Ashby, AD, van Etten, EJB & Lund, MA 2016, 'Pitfalls of gold mine sites in care and maintenance', in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Mine Closure
, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 313-324.
Gold is a highly valued and volatile commodity which is subject to many external forces, such as price and availability. Global gold stocks are increasing but the supply is dwindling. Gold mining companies are always looking for novel methods to optimise extraction and processing thereby reducing operating costs and maximising profit. The extraction and processing of gold involves complex chemical processing which results in large volumes of waste, including toxic tailings, and damage to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Our research indicates that gold mines in Western Australia regularly enter an operational phase known as ‘care and maintenance’ where active mining is not occurring but the site is not yet formally closed. It is a mode generally used to reduce operating costs and overheads, whilst maintaining the option to recommence mining in the future. Sites in care and maintenance are often neglected and minimal rehabilitation is undertaken resulting in massive environmental liabilities and social issues. In worst case scenarios, companies simply mothball the site and they become abandoned or legacy sites. We recently quantified the disturbance footprint and environmental legacies around a representative sample of gold mines in the West Australian Goldfields region. Our results suggest that sites in care and maintenance are a potential emerging problem for regulators left carrying the can for the costs of rehabilitation.
Keywords: care and maintenance, environmental legacy, environmental impact, abandoned mine, disturbance footprints
ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) 2015, Kalgoorlie's Super Pit, viewed 10 September 2015,
Abdalla, OA, Suliman, FO, Al-Ajmi, H, Al-Hosni, T & Rollinson, H 2010, ‘Cyanide from gold mining and its effect on groundwater in arid areas, Yanqul mine of Oman’, Environmental Earth Sciences, vol. 60, no. 4, pp. 885–892.
Cooke, JA & Johnson, MS 2002, ‘Ecological restoration of land with particular reference to the mining of metals and industrial minerals: A review of theory and practice’, Environmental Reviews, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 41–71.
Curtis, RL & Mousavi, A 2014, ‘Gold Mining: Is It Worth Its Weight?’, Environmental Forensics, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 293–295.
DMP (Department of Mines and Petroleum) 2009, Care and Maintenance, viewed 7 September 2015,
DMP (Department of Mines and Petroleum) 2015, MINEDEX on the Web (Public), viewed September 2015,
Emel, J, Plisinski, J & Rogan, J 2014, ‘Monitoring geomorphic and hydrologic change at mine sites using satellite imagery: The Geita Gold Mine in Tanzania’, Applied Geography, vol. 54, pp. 243–249.
Environment Canada 2015, Environmental Code of Practice for Metal Mines - Acts & Regulations - Environment Canada, viewed 24 October 2015,
Fang, V, Lin, CT & Poon, W 2007, ‘An examination of Australian gold mining firms' exposure over the collapse of gold price in the late 1990s’, International Journal of Accounting & Information Management, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 37–49.
Ferguson, A, Clinch, G & Kean, S 2011, ‘Predicting the failure of developmental gold mining projects’, Australian Accounting Review, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 44–53.
Finnie, B, Stuart, J, Gibson, L & Zabriskie, F 2009, ‘Balancing environmental and industry sustainability: A case study of the US gold mining industry’, Journal of Environmental Management, vol. 90, no. 12, pp. 3690–3699.
Fourie, A & Brent, AC 2006, ‘A project-based mine closure model (MCM) for sustainable asset life cycle management’, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 14, no. 12, pp. 1085–1095.
Gilbert & Tobin Lawyers 2014, Issues to consider when talking a decision to put a mine on ‘care & maintenance, viewed 7 September 2015,
Griffiths, SR, Smith, GB, Donato, DB & Gillespie, CG 2009, ‘Factors influencing the risk of wildlife cyanide poisoning on a tailings storage facility in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia’, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, vol. 72, no. 5, pp. 1579–1586.
Hilson, G 2002, ‘The environmental impact of small‐scale gold mining in Ghana: identifying problems and possible solutions’, The Geographical Journal, vol. 168, no. 1, pp. 57–72.
Huleatt, MB & Jaques, AL 2005, ‘Australian gold exploration 1976–2003’, Resources Policy, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 29–37.
La Brooy, SR, Linge, HG & Walker, GS 1994, ‘Review of gold extraction from ores’, Minerals Engineering, vol. 7, no. 10, pp. 1213–1241.
Lund, MA & McCullough, CD 2011, ‘Meeting environmental goals for pit lake restoration-factoring in the biology’, in CD McCullough (ed.), Mine Pit Lakes: Closure and Management, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 83–90.
Kampf, SK, Salazar, M & Tyler, SW 2002, ‘Preliminary investigations of effluent drainage from mining heap leach facilities’, Vadose Zone Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 186–196.
Kim, SM, Choi, Y, Suh, J, Oh, S, Park, HD, Yoon, SH & Go, WR 2012, ‘ArcMine: A GIS extension to support mine reclamation planning’, Computers & Geosciences, vol. 46, pp. 84–95.
McCarthy, B 2015, ‘Rehabilitation: Obstacles and opportunities for effective life-of-mine (closure)’, Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.
McCullough, CD & Lund, MA 2006, ‘Opportunities for sustainable mining pit lakes in Australia’, Mine Water and the Environment, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 220–226.
Mchaina, DM 2001, ‘Environmental planning considerations for the decommissioning, closure and reclamation of a mine site’, International Journal of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Environment, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 163–176.
MacroTrends 2015, Historical Gold Prices - 100 Year Chart, MacroTrends, viewed 10 November 2015,
Mudd, GM 2007a, ‘Global trends in gold mining: towards quantifying environmental and resource sustainability’, Resources Policy, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 42–56.
Mudd, GM 2007b, ‘Gold mining in Australia: linking historical trends and environmental and resource sustainability’, Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 10, no. 7, pp. 629–644.
Mudd, GM 2010, ‘The environmental sustainability of mining in Australia: key mega-trends and looming constraints’, Resources Policy, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 98–115.
Nobuntou, W, Parkpian, P, Oanh, NTK, Noomhorm, A, Delaune, RD & Jugsujinda, A 2010, ‘Lead distribution and its potential risk to the environment: Lesson learned from environmental monitoring of abandon mine’, Journal of Environmental Science and Health Part A, vol. 45, no. 13, pp. 1702–1714.
Owens, B 2013, ‘Mining: extreme prospects’, Nature, vol. 495, pp. 7440 & S4–S6.
Pritchard, J, Jensen, T & Welsh, D 2010, ‘Options for management and closure of tailings storage facilities’, Engineering and Mining Journal, vol. 211, no. 2, p. 72.
Raiter, KG, Possingham, HP, Prober, SM & Hobbs, RJ 2014, 'Under the radar: Mitigating enigmatic ecological impacts', Trends in Ecology and Evolution, vol. 29, no. 11, pp. 635–644.
Salminen, J, Blomberg, P, Mäkinen, J & Räsänen, L 2015, ‘Environmental aspects of metals removal from waters and gold recovery’, AIChE Journal, vol. 61, no. 9, pp. 2739–2748.
Schueler, V, Kuemmerle, T & Schröder, H 2011, ‘Impacts of surface gold mining on land use systems in Western Ghana’, Journal of the Human Environment, vol. 40, pp. 528–539.
Sijinkumar, AV, Sandeep, K, Shinu, N, Megha, V, SHyamini, C, Sreeni, KR & Suvarna, K 2014, ‘A preliminary assessment of environmental impacts due to bauxite and laterite mining in Karindalam and Kinanur, Southern India, International Journal of Conservation Science, vol. 5, no. 2.
Smith, GB, Donato, DB, Gillespie, CG, Griffiths, SR & Rowntree, J 2008, ‘Ecology of a hypersaline gold mining tailings facility in the eastern Goldfields of Western Australia: a case study’, International Journal of Mining, Reclamation and Environment, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 154–173.
Tonts, M, Martinus, K & Plummer, P 2013, ‘Regional development, redistribution and the extraction of mineral resources: the Western Australian Goldfields as a resource bank’, Applied Geography, vol. 45, pp. 365–374.
van Etten, EJB 2011, ‘The role and value of riparian vegetation for mine pit lakes’, in CD McCullough (ed.), Mine Pit Lakes: Closure and Management, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 91–106.
Van Niekerk, S 2014, ‘Questions around mine closure: environmental engineering’, Civil Engineering/Siviele Ingenieurswese, vol. 22, no. 7, pp. 45–47.