Authors: McCullough, CD


Cite As:
McCullough, CD 2016, 'Key mine closure lessons still to be learned', in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Mine Closure 2016: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Mine Closure, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 325-338,

Download citation as:   ris   bibtex   endnote   text   Zotero

The focus of mining project feasibility studies and operations is still on short-term profitability with little view to a post-closure landscape and liability. The faults of both the original and the operation’s mine planners are therefore vested upon the closure teams who must deal with these planning decisions. Following completion of operations, most mining companies that have not adequately prepared for mine closure will face an inability to relinquish their project leases as a result of closure planning process shortfalls. Following from our own closure project experiences and of recent international mine closure conferences, we propose seven key lessons still to be learned if successful mine closure is to be achieved. Firstly, a paucity of baseline environmental monitoring data often incapacitates good closure planning from the outset with a failure to understand key closure risks and risk drivers for the site. Well-characterised environmental information prior to mining disturbance and monitored progressive rehabilitation is a great strategy to address this fault. An insufficient understanding of the physical and chemical characteristics and volumes of waste materials is a second critical fault of closure processes. A third significant issue is contaminated mine waters such as acid and metalliferous drainage (AMD). AMD is arguably one of the single biggest liabilities and management issue post-closure. Failure to engage stakeholders in a documented process is a fourth prime failing often seen with the fifth of mine closure procrastination. Like all of these causes, this problem often arises from thinking mine closure is an activity at end of life-of-mine rather than as a process that begins with the initial mine plan and then regularly continues throughout mine life. Diligent attention to regular planning assessment and stakeholder consultation from an early operational phase may fend off later criticisms, lead to closure outcomes better directed by years of underpinning work and also reduce end of mine costs. A sixth significant closure planning error is the failure to account for the long temporal scales that closure planning must accommodate, particularly so when costing closure. This failure is often due to closure views being short-term, to meet immediate regulatory and operational planning needs rather than focussed on the future. A seventh lesson from historic closure planning is the simple failure to have clear closure objectives and approaches to identified outcomes. This may result in a focus on technical studies that fail to provide better closure understanding, whilst expending hard-won closure-aimed budgets. Driving closure planning by well defined goals through corporate tools such as closure standards designed to meet both internal requirements and relevant closure guidelines is an ideal solution to avoiding wasted closure resources such as time and finances. Whilst learning and addressing these key closure lessons is no guarantee of successful relinquishment, recognition of these issues and judicious planning to overcome them is more likely to present well considered closure plans with greater chance of closure relinquishment in a sustainable socio environmentally manner that maintains a company’s and the broader mining industry’s licence to operate into the future.

Keywords: closure, leading practice, lessons

Ashton, PJ & Evans, LH 2005, ‘Community development through minesite rehabilitation projects’, in Proceedings, People Place Prosperity SD05 Sustainable Development Conference, Minerals Council of Australia.
Banks, D, Younger, PL & Dumpleton, S 1997, 'The historical use of mine-drainage and pyrite-oxidation waters in central and eastern England, United Kingdom', Hydrology Journal, vol. 4, pp. 55–68.
Botha, PR 2012, ‘The business case for mine closure planning and an overview of Anglo American’s mine closure toolbox approach’, in Life-of-Mine Conference 2012, Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Melbourne, pp. 7–9.
Bridge, G 2004, 'Contested terrain: mining and the environment', Annual Review of Environment and Resources, vol. 29, pp. 205–259.
Castendyk, D, Eary, LE & Balistrieri, LS 2014, 'Modeling and management of pit lake water chemistry 1: Theory', Applied Geochemistry, vol. 57, pp. 267–288.
CEMA 2012, End Pit Lakes Guidance Document, Cumulative Environmental Management Association, Calgary, p. 436.
Charette, T & Wylynko, D 2011, 'Generating regional guidance for best practice for pit lake closure and reclamation', in Mine Pit Lakes: Closure and Management, CD McCullough (ed.), Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth.
Clark, I 1999, ‘Planning for closure: The case of Australia’, in A Warhurst & L Noronha, (A Warhurst & L Noronhas A Warhurst & L Noronha (eds), Environmental policy in mining: Corporate strategy and planning for closure, Boca Raton, USA, Lewis Publishers.
Cowan, WR, Mackasey, WO & Robertson, JGA 2010, Protection of environmental assets should consider a hierarchy of strategies such as avoidance, mitigation, restoration, offsets and additional conservation options (enhancements), National Orphaned/Abandoned Mines Initiative (NOAMI), Sudbury, Ontario, p. 140.
Davidson, NC 2014, 'How much wetland has the world lost? Long-term and recent trends in global wetland area', Marine and Freshwater Research, vol. 65, pp. 934–941.
Dickinson, S & Berner, PO 2010, 'Ambatovy project: Mining in a challenging biodiversity setting in Madagascar', Malagasy Nature, vol. 3, pp. 2–13.
DITR 2015, Leading Practice Sustainable Development Program for the Mining Industry - Risk Assessment and Management, Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, Canberra, Australia, p. 95.
DMP & EPA (Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum & Environmental Protection Authority of Western Australia) 2011, Guidelines for preparing mine closure plans, DMP & EPA, Perth p. 78.
Doley, D & Audet, P 2013, 'Adopting novel ecosystems as suitable rehabilitation alternatives for former mine sites', Ecological Processes, vol. 2, pp. 1–11.
Eary, T & Castendyk, D 2012, 'Hardrock metal mine pit lakes: occurrence and geochemical characteristics', in W Geller, M Schultze, RLP Kleinmann & C Wolkersdorfer (eds), Acidic Pit Lakes - Legacies of surface mining on coal and metal ores, Springer, Berlin.
Fletcher, D, Hutton, A & Dick, C 2012, ‘The ‘Smoking Gun’ of Detailed Mine Closure Cost Over-Run – A Review Using Case Studies of the Real Costs Associated with the Demolition and Removal of Infrastructure in Mine Closure’, in Life-of-Mine Conference 2012, Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Melbourne, pp. 325–332.
Gammons, CH & Duaine, TE 2006, 'Long term changes in the limnology and geochemistry of the Berkely Pit Lake, Butte, Montana', Mine Water and the Environment, vol. 25, pp. 76–85.
Garcia, DH 2008, ‘Overview of international mine closure guidelines’, in Meeting of the American Institute of Professional Geologists, Arizona Hydrological Society, and 3rd International Professional Geology Conference, American Institute of Professional Geologists, pp. 1–9.
Hickey, CW & Pyle, E 2001, 'Derivation of water quality guideline values heavy metals using a risk-based methodology: a site specific approach for New Zealand', Australasian Journal of Ecotoxicology, vol. 7, pp. 137–156.
ICMM (International Council on Mining and Metals) 2008, Planning for Integrated Mine Closure: Toolkit, ICMM, London, p. 86.
Jones, H 2008, ‘Closure objectives, guidelines and actual outcomes’, in AB Fourie, M Tibbett, IM Weiersbye & P Dye (eds), Proceedings of the Third International Seminar on Mine Closure, Mine Closure 2008, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 245–254.
Jones, H 2012a, 'Closure objectives, guidelines and actual outcomes', in MJ Noakes (ed), Cost estimation handbook, Australasian Institute of Metals and Metallurgy (AusIMM), Sydney.
Jones, H 2012b, ‘Rehabilitation levies’, in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Proceedings of the International Mine Closure 2013 Congress, Brisbane.
Jones, H & McCullough, CD 2011, 'Regulator guidance and legislation relevant to pit lakes', in CD McCullough (ed), Mine Pit Lakes: Closure and Management, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, p. 183.
Kumar, NR, McCullough, CD & Lund, MA 2013a, 'Upper and lower concentration thresholds for bioremediation of Acid Mine Drainage using bulk organic substrates', Mine Water and the Environment, vol. 32, pp. 285–292.
Kumar, RN, McCullough, CD & Lund, MA 2013b, 'Pit lakes in Australia', in W Geller, M Schultze, RLP Kleinmann & C Wolkersdorfer (eds), Acidic Pit Lakes - Legacies of surface mining on coal and metal ores, Springer, Berlin.
Laurence, D 2006, 'Optimisation of the mine closure process', Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 14, pp. 285–298.
Loch, R & Vacher, C 2006, ‘Assessing and managing erosion risk for constructed landforms on minesites’, in Proceedings of the Goldfields Environmental Management Group Workshop on Environmental Management 2006, pp. 121–127.
Lord, MT, Adams, MH & Shearman, TJ 2015, ‘Century mine closure’, in Proceedings of the International Mine Closure 2015 Congress, Infomine, pp. 1–12.
McCullough, CD 2015, 'Consequences and opportunities of river breach and decant from an acidic mine pit lake', Ecological Engineering, vol. 85, pp. 328–338.
McCullough, CD & Lund, MA 2011, 'Bioremediation of Acidic and Metalliferous Drainage (AMD) through organic carbon amendment by municipal sewage and green waste', Journal of Environmental Management, vol. 92, pp. 2419–2426.
McCullough, CD & Pearce, JI 2014, ‘What do elevated background contaminant concentrations mean for AMD risk assessment and management in Western Australia?’, in 8th Australian Workshop on Acid and Metalliferous Drainage, pp. 147–158.
McCullough, CD & van Etten, EJB 2011, 'Ecological restoration of novel lake districts: new approaches for new landscapes', Mine Water and the Environment, vol. 30, pp. 312–319.
McCullough, CD, Ballot, E & Short, D 2013a, ‘Breach and decant of an acid mine lake by a eutrophic river: river water quality and limitations of use’, in Proceedings of the Mine Water Solutions 2013 Congress, Infomine Inc., pp. 317–327.
McCullough, CD, Marchand, G & Unseld, J 2013b, ‘Mine closure of pit lakes as terminal sinks: best available practice when options are limited?’, Mine Water and the Environment, vol. 32, pp. 302–313.
Maron, M 2012, 'Faustian bargains? Restoration realities in the context of biodiversity offset policies', Biological Conservation, vol. 155, pp. 141–148.
Mauric, AP, McCullough, CD, Wilson-Clark, C, Witcomb, A & Millgate, J 2012, ‘Closure Planning in a Developing country – a case study from the Phu Kham Mine, Laos, South-east Asia’, in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Proceedings of the International Mine Closure 2012 Congress, pp. 295–304.
Nelson, J & Scoble, M 2005, ‘Social license to operate mines: issues of situational analysis and process’, in M Hardygóra & G Paszkowska (eds), Proceedings of the Mine Planning and Equipment Selection (MPES) Conference, AA Balkema Publishers, p. 21.
Newmont Golden Ridge Limited 2009, BBOP Pilot Project Case Study, Akyem Gold Mining Project, Eastern Region, Ghana, Accra, Ghana,
Nieto, JM, Sarmiento, AM, Canovas, CR, Olias, M & Ayora, C 2013, 'Acid mine drainage in the Iberian Pyrite Belt: 1. Hydrochemical characteristics and pollutant load of the Tinto and Odiel rivers', Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, vol. 20, pp. 1320–1356.
NSW EPA (New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority) 2002, Green offsets for sustainable development, a concept paper, NSW EPA, Sydney, p. 16.
Olias, M & Nieto, JM 2015, 'Background Conditions and Mining Pollution throughout History in the Río Tinto (SW Spain)', Environments, vol. 2, pp. 295–316.
Puhalovich, AA & Coghill, M 2011, 'Management of mine wastes using pit/underground void backfilling methods: current issues and approaches', in CD McCullough (ed.), Mine Pit Lakes: Closure and Management, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth.
Schaefer, JA 2009, ‘Risk evaluation of dams on karst foundations’, in Proceedings of 29th Annual USSD Conference, pp. 541–579.
Schultze, M, Boehrer, B, Friese, K, Koschorreck, M, Stasik, S & Wendt-Potthoff, K 2011, ‘Disposal of waste materials at the bottom of pit lakes’, in AB Fourie, M Tibbett & A Beersing (eds), Mine Closure 2011: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Mine Closure, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 555–564.
Siwik, R & Clemens, M 2015, ‘Mine closure – past, present and perpetuity’, in Proceedings of the International Mine Closure 2015 Congress, Infomine, pp. 1–10.
Skousen, J & Zipper, C 2014, ‘Post-mining lands use options in the Appalachian Coal Mining Region of the USA’, in Proceedings of Life of Mine Conference, pp. 153–164.
Swanson, S 2011, 'What type of lake do we want? Stakeholder engagement in planning for beneficial end uses of pit lakes', in CD McCullough (ed.), Mine Pit Lakes: Closure and Management, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth.
Vandenberg, J, Lauzon, N, Prakash, S & Salzsauler, K 2011, 'Use of water quality models for design and evaluation of pit lakes', in CD McCullough (ed.), Mine Pit Lakes: Closure and Management, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth.
Vink, S 2012, ‘Pit lakes as evaporative ‘terminal’ sinks: an approach to best available practice mine closure’, in Proceedings of the International Mine Water Association (IMWA) Congress, International Mine Water Association (IMWA), pp. 167–174.
Younger, PL 2002, Mine waste or mine voids: which is the most important long-term source of polluted mine drainage?, United Nations Environment Programme, Mineral Resources Forum: Current Feature paper, p. 12.
Ziemkiewicz, P, Skousen, J & Simmons, J 2001, ‘Cost benefit analysis of passive treatment systems’, in Proceedings 22nd West Virginia Surface Mine Drainage Task Force Symposium, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Zschiedrich, K 2004, '15 years of restoration and rehabilitation of former lignite mining facilities – Present status and future development in Germany’s Lusatian mining district', World of Mining - Surface and Underground, vol. 56, pp. 348–359.

© Copyright 2024, Australian Centre for Geomechanics (ACG), The University of Western Australia. All rights reserved.
View copyright/legal information
Please direct any queries or error reports to