IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining (Draft 2.0)
Chapter 4.2 Reclamation and Closure

This chapter has been flagged. Your input is welcome on any portion of the Standard. However, we have flagged certain sections where there is either a difference in opinion between stakeholder perspectives and/or a complex topic on which the broader world community is also struggling with no clear resolution. The IRMA Steering Committee would appreciate receiving solutions-based stakeholder input on these issues. Jump to Flagged Section.

 

Background

Reclamation refers to the process of reconverting disturbed land to its former or other productive uses.[1]  Closure refers to the activities that are required to maintain compliance with environmental regulations during and following completion of reclamation.

Discussions over the adequacy of reclamation and closure include: (1) the final use that is appropriate for reclaimed mine lands; (2) whether re-contoured mine lands should be re-vegetated or whether reinvasion of natural vegetation is sufficient; (3) the timing of the reclamation process; (4) whether open pits should be backfilled with waste in a way that does not degrade the environment; and, (5) how much money should be set aside to guarantee that reclamation is accomplished, how should that money be invested or valued in terms of discount rate, and what form of financial surety is required for this guarantee to be effective in practice.

It is now widely recognized that the objectives and impacts of reclamation and closure must be considered from project inception. A reclamation and closure plan should define a vision of the end result of the process and set concrete objectives to implement that vision. Future changes to the reclamation plan can be anticipated, but the use of new technologies, while countenanced, cannot be relied upon until they have been proven. The reclamation and closure plan must include only techniques that rely on proven technologies. This forms an overall framework to guide all actions and decisions taken during the mine’s life.

Objectives/Intent of this Chapter

To protect long-term environmental and social values, and ensure that the costs of site reclamation and closure not borne by the community or wider public.

Scope of Application

Chapter Relevance:  This chapter is relevant for all mines applying for IRMA certification.

New vs. Existing Mines:  This chapter applies to all mines, as it affects existing and future requirements.  For existing mines the chapter requirements are not applicable if the mine has progressed to a stage where meeting the requirement is no longer possible. For example, existing mines may qualify for IRMA certification without strict compliance to the following requirements: Open Pits (4.2.3); Underground Mines (4.2.4); and Post-Closure Water Treatment (4.2.7).

NOTES TO READERS ON MAJOR CHANGES TO THIS CHAPTER

  • This chapter has been renumbered. It was previously Chapter 4.1.
  • In 4.2.1, have clarified that the costs of reclamation for exploration-related activities will be covered by the operating company, and carried out in a timely manner.  The appeal process for incomplete exploration reclamation was also clarified.
  • The sections on reclamation and closure planning and calculating the reclamation and closure surety were extensively edited.
  • Requirements related to wetland impacts, which had been in this chapter, were integrated into Chapter 3.8. Biodiversity Outside of Protected Areas, as wetland impact analysis and mitigation should occur prior to closure/reclamation.
  • In 4.2.4 Open Pits the requirement to backfill, cover, or submerge pit walls that contain acid-generating/ metals-leaching rock was changed to a requirement for a risk assessment to analyze alternatives to minimize long-term environmental impacts.
  • The requirement independently audit the mine-closure financial surety was changed from every 3 years to every 5 years in order to conform with most regulatory requirements.
  • The requirement for post-closure water quality monitoring was changed from “… until IRMA surface and groundwater quality standards criteria have been met for at least 5 years” to “until IRMA surface and groundwater quality standards criteria have been met for at least 5 years with a minimum of 25-years of post-closure data.”  This is to recognize the possibility of unpredicted acid drainage commencing after closure.
  • 4.2.8.2 Post-Closure Water Treatment. An additional sub-requirement was added for clarification that the water treatment costs within the surety be conservatively calculated.
  • The means of verification (MOV) have been removed from this version of the draft IRMA Standard. If you would prefer to review and comment on a version of the draft Standard that has the means of verification, you can download a pdf version of the Standard with MOV.
     

Reclamation and Closure Requirements

4.2.1.  Exploration Reclamation

4.2.1.1.  The operating company shall guarantee that the cost of implementing exploration reclamation will be met by the company in a timely manner.

4.2.1.2.  Appeals of incomplete or inadequate exploration reclamation, if not resolved by other means, shall be discussed and resolved through the operational-level grievance mechanism (see IRMA Chapter 2.13).

4.2.2.  Reclamation and Closure Planning

4.2.2.1.  Prior to the commencement of any site-disturbing activities the operating company shall prepare and publish on the company website a reclamation and closure plan compatible with the protection of human health and the environment, and with other beneficial uses, which demonstrates how the affected areas will be returned to a stable landscape with an agreed post-mining end use.

4.2.2.2.  The reclamation and closure plan shall contain enough information to demonstrate how all the requirements of this chapter will be met, including appropriate references to reclamation commitments presented in the ESIA. At a minimum the reclamation and closure plan shall contain and incorporate clear descriptions of:

a. A general statement of purpose;

b. Site location and background Information; 

c. Facility description, including individual site features;

d. The role of the community in reviewing the reclamation and closure plan;

e. Agreed-upon (after-ESIA) post-mining land use and facility use;

f. Source and pathway characterization including geochemistry and hydrology to identify the potential discharge of pollutants;

g. Source mitigation program to prevent the degradation of water resources;

h. Hazardous materials disposal;

i. Facility demolition and disposal, if not used for other purposes;

j. Earthwork:

i. Stabilization and final topography of the reclaimed mine lands;

ii. Stormwater runoff/run-on management;

iii. Topsoil salvage to the maximum extent practicable;

iv. Topsoil storage in a manner that preserves its capability to support plant regeneration; and,

v. Concurrent reclamation, which should be employed wherever practicable;

k. Revegetation:

i. Plant material appropriate for the agreed post-mine land use;

ii. A defined period, no longer than 10 years, when planned revegetation tasks shall be completed;

iii. Quantitative revegetation standards;

iv. Plant material selection prioritizing native species;

v. Measures for control of noxious weeds; and,

vi. Clear mitigation measures to be implemented if these standards are not met.

l. Off-sets (mitigation);

m. Interim operations and maintenance, including process fluid management, water treatment and mine geotechnical stabilization;

n. Long-term maintenance;

o. Post-closure monitoring plan;

p. The role of the community in long-term monitoring and maintenance (if any); and

q. A schedule for all activities indicated in the plan.

4.2.2.3.  The reclamation and closure plan shall include a detailed determination of the estimated costs of reclamation and closure, and post-closure, based on the assumption that reclamation and closure will be completed by a third party, using costs associated with the reclamation and closure plan as implemented by a regulatory agency. These costs shall include, at minimum:

a. Mobilization/demobilization;

b. Engineering redesign, procurement, and construction management;

c. Facility demolition and disposal;

d. Earthwork;

e. Revegetation;

f. Disposal of hazardous materials;

g. Holding costs that would be incurred by the regulatory agency following a bankruptcy before actual reclamation begins, including:

i. Interim process fluid and site management

ii. Short-term water treatment

iii. Process fluid management;

h. Post-closure costs for:

i. Long-term water treatment

ii. Long-term monitoring and maintenance

i. Indirect Costs:

i. Mobilization/demobilization;

ii. Engineering redesign, procurement and construction management;

iii. Contractor overhead and profit;

iv. Agency administration;

v. Contingency; and

j. Either:

i. A multi-year inflation increase in the financial surety; or

ii. An annual review and update of the financial surety.

4.2.2.4.  The operating company shall provide a yearly reclamation progress report and review and update the reclamation and closure plan and/or financial assurance when there is a significant change to the mine plan, but at least every 5 years.[2]

4.2.2.5.  If not otherwise provided for through a regulatory process, prior to the commencement of the construction of the mine and prior to completing the final reclamation plan the operating company shall provide the public with at least 30 days to comment on the reclamation plan. Additionally:

a. If necessary, the operating company shall provide resources for capacity building and training to enable meaningful stakeholder participation; and

b. Prior to completing the final reclamation plan, the operating company shall provide affected communities and interested stakeholders with the opportunity to propose independent experts to provide input to the operating company on the design and implementation of the plan and on the adequacy of the completion of reclamation activities prior to release of part or all of the financial surety.

4.2.2.6.  The results of all reclamation and closure plan updates, as well as the most recent version of the reclamation and closure plan, shall be publicly available on the mine or company website.

4.2.3.  Open Pits

4.2.3.1.  Open pits shall be partially or completely backfilled if:

a. A pit lake is predicted to exceed the water quality standards of this chapter;

b. The company and key stakeholders have agreed that backfilling would have socioeconomic and environmental benefits; and

c. It is an economically viable.

4.2.3.2.  Where acid-generating/metals leaching materials are exposed in the pit wall of the mine the operating company shall perform a risk assessment to analyse alternatives to minimize long-term environmental impacts.

4.2.4.  Underground Mines

4.2.4.1.  Underground mines shall be backfilled if:

a. Subsidence is predicted on lands not owned by the mining company; and

b. If the mining method allows.

4.2.5.  Financial Surety for Mine Closure

4.2.5.1.  Financial surety instruments shall be:

a. Independently guaranteed, reliable, and readily liquid;

b. Evaluated by third-party analysts, using accepted accounting methods, at least every five years or when there is a significant change to the mine plan;

c. In place before ground disturbance begins; and

d. Sufficient to cover the reclamation and closure expenses for the period until the next financial surety review is completed.

4.2.5.2.  Self-bonding or corporate guarantees shall not be permitted.

4.2.5.3.  The results of all approved financial surety reviews shall be publicly available on the mine or company website.

4.2.5.4.  Prior to the commencement of the construction of the mine, prior to any renewal of the financial surety, and prior to final release of the financial surety the operating company shall provide the public with at least 30 days to comment on the adequacy of the financial surety. Additionally:

a. Where the company deems certain financial surety information to be legitimate confidential business information it shall make the data available to the IRMA auditor and satisfy the auditor that the grounds for commercial confidentiality are reasonable. If certain information is not included for confidential reasons, the fact that the information has been withheld shall be disclosed along with the financial surety.[3]

b. If necessary, the operating company shall provide resources for capacity building and training to enable meaningful stakeholder participation; and

c. Prior to the beginning of closure reclamation activities the operating company shall provide affected communities and interested stakeholders with the opportunity to propose independent experts to review the financial surety.

4.2.5.5.  The terms of the financial surety shall guarantee that the surety shall not be released until reclamation and closure are complete, all impacts have been mitigated, and reclamation has been shown to be effective for a sufficient period of time after mine closure to demonstrate that the reclaimed mine site and resources are stable.

4.2.6.  Post-Closure Planning and Monitoring

4.2.6.1.  Monitoring of closed mine facilities for geotechnical stability and routine maintenance, including surface and underground mine workings, is required in post-closure. The reclamation and closure plan shall include specifications for the post-closure monitoring and maintenance of all mine facilities, including, but not limited to:

a. Inspection of surface (open pits) and underground mine workings;

b. Inspection and maintenance of tailings and waste rock disposal facilities including effectiveness of cover and any seepage capture systems; and

c. Mechanisms for contingency and response planning and implementation.

4.2.6.2.  Monitoring locations for surface and groundwater shall be sufficient to detect off-site contamination from all closed mine facilities, as well as at the points of compliance.

4.2.6.3.  Water quality monitoring locations shall be sampled until IRMA or other relevant surface water and groundwater quality criteria or goals have been met for at least 5 years, with a minimum of 25 years of post-closure data.[4]  The 25-year minimum may be waived if ongoing water quality monitoring demonstrates and modeling predicts that no contamination of surface or groundwaters is occurring or will occur, respectively.

4.2.6.4.  Biologic monitoring shall be included in post-closure monitoring if required to ensure there is no ongoing post-closure damage to aquatic resources.

4.2.6.5.  Pit lake water quality shall be monitored, and if potentially harmful to people, wildlife, livestock, birds, or agricultural uses, adequate measures shall be taken to protect these organisms.

4.2.7.  Post-Closure Water Treatment

4.2.7.1.  Issue in brief:  Perpetual water treatment is the most controversial issue in this chapter. Many in the NGO community oppose the certification of mines that require water treatment in perpetuity. Some mining industry participants have stated that all of their mines will require water treatment in perpetuity. This raises an almost intractable predicament.

The proposed standard recognizes that there are an increasing number of mines being permitted by regulatory authorities throughout the world that will require water treatment in perpetuity. It aims to influence the design and management of mines that undergo certification to reduce the number of new mines that will require water treatment in perpetuity, minimize the amount of water to be treated, and provide stakeholders with better information and more say in the process.

IRMA’s intent is to reduce and minimize the impacts to water from mining. The requirements for perpetual treatment proposed do not unilaterally ban long-term water treatment, but if long-term treatment is proposed for a mine, or mine expansion, then the mine planning process must meet the safeguards in 4.2.7.1.  Those requirements, combined with the financial incentive the mining industry has to eliminate long-term water treatment, are aimed at minimizing the number of new mines that will require water treatment, as well as minimizing the amount water to be treated.

IRMA welcomes input from interested stakeholders on approaches to minimizing impacts related to long-term water treatment.

4.2.7.1.  Long-term water treatment shall not take place unless:[5]

a. All practicable efforts to implement best practice water and waste management methods to avoid long-term treatment have been made;

b. Long-term water treatment is explicitly discussed/authorized with affected community stakeholders;[6]

c. The operating company funds an engineering and risk assessment to be carried out by an independent third-party that is supervised by technical representatives selected by affected local communities:

i. The risk assessment shall include consultations with stakeholders, and the findings shall be discussed with affected communities prior to mine construction or expansion;[7]

ii. As a part of the risk assessment the environmental and financial advantages/disadvantages and risks of long-term water treatment versus other mitigation methods shall be evaluated;[8]  and

iii. The analysis shall incorporate data on the failure rates of the proposed mitigation measures and water treatment mechanisms to protect long-term risks to downstream beneficial uses.

4.2.8.  Post-Closure Financial Surety

4.2.8.1.  The operating company shall provide sufficient financial surety in the form of a trust fund or other similar suitable interest-accruing cash or equivalent long-term security for all long-term activities, including: post closure site monitoring and maintenance, and water treatment operations.

4.2.8.2.  If post-closure water treatment is required:

a. The water treatment cost component of the post-closure financial surety shall be calculated conservatively. A treatment technology proven to be effective under similar climatic conditions and at a similar scale as the proposed operation shall be utilized for cost calculations; and

b. When construction commences, or whenever the commitment for long-term water treatment is initiated:

i. The trust fund (or equivalent) for long-term water treatment shall be established in full; and,

ii. Sufficient funding shall be established to conduct adequate post-closure monitoring and maintenance for as long as baseline water quality values are exceeded.

4.2.8.3.  The post-closure financial surety shall be recalculated and reviewed by an independent analyst at the same time as the reclamation financial surety.

4.2.8.4.  Long-term Net Present Value (NPV) calculations utilized to estimate the value of the financial surety shall use conservative assumptions, including:

a. A real interest rate of 3% or less;[9]  unless the entity holding the financial surety can document that a higher long-term real interest rate can be achieved; and

b.  NPV calculation will be carried out until the difference in the NPV between the last two years in the calculations is $10 or less.

Notes

Reclamation planning and reclamation sureties are controversial topics. There is a great deal of literature available on reclamation planning, and these sources provide the necessary detail to guide reclamation planning.[10]  Detail on how to calculate financial sureties, what form of financial surety should and should not be accepted, and what legal precautions should be taken to insure that the financial surety is available for mine closure are also available.[11]

IRMA auditors will be expected to be familiar with the requirements of these sources, assisted by a Guidance document, and their audits of the reclamation plans and financial sureties will reflect this knowledge. This is why there isn’t more prescriptive detail on reclamation plans and financial sureties in the IRMA Standard. It will be up to IRMA to monitor whether the intent of the IRMA Standard is being met in the field, and if it is not, then changes to the standard will be made.

Cross Reference to Other Chapters

 Chapter

 Issues

1.1—Legal Compliance Some host countries may have laws relating to the reclamation and closure of mines. As per Chapter 1.1, if host country laws related to reclamation and closure exist, a company is required to abide by those laws. However, if IRMA requirements are more stringent than host country law, the company is required to also meet the IRMA requirements, as long as complying with them would not require the operating company to break the host country law.
2.8—Community and Stakeholder Engagement Engagement with stakeholders during reclamation and closure, including prior to and during the risk assessment of long-term water treatment options (4.2.7.1), shall conform to the requirements in Chapter 2.8 Community and Stakeholder Engagement.

In particular, criterion 2.8.3 is important to ensure that stakeholders have the capacity to fully engage in the review of financial surety information and reclamation and closure plans.

Also, 2.8.4 ensures that communications and information are in formats and languages that are accessible and understandable to affected communities and stakeholders, and provided in a timely, culturally appropriate manner.
2.10—Free, Prior and Informed Consent If there are indigenous peoples potentially impacted by long-term water treatment (4.2.7.1), that treatment shall not take place without the consent of indigenous peoples.
2.13—Grievance Mechanism and Access to Other Remedies Stakeholders who have complaints related to an operating company’s reclamation and closure planning or implementation can raise complaints through the company’s operational-level grievance mechanism. As per Chapter 2.13, the company is required to have an operational-level grievance mechanism available to stakeholders, including procedures for filing complaints, and having complaints recorded, investigated and resolved in a timely manner.  In particular, if there are complaints related to inadequate exploration reclamation, the operational-level grievance mechanism may be place to address and resolve the concerns of stakeholders.
3.1—Water Quality IRMA water quality criteria mentioned in 4.2.6.3 can be found in Tables 3.1.a, 3.1.b and 3.1.c of Chapter 3.1.  If Approaches A and C are taken to protect water quality as per Chapter 3.1, the numerical water quality limits may differ from IRMA water quality criteria.
3.2—Water Quantity If long-term water treatment is required, stream flows could be affected. See 3.2.3.4, Mine Water Management Plan, for particular requirements.
3.3—Mine Waste Management See this chapter for discussions of pit and underground backfill, liners, and lake-riverine-ocean waste disposal, which all have relevance to reclamation and closure.
4.1—Environmental and Social Impact Assessment  A reclamation plan and an estimated financial assurance for closure and post-closure are required as an integral part of an ESIA. If potential impacts related to long-term water quality are significant, the operating company shall provide affected stakeholders with the opportunity to propose independent experts to collaborate with the company on the company on the design and implementation of its monitoring program; and shall facilitate the independent monitoring of key impact indicators where this would not interfere with the safe operation of the project as per 4.1.8.

 

Endnotes

1. Powter, Chris. 2002. Glossary of Reclamation and Remediation Terms used in Alberta. Government of Alberta.

2. ICMM, 2008. Planning for Integrated Closure: Toolkit. p. 37.

3. As per IRMA Chapter 2.13, companies are required to have an operational-level grievance mechanism, which would provide a means for stakeholders to initiate dialogue and seek a resolution with a company if the withholding of confidential information makes it difficult or impossible for stakeholders to adequately review the company’s calculations.

4. IRMA criteria are found in Chapter 3.1, Tables 3.1a, 3.1b and 3.1c. If Approaches A or C are taken to protect water quality as per Chapter 3.1, then the numerical water quality criteria may differ from IRMA water quality criteria.

5. This requirement applies to new or expanded mines.

6. Stakeholder engagement shall be carried out in conformance with Chapter 2.8-Community Stakeholder Engagement; or, if indigenous peoples’ communities are affected by the project, post-closure water treatment shall be addressed during the FPIC process.

7. ibid.

8. Other mitigation measures may include liners, seepage pumpback systems, etc.

9. Real Interest Rate – the difference between the rate of return and inflation (An interest rate that has been adjusted to remove the effects of inflation to reflect the real cost of funds to the borrower, and the real yield to the lender).  A 3% real interest rate is a realistic but conservative assumption for NPV calculations.

10. E.g., ICMM 2005, 2006, 2008; Kuipers 2000; USDA 2004. See IRMA Guidance for Chapter 4.2 for detailed references.

11. E.g., ICMM 2005; Kuipers 2000; USDA 2004. See IRMA Guidance for Chapter 4.2 for detailed references.

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