Integrating socio-economic objectives for mine closure and remediation into impact assessment in Canada

Caitlynn Beckett, Elizabeth Dowdell, Miranda Monosky and Arn Keeling.

The cyclical and volatile nature of resource economies means that particular extraction sites may be subject to sudden closure and abandonment, often leaving behind considerable social and environmental problems. There are an estimated 10,000 or more abandoned mines across Canada, ranging from small workings to large, complex post-industrial sites. Two federal Auditor General’s reports (2002 and 2012) highlighted abandoned mines as being among Canada’s most toxic sites, representing major public liabilities in the billions of dollars. In addition to these legacy sites, the many current and planned mineral developments across Canada’s northern mining belt are forecast to close in the coming two decades. 

Mine closure regulation and assessment practices vary widely across Canada, particularly surrounding socio-economic impacts. Typically, closure and remediation receive scant attention during the impact assessment phase of major mineral development projects, with the focus instead placed on mitigating the initial ecological and social impacts of development and operations. Public assessments and reviews of closure and remediation plans for active mines (where they occur) rarely include Indigenous knowledge, values or land uses as part of setting remediation goals and standards.

In the context of both historical, ongoing, and anticipated mineral development activities in Canada, a better understanding of the state of knowledge surrounding the role and practice of impact assessment for mine closure and remediation is required. This emphasis on mine closure and reclamation (rather than mineral development proposals more generally) reflects the particular knowledge and policy challenges associated with this final (and frequently longest) phase of the mining cycle, including: addressing long-term environmental and social impacts; financial securities for post-closure liabilities; post-remediation monitoring and relinquishment of closed sites; and the often complicated regulatory arrangements surrounding operating versus abandoned mines. In addition, while the majority of impact assessments (IA) occur at the front end of large-scale mining projects and do not include detailed discussions or evaluations of closure and remediation, in recent years some high-profile mine remediation projects have themselves been subject to full IA reviews.

This Knowledge Synthesis Report investigates and illuminates the gaps in environmental and social impact assessment practices for mine closure and remediation. In particular, we assess: i) whether and how mine closure and remediation are incorporated into environment and impact assessment processes (in Canada); ii) public participation and oversight of mine closure and remediation (through environment and impact assessment processes); and iii) the various regulations, policies, and practices of mine closure and remediation, as reflected in actual closure plan documents. To understand the state of knowledge related to these issues, we undertook a systematic literature review (Section 3) using major scientific databases to identify and assess studies related to mine remediation, public participation, and impact assessment. Second, we undertook a review of mine closure plans (Section 4), with a focus on major mining developments in the Canadian North, to analyse how they have undergone regulatory review or 4 environmental assessment, and consider how they incorporate community engagement, socio-economic impacts, and Indigenous participation in remediation planning. Finally, we summarize and link the results of these analyses and discuss their implications for both environmental assessment and mine closure and remediation.

Beckett, C., Dowdell, E., Monosky, M., & Keeling, A. (2020). Integrating socio-economic objectives for mine closure and remediation into impact assessment in Canada.

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Closure, Post-closure
Integrating socio-economic objectives for mine closure and remediation into impact assessment in Canada