Update: Review of DMP’s Mine Closure Guidelines 2015

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The Department of Mines and Petroleum have released an update to their Guidelines for Preparing Mine Closure Plans (2011). The May 2015 Revision can be accessed on the DMP website (1,856 KB pdf).  Note that DMP advises that any Mine Closure Plans already under development may use the 2011 guidelines until October 2015.

Alan Wright has reviewed the May 2015 Revision:

Comment on DMP’s 2015 Guidelines for preparation of Mine Closure Plans

The 2015 Guidelines for Preparing Mine Closure Plans is an update of the initial 2011 Guidelines and represent a WA Government reporting procedure rather than a guidance document.  The Guidelines were jointly released by Department of Mines and Petroleum and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in May 2015.  The 2015 Guidelines provide a very prescriptive reporting structure and state that proponents need to obtain written agreement from DMP and/or the EPA for any deviation from the reporting structure recommended.

The new Guidelines provide a more comprehensive description of the WA regulatory framework and inter-relationship between State and Federal regulatory requirements.  DMP and EPA view mine closure planning as a progressive process and, as such, require proponents to identify and list knowledge gaps relating to specific technical closure issues, detailing how these are going to be rectified prior to submission of their next Mine Closure Plan (MCP).  The Guidelines state that closure planning should be risk based and take local and regional conditions into consideration.  There is clear notification that submission of an inappropriate MCP can result in a holdup of environmental approval if linked to a Mining Proposal submission.

The Guidelines reiterate the rather nebulous rehabilitation definition: “the return of disturbed land to a safe, stable, non-contaminating landform in an ecologically sustainable manner that is productive and/or self-sustaining and consistent with the agreed post-mining land use”.  However, they also outline what rehabilitation normally comprises and provide important recognition that revegetation is not the sole means for establishing self-sustaining ecosystems.

The Guidelines provide a useful list of examples of potential closure issues that might need to be addressed in a MCP and identify what DMP and EPA consider “key” rehabilitation and closure issues.  Considerable detail is provided in the overview of the four key issues with additional information contained in the Appendices.  The appendix descriptions have varying levels of detail and suggest degree of subjectivity on the part of the two Government stakeholders.  The descriptions would perhaps be better suited if they served to direct readers to appropriate reference sources rather than provided incomplete background information on each particular issue.

The Guidelines specify an order in which the MCP chapters need to be written.  This is different to the earlier 2011 structure and generally provides an improvement to the flow of information, however some ambiguity remains.  Several closure planning aspects span a number of chapters, and while forming a central thread to the narrative can, if not well executed, lead to a degree of repetition.

The new Guidelines contain a far more comprehensive document checklist that needs to be included at the start of the MCP.  It requires the proponent to:

  • Include the disturbed area and progressive rehabilitation status recorded annually in the Mining Rehabilitation Fund (MRF) Levy report.
  • Summarise details of not just past stakeholder consultation, but also consultation planned prior to submission of the next MCP.
  • Include “completion criteria” that now requires actual performance criteria to be met – that is ‘performance indicators’ to demonstrate that rehabilitation outcomes in fact meet the desired (expected) closure objective. Simple compliance with ‘implementation’ of agreed engineering designs or closure plans should not be considered as having met the closure criteria as the agreed to design may not necessarily result in the required rehabilitation outcome as observed in actual post closure monitoring.

The Guidelines do not adequately cover the preparation of a ‘Care and Maintenance plan’ or the final ‘relinquishment process’ and proponents in these situations are encouraged to contact the relevant DMP or Department of Environment Regulation officers.  This is a significant shortcoming of the present set of guidelines as both of these situations are very relevant to the WA mining industry, particularly under current market conditions.