Next week in Brazil is the first InfoMine conference on Mine Closure. About ninety folk will gather to discuss mine closure in Brazil and South America. I have read the papers: not a lot of fascination to the rest of us. Mostly about the theory and postulated future of mine closure laws & regulations in countries that currently have none. The middle of May, I present an EduMine webcast on Mine Closure. In the webcast I will review the best few papers from the Brazil conference. I will also present current case histories of mine closure that I am working on. And I will go through the theory and practice and issues of mine closure in general. Come join me.
The point is that today, I dealt with a mine where we incorporated mine closure considerations into the mine operation ab initio. A nice Latin phrase! But a critical one loaded with implications. For if you can take closure into account in design, you can save the mine much money and get it good will.
I am told the regulators come to the site and are impressed by reclamation work in progress even though the mine has been going but a few short months. We designed the combined tailings and waste rock pile as an integrated unit. As the unit rises, we place previously stripped top soil over the waste rock that is the outer surface of the unit and in the soil we plant vegetation: trees, grasses, coffee plants, and other plants that make weeds and weed.
Now I am not a weed lover. The last time I did it, I went numb. The resulting love-making was dulled and not sensuous. I prefer the immediate, visceral body response of unaffected flesh.
The EduMine webcast will also present a long presentation of a mine closure plan I am developing for an old mine that still has decades to operate. It is all about the closure bond.
How do you establish closure cost to be incurred twenty years hence? How do you establish a bond to cover perpetual mine water treatment? How do you implement a better closure approach that your gut tells you is better, but which is fraught with so many uncertainties that the cognoscenti laugh?
My answer: ignore them; deny them; go with your judgment; and push ahead!
They will carp & criticise. They will ask that superbly stupid question: what happens when a tree falls over?
Tell them that in philosophy a tree falling unheard is or is not a fallen tree. (Is there an elephant in the desk if you have not existential experience thereof?) Or tell them that a laborer will cut the tree up for firewood and fill in the hole with soil from a small bucket.
Deep stuff. But important.
Today I also dealt with a proposed mine where they are still trying to define what will be. My gut feel is this is not a mine. How they will ever prove that the tailings will not contaminate every downgradient waterbody is beyond me. How they will ever show that they can close this mine without perpetual surveillance & maintenance is beyond me.
Kind of like Pascua Lama that I read about today in a magazine, Report on Business that came with the Globe and Mail. To give you a taste of a well-written article (not sure of its accuracy) here are some paragraphs that caught my attention:
Pascua-Lama is a gold mine, but in truth it is another precious resource—water—that has shaped its story. Water is an emotional issue in the Atacama, the driest desert on Earth. The mine sits atop a mountain covered in pale brown dirt, with barely a shrub on its steep sides. But two fast streams run down from the peak, feeding into the wide, shallow ribbon of the Huasco River, which winds agate-green along the valley floor. In a monochromic landscape, the area around the town of Alto del Carmen, in the heart of the valley, can seem like a mirage. The ribbon of trees and feathery grasses that line the riverbanks, the blocks of grapevines and fruit trees, are all hard to credit in the otherwise forsaken landscape. Water is treasured here, imbued with spiritual significance by the indigenous people, and shared through elaborate and age-old community schemes.
But gold mining is a water-intensive industry, reliant on chemicals including cyanide that can end up lacing a mine’s waste water. To obtain its permit, Barrick had to demonstrate how it would keep that water safe: by processing on the Argentine side, where water scarcity was less of an issue; by building a canal system to divert glacial runoff, groundwater and precipitation around the pit and slag heap, keeping the water free of any of the natural acidity in the rock; by extracting ore in a closed-loop process that would destroy cyanide. Any water (whether precipitation or groundwater) that did come into contact with the mine would be treated before being used in mining operations. But Barrick’s glossy brochures explaining all this don’t seem to have reassured many people in the valley. From the outset, they worried that the river might be poisoned, or run dry.
It was Barrick’s bad luck to be trying to put a gold mine in a place where most people didn’t have a lot of money—and didn’t much care. People who live in Alto del Carmen, in simple one-storey houses, with a lone café facing the church across a shady town square, think of it as a rare and special place. In other environments where Barrick has built or operated mines—in the mountains of Peru, for example, or rural Tanzania—it has found a population hungry for jobs and anything else the company promises. In Alto del Carmen, people were glad to have the new opportunities that might come with the mine—but not at the cost of their current way of life, or their water. “People here have a strong relationship with their land—the people don’t want to work in mining, they work their land,” explains Jorge Villar, the town’s administrator. A former finance manager, he moved to the valley a few years ago, drawn by its hypnotic landscape and the peaceful life it offered. In Pascua-Lama, he saw potential jobs and revenue for the town. But most of his new neighbours, he soon realized, did not. “They’re not interested in the mining company offering them big salaries. Because if you change their way of life and their environment, what are they going to offer their children and their grandchildren?”
How you close such a mine is beyond me.