned mines in the future. Committee members have long believed that there is a need for a clear policy framework for mine closure, long-term liabilities and return of mining lands to the Crown.
A Task Group was created to address this objective, and subsequently, Cowan Minerals Ltd. was contracted to conduct a survey on issues related to mine closure and post-closure site management. They found that processes of closure planning and provision of financial assurance are well-developed and consistently applied across Canada; however, policy around long-term management of sites beyond closure, including methods of returning mining lands to the Crown, is almost non-existent. A report was produced The Policy Framework in Canada for Mine Closure and Management of Long Term Liabilities: A Guidance Document (Cowan Minerals, 2010), which presents a policy framework, together with recommendations for preventing further accrual of abandoned mine hazards.
Building on this report, a multistakeholder workshop, Exploring the Management of Long-term Liabilities and the Return of Mining Lands to the Crown, was held in 2011. Advice and guidance was obtained from the workshop participants to assist NOAMI in developing a roadmap for managing long-term liabilities and issues relating to the return of mining lands to the Crown. A key recommendation was that a decision tree be developed for possible return of mining lands. Following the workshop, the NOAMI Advisory Committee held a strategy planning session to analyze the results of workshop and to develop the next steps for the return of the mining lands project. A new Task Group was formed to focus on developing material towards return of mining lands.
Cowan Minerals Ltd. was contracted to complete a two-part study Case Studies and Decision-Making Process for the Relinquishment of Closed Mine Sites (July 2013). The first part examined six case studies from different Canadian jurisdictions that describe closed mine sites that either were returned to the Crown, were in the process of making such an application, or would contribute relevant information towards their return. The second part, a decision tree or process identified key issues and questions that need to be addressed to determine if a site should be brought under government jurisdiction, or remain the responsibility of the operator. A Five-Step approach was laid out for regulators and industry to consider when determining if a site could, or should, be returned to the Crown.
The report concludes that mining projects should be designed with the objective of reclaiming the site for possible relinquishment and future beneficial use. The report makes it clear that relinquishment would not be possible where the environmental, social, political or financial risks/costs are too great.
An effective long-term monitoring and maintenance programs is a component of successful management of sites, including closed, orphaned/abandoned mines sites and mine exploration sites. A strategy needs to be in place, as part of the effort to eliminate future mine abandonments. Kingsmere Resource Services undertook a study Key Criteria for the Effective Long-term Stewardship of Closed, Orphaned/Abandoned Mine and Mineral Exploration Sites (2015) to develop criteria to assess these sites in order to evaluate their condition. To assist in this, a field characterization report was created to record observations during the site visit. Risk posed by these hazards – to public safety, and to ecological and human health – were identified and evaluated.
The return of mining lands project has produced several tools and guidance documents that will contribute to the prevention of future abandoned mines.