Looking towards the future: Creating a sustainable mining legacy in the Western Limb region

By Leon Gerber

Mines and mining districts can have a considerable lifespan, often persisting for many decades. Throughout its lifecycle, a mine has the potential to create significant social and economic benefits on a localised community level.  Despite such extended lifecycles, mining activities ultimately remain a temporary economic activity, with eventual termination and closure of operations an inevitable reality (Limpitlaw and Mitchell, 2013).

Closure is not merely limited to the depletion of workable deposits – mining activities might cease or be suspended based on a variety of factors, ranging from legislative in nature, e.g. revocation of licenses; economic e.g. the deposit becoming economically unfeasible due to commodity price fluctuations; or geological, e.g. a particular reserve proving to be smaller than originally estimated (Hodge and Killam, 2003).  Regardless of the underlying factors leading up to closure, the process can be a traumatic experience for communities, more so in the case of long-established or intergenerational operations where local communities have come to rely on the presence of the mining sector, such as in the Western Limb region (CGS, 2013).

The focal question arising is thus how such inevitable change will affect and impact on the region over the longer term, particularly in two to three decades?  Moreover, how negative challenges and impacts can be transformed by relevant stakeholders (including government, industry, civil society and local communities), to assist in ensuring a positive and successful socio-economic legacy for the region, whilst satisfying the particular desires of the various stakeholders.

Accordingly, this post aims to highlight some foundational questions for future discussion within the above context, including:

  1. whether any long-term provision for a sustainable legacy is currently being considered by relevant stakeholders (industry, government and communities) involved in the region;
  2. what comprises community perceptions and expectations for a future sustainable legacy of the wider region;
  3. how the notion of social legacy is perceived and encouraged by domestic policy and legislation, good practice industry guidelines, and corporate policies of companies operating within the region;
  4. how financial and regulatory responsibilities related to closure and post-closure care, by both industry and government, are provided for; and
  5. how to foster and engage in effective multi-stakeholder dialogue regarding the issues above?

Downscaling and eventual closure of large-scale mining operations (particularly in the platinum and gold sectors) will become an unfortunate but inevitable reality within the Western Limb region.  However, the end of mining operations can also signify the start of novel and sustainable economic activities and land use when planned and executed properly, and as early as possible.

It is therefore imperative that all relevant stakeholders are afforded the opportunity to enter the discussion regarding the ‘deeper challenge of transforming value creation in mining into the development of a modern, diversified economy’ (MD360, Key point 4).

References:

CGS, (Council for Geoscience) at http://www.geoscience.org.za/index.php/about-us (last accessed 9 October 2013).

Hodge, A., and Killam, R., Post Mining Regeneration Best Practice Review: North American Perspective, prepared for ECUS Environmental Consultancy University of Sheffield, (Sheffield, 2003) available at http://anthonyhodge.ca/publications/Post_Mining_Regeneration.pdf.

Hoskin, W., “Mine Closure: The 21st Century Approach – Avoiding Future Abandoned Mines”, in Bastida, E., et al. (eds), International and Comparative Mineral Law and Policy. Trends and Prospects (The Hague, 2005), pp. 627-639.

Limpitlaw, D., and Mitchell, P., “Mine closure – misplaced planning priorities”, in Tibbett, M., et al (eds), Mine Closure 2013 (Australian Centre for Geomechanics, 2013).

MD360 (Mining Dialogues 360), Summary Report on the Johannesburg Dialogue, 10-12 July 2012, available at http://miningdialogues360.co.za/Downloads.aspx.

Unger, C., et al., “Mapping and Prioritising Rehabilitation of Abandoned Mines in Australia”, Published conference paper Life of Mine Conference (Brisbane Australia, 10-12 July 2012).

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