Historically, closed mines were simply abandoned. This led to widespread and toxic contamination of local ecosystems. The infamous Mt. Washington Mine, for example, was a major contributor to the loss of salmon stocks in the Tsolum River on Vancouver Island.1 Salmon did not return until millions of taxpayer dollars were spent on remediation. Similarly, BC’s Britannia Beach mine site cost taxpayers $70 million to remediate and address its toxicity issues.2
Today, mine closure has become an integral part of the planning process before mining activities begin.3 This reflects a common expression in the mining industry that ‘the day a mine opens, it begins to close.’
This chapter delves into legal provisions on the following issues related to mine closure:
- Closure plans (when they are required, what they must contain, and how they should be reviewed and approved);
- Work Stoppage
- Post-closure community development;
- Reclamation (to what standards, monitoring and reporting, and decommissioning mining infrastructure);
- Release of mine permit obligations; and
- Orphaned mines.
Closure plans are generally prepared early in the development of a mine and included in the mine permit application. Early closure plan preparation is important for setting acceptable reclamation objectives, identifying methods of achieving these objectives, and developing a cost estimate as a basis for mine reclamation security (also referred to as reclamation bonds).
Overview of BC Law
BC law mandates short-term and long-term reclamation planning. Proponents must submit two mine reclamation plans as part of the initial mine permit application process:4
(1) Short-term operational plan detailing reclamation over the upcoming five years; and
(2) Conceptual final reclamation plan for mine closure that includes:
- details on long-term post-closure maintenance; and
- proposed use and capability objectives for the land and watercourses.5
Provincial policy further encourages proponents to include the following in the conceptual final reclamation plan:6
- end land use objectives;
- land capability objectives;
- long-term stability, both physical and chemical, for all structures and discharges from the mine;
- structures and/or equipment to remain in place following mine decommissioning plans for long term post-closure facility maintenance;
- reclamation of waste dump and tailings;
- reclamation of pit and underground workings;
- sealing of underground workings;
- watercourse reclamation;
- road reclamation;
- proposed program to assess trace element uptake in soils and vegetation at mine closure;
- disposal of toxic chemicals; and
- operational and post-closure monitoring.
Subject to the Chief Inspector’s discretion, the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia (HSR Code) further requires short and long-term plans to:7
- take into consideration the health and safety of the public and workers;
- make it as practicable as possible in the future to mine zones affected by the plan;
- protect the land and watercourses; and
- be prepared by licensed professionals, or persons who, in the opinion of the Chief Inspector, are qualified to perform the work, when so required by the Chief Inspector.
Under BC law, the Chief Inspector also has significant discretion in reviewing and deciding whether to approve a mine closure plan. This includes the discretion to decide: whether to refer the application to other ministers and agencies for recommendations;8 whether to demand that licensed professionals prepare the plans;9 the level of public participation; and whether to integrate the mine plan with local land use plans.
The law grants broad discretion to the Governor in Council,10 the Minster, and the Chief Inspector to consider the unique challenges and considerations for different mines. This also means, however, that the authorities, and in particular the Chief Inspector, may deviate from the typical requirements and make decisions independently of the views of others, including proponents, other government agencies, First Nations, landowners, members of the public, or other affected and interested parties.
Although closure plans are included with the mine permit application in BC, the Chief Inspector retains the discretion to decide whether notice of the mine permit application must be published in local newspapers.11 Where published, persons affected by such a notice, or interested in the application, only have 30 days to submit written representations to the Chief Inspector.12
BC law also does not mandate that closure plans be reviewed by other agencies. Since mining activities can have far-reaching impacts, however, it is important that government departments and agencies with relevant interests also review closure plans before mine permit approvals are granted.
The requirement for and content of closure plans in BC is subject to the Chief Inspector’s significant discretion. In addition, there are inadequate legal requirements to promote transparent and consistent closure plan reviews, revisions, and amendments. There are no mandatory legal requirements to have closure plan reviewed by interested parties or that any such recommendations made actually be adopted.
Incorporate closure plan policy requirements into law
[Tags: Closure; Reclamation Plans; Closure Plans; Legislation]
In BC, both the statutory and policy requirements for mine closure plans are subject to the Chief Inspector’s discretion. In contrast, in Newfoundland and Labrador, reclamation and closure plan guidelines are incorporated by direct reference into the law.13 This helps ensure that important content is included in all closure plans, plans meet set standards, and the potential for adverse effects is considered in advance and thereby minimized at closure.
- Closure Plans
- Overview of BC Law
- Adequate Review of Closure Plans
- First Nations and Public Consultation
- Post-Closure Land Use
- Work Stoppage
- Post-Closure Community Development
- Research and Development
- Local Manufacturing
- Site Reclamation
- Progressive Reclamation
- Reclamation Standards
- Overview of BC Law
- Reclamation Standards for Re-Vegetation, Growth Media and Metal Uptake
- Reclamation Standards for Landforms
- Reclamation Standards for Water Courses and Water Quality
- Reclamation Standards for Chemicals and Re-agents
- Reclamation Monitoring & Reporting
- Infrastructure Decommissioning
- Mine Plants, Buildings & Equipment
- Hazardous Waste Facilities
- Mine Openings – Underground Workings and Open Pits
- Mine Waste Dumps – Waste Rock, Ore and Other Stockpiles
- Access Roads
- Release of Mine Permit Obligations
- Orphaned Mines