The depressed economic climate emanating from the global Covid-19 pandemic is
expected to increase requests about the authorisations process
required for the closure of mines, says environmental consultancy Environmental
Assurance (ENVASS) senior authorisations consultant Corrie Retief.
However, discussions with the company’s clients have highlighted uncertainties regarding the closure authorisation process and requirements.
Mines must comply with several pieces of legislation during the closure process, which include the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), the National Water Act, National Environmental Management Waste Act and the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, explains Retief.
“Clients are usually uncertain about the integration of the closure authorisation processes required by these different Acts into an integrated closure authorisation process to ensure an efficient closure is realised.”
Uncertainty about how to set achievable closure objectives on establishment of a mine, specifically regarding alignment with relinquishment criteria on physical, biophysical, social and socioeconomic aspects, have also been noted.
He highlights the need for mines to conduct legal screening and vetting of perceived applicable legislation and guidelines to determine what applies to their operations when determining the closure processes.
All existing authorisations and legally binding documents such as environmental authorisation (EA), should form the starting point of this screening process, as the conditions and legal requirements of the operation are typically presented within these documents, emphasises Retief.
“One has to realise that successful closure is all about proving that there is sustained stability in the environmental, physical, chemical and social aspects. Merely following the authorisation process without setting targets toward these mentioned variables, could cause delays or the retraction of an authorisation. An applicant could also be granted authorisation for a set of closure objectives, which are not relevant or acceptable to the end-user.”
The rehabilitation strategy implementation plan and environmental management programme (EMPr) will provide a basis for setting out the closure objectives and determining the specialist inputs that may be required.
“The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries environmental impact assessment screening tool could also be used to further add to the potential specialist studies that may be required. However, these should be discussed with the competent authority (CA) before implementation to ensure that the holistic project expectations have been met,” states Retief.
He adds that the initial pre-application meeting with the CA is important in confirming the specialist requirements that would be needed as part of your closure authorisation process.
Further, as part of the closure application process a final EMPr performance and risk assessment is needed to identify the required risks and specialist inputs.
An Integrated Approach
To conduct an effective integrated NEMA closure authorisation process, ENVASS meets with the client to confirm the scope of the project and communicate the timeline and the processes required.
This is followed by gap analysis in which all legal documents and existing closure requirements are reviewed.
“An updated mine closure plan will be compiled simultaneously with the gap analysis to ensure that progress on existing closure objectives and previous recommendations are assessed and documented,” Retief explains.
Final risk and performance assessments of the operations are then conducted against all conditions presented within related legal documents, whereafter specialist studies are summarised and draft terms of reference (TORs) are formulated for each.
Pre-application meetings with all relevant CAs are important at this point to present the project as a whole, the screened specialist study requirements, the draft TORs, which may be altered and subsequently finalised with input from the CAs, states Retief.
After the pre-application meeting the statement of work for the specialist studies is then finalised and the relevant specialist appointed to conduct the required works. On completion of specialist studies, the mine closure plan needs to be revisited to revise certain sections.
Finally, the Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP[TH1] [C2] ) assesses all available information and drafts the Basic Assessment [C3] (BA) [TH4] report, inclusive of the supporting studies, for submission to the CAs for review. Prior to submission to the CAs a public participation process is undertaken. The final BA is produced considering all comments received and responses drafted. The outcome of the overall closure authorisation process will be an EA for the mine closure.
To avoid delays and additional costs being incurred during the authorisation process, Retief suggests vetting all consultants, specialists and external parties that may be involved prior to making appointments to reduce the risk of inexperienced and under-qualified professionals being appointed.