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Care, maintenance must be communicated correctly

A sunset picture of a mine with yellow machines in operation, with a laptop, plans and cell phone in, while there is a green belt of natural vegetation in the background

THE WHOLE PICTURE The care and maintenance period of a mine entails so much more than just telling staff

12th November 2021

By: Halima Frost

Senior Writer

     

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Environmental consulting company Environmental Assurance (Envass) director Emile van Druten says it is “absolutely imperative” for a mine to correctly communicate its care-and-maintenance plan to not only staff and stakeholders but also the affected communities and suppliers.

He tells Mining Weekly that a mine cannot simply shut down without causing knock-on effects throughout the surrounding communities and the natural environment.

“The number of people affected by a care-and-maintenance period is far greater than just the people directly involved in the operation.”

The owners and management of the mine; the workers, contractors and consultants; and the surrounding communities and suppliers are all affected by the decision to stop operations for an indefinite period.

Van Druten stresses that, when deciding to implement a care-and-maintenance period, a mine should focus on various aspects including identifying and managing its ongoing environmental compliance obligations.

The mine owner needs to be aware that environmental degradation, which continues even when the mine is not fully operational, needs to be monitored constantly.

Failure to institute adequate monitoring can lead to slower, and costly, ramp-up once the mine restarts operations, in addition to creating health and safety issues.

Consequently, health and safety obligations must be audited from the start of the care-and-maintenance process and, importantly, maintained throughout the period.

The mine must also be sensitive in dealing with employees and consultants during this period.

“Unfortunately, in many cases, the company simply forgets about consultants and their roles in the operation and compliance reports could fall behind,” he suggests.

Ensuring that the mine’s insurance is aligned with what the mine intends to do during the period is another issue that needs to be addressed.

“Maintaining and retaining your mining tenements is crucial”, he says, adding that the minimum permitting requirements must be adhered to throughout.

For example, should the mine not maintain its pollution control dams while on care and maintenance, it could possibly take the client many months to get them back up and operational again.

“This would need to be done correctly in order for the operation to start up,” he adds.

The mine must understand that care and maintenance is not a closure, but rather a phase of executed maintenance.

The actual ramp-up of the mine is equally, if not more, important than the actual shutdown – the faster an operation can ramp up, the faster profits can be made, says Van Druten.

Mine Closure Strategy 2021

Van Druten also highlights the importance of the 2021 National Mine Closure Strategy, which was published for comment in May.

Some of the objectives of the strategy include managing the closure of mines in a demarcated area in an integrated and sustainable manner, ensuring that mines do not impact negatively on the livelihood of adjacent or interconnected mines and promoting a strategic approach to managing water at the mining and mineral processing sites.

The strategy also aims to make provision for post closure stewardship and socioeconomic sustainability, to continue monitoring the implementation of individual and regional closure plans, and to integrate environmental management and related closure activities with socioeconomic interventions.

He adds that the sector expects the strategy to be gazetted in the latter part of next year.

Although the core focus for the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is mine rehabilitation reform, the mine closure strategy is also a paramount concern.

This strategy will bring with it some challenges, but the overall outcome will improve the industry’s concept of sustainable mine closure, Van Druten concludes.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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