Success in relinquishing a mine site and its associated tenure, and transferring the site to the next landholder, is strongly influenced by the perception held by regulators and other stakeholders of residual environmental, social and other risks. Even after comprehensive closure planning and stakeholder engagement, there is sometimes reluctance by the next landholder to finalise custodial transfer of the site and accept responsibility for any residual risk. This can occur even when residual risks are apparently well defined and understood, and are expected to be manageable in a way that will achieve agreed outcomes. This is because the way in which stakeholders perceive, respond to and/or act on risk is influenced by a wide range of factors including control, choice, novelty, propinquity and trust.
As a result of a study on current practices and future directions for mining tenure relinquishment in Western Australia conducted in 2017 and more recent research, four key sources of adverse stakeholder perception in relation to tenement relinquishment have been identified. Firstly, it was found that although there is extensive literature available to stakeholders on planning and implementing mine closure, there is little public guidance available on the relinquishment processes used in Western Australia. The absence of such information makes it difficult for stakeholders to independently validate information they are provided in relation to tenement relinquishment. Further, the lack of clearly defined procedures can create confusion about whether appropriate processes are being followed and therefore trigger concern about whether residual risks will be managed effectively. Overcoming this adverse perception requires development of better documented procedures for tenement relinquishment and socialisation of these procedures.
Secondly, the 2017 study and subsequent research found that responsibility for determining whether relinquishment can occur currently sits with key regulators and that while the views of other stakeholders are considered, they can be overridden. Consequently, stakeholders can feel that they have little choice in relation to, or control over, the outcome. Overcoming this adverse perception requires clearer definition of key stakeholders and provision of stronger mechanisms for incorporating these into decision-making regarding tenement relinquishment.
Thirdly, it was found that whether a stakeholder trusts (or distrusts) the data it has been provided in relation to residual risks and tenement relinquishment can strongly affect perception of the acceptability of these. Overcoming this adverse perception depends on the type of information provided, the methods used to collect the information and the way in which the information is communicated to stakeholders.
Finally, it was found that even when residual environmental, social and other risks are well defined, tenement relinquishment could still face final hurdles if the next land user has little or no appetite to take responsibility for those risks. In these cases, stakeholder perception of whether residual risks are acceptable is strongly influenced by that party’s capacity to manage those risks effectively. Overcoming this perception can require significant capacity building in technical, financial and other disciplines.
Finucane-Woodman, M. K. J. & Finucane, S. J. (2019). Overcoming adverse stakeholder perception affecting tenement relinquishment. In A. B. Fourie & M. Tibbett (eds.), Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Mine Closure, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth (pp. 1437-1450).