An investigation of mine closure : gold mine case studies on the East Rand in South Africa
Nel, Johannes Hendrik
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This research is on mines that struggle to obtain closure from the state departments. The closure process at the footprints of five Tailings Storage Facilities (TSFs) of a South African gold mine was investigated. They are situated in the Germiston, Brakpan, Springs and Nigel suburbs of the East Rand region of Johannesburg. Very limited scientific research has been done in South Africa on the management of mine closure. The most recent performed research was completed at Coal mines and only one was at an underground gold mine. The history of the case studies at a surface gold mine revealed similar problems, as confirmed in previous research, during the interviews with mine management and the review of operational documents. There is a whole array of causes giving rise to the struggle to obtain closure by a mine, that will be subsequently discussed. Major causes are the lack of estimation of closure costs and the lack of a proper Project Life Cycle (PLC) process for closure by mine management. Previous investigations indicated a general shortfall in estimated closure costs, mining operations that are not planned with closure in mind, closure objectives that are not set at all management levels, final land use after mine closure that is not defined properly, residual and latent impacts that are not dealt with, the post-closure period when the final impact will occur that is not defined and a proper risk assessment based on detailed information that is not properly done and communicated. Another cause is that the integrated process of making closure part of the Environmental Management Programme Report (EMPR) process is not followed. The result of not following the correct process is that mines do not obtain closure. Another reason why mines do not obtain closure is because of an underdeveloped mine infrastructure, e.g. tailings facilities, waste rock dumps, shafts and plants that are not constructed in an environmentally friendly way during the operational phases to facilitate closure. Therefore, these structures need to be changed in terms of their topography and growth medium to ensure an improvement in environmental parameters. This will assist in obtaining sustainability and final closure. Significantly more trust fund money than initially estimated during operations needs to be spent to ensure the above change. Specific issues defined from the case studies were the adaptation of the administration of the closure process, the management of risks, especially the differences in opinions, the management of the mine life cycle for closure and involvement of the land owners and Interested and Affected Parties (l&APs). This research was necessary because companies are uncertain and lack the competency to estimate and to correctly spend trust fund money in order to be sure of obtaining closure. This situation threatens the long-term survival of mining-companies by holding assets and profits back until closure is attained. The state departments also have to address the risks and have to rehabilitate the polluted mine sites if companies do not obtain closure. A proper PLC to facilitate closure was compiled from the above-mentioned data. An important fact to bear in mind is that the activities within the life cycle depend on one another. Therefore, when one activity is disregarded or not properly performed, it will influence the outcome of the remaining activities. The methodology of the research was as follows: Categories to evaluate the closure process of the selected case studies were determined from the project life cycle and the management principles of the literature review. Thereafter a questionnaire was developed from these categories. The questionnaire was subsequently used to guide interviews. After the interviews these categories and findings from the questionnaire were combined and summarised into key findings. The key findings of the research were: • The driving force behind obtaining closure must shift from the State Departments to the mining companies. They must realise there is an opportunity during the closure process to make money and to minimise their long-term liability. The mining company must thus drive the closure process to obtain environmental sustainability. • The gold mines do have problems in terms of cost estimation and trust fund expenditure at their TSF footprints during the closure process. The reasons were a mismanagement of the closure process and making use of a limited information system to make decisions. • A proper closure process does exist, but it can be improved to ensure all interested and affected parties have the same expectations from closure. • There are many activities in the closure process flow diagram which were not properly attended to according to the case studies. • A conceptual closure plan and a draft rehabilitation plan with broad objectives, policies and strategies with detailed descriptions were not compiled during the operational phase, because limited scientific monitoring information was gathered to do a proper risk assessment and some l&APs consultation was done mainly with the material and land owners on a one on one basis. From these key findings the following recommendations could be formulated: • Any mining operation should conduct a closure audit at least every second year and before mining activities change. • A searchable record keeping system must be established to keep track of the closure life cycle development. • Detailed conceptual and final closure plans need to capture the data from the audits and record keeping system. • A communication forum with company management and environmental specialists needs to be established.