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14 February 2024 3 min read

The evolving landscape of mine closure

CSIRO delivered the report for the Cooperative Research Centre for Transformations in Mining Economies (CRC TiME).

Mining serves as a pivotal force in bolstering economic prosperity, providing essential mineral commodities vital to society's functioning. However, the temporary nature of mining operations can leave lasting impacts on Australian regional communities and environments if mine closures are not managed effectively.

Over the past 50 years, Australia's approach to mine rehabilitation and closure has evolved from a focus on meeting environmental compliance standards within mine sites to a comprehensive understanding of regional impacts and progressive rehabilitation.

In the past two decades, heightened stakeholder awareness has led to a growing emphasis on sustainable post-closure land use.

In a recent report delivered for the Cooperative Research Centre for Transformations in Mining Economies (CRC TiME), CSIRO delves into the potential for sustainable mine closures, economic growth, and job creation in Australia.

The report, titled Enabling Mine Closure and Transitions: Opportunities for Australian Industry, explores opportunities for Australian businesses to provide solutions – including equipment, technology, and services – to the challenges associated with mine closures.

Economic analysis of a billion-dollar industry

New insights drawn from mining industry databases and CSIRO's analysis project an annual expenditure of $4 billion to $8 billion on mine rehabilitation and closure activities, aligning with the expected closure of almost 240 Australian mines between 2021 and 2040.

The closure of these mines underpins a growing demand for innovative solutions and cutting-edge technologies capable of leading mines toward closure.

Australia's existing $100 billion Mining Equipment, Technology, and Services (METS) industry supports mine closure activities, with approximately a quarter of its companies offering some closure and remediation solutions.

Beyond the METS sector, various businesses, including plant nurseries, drone operators, software developers, environmental service providers, and specialist consultants, can play a crucial role in providing diverse mine closure solutions.

Dominic Banfield, CSIRO Futures Senior Manager, and lead author of the report emphasised the continued significance of mining on employment opportunities in the regions.

"With thousands of active and inactive mines in Australia, the demand for mine closure solutions will only increase as we seek to ensure positive closures and to transition regions to successful post-mining futures."

"The anticipated growth in closure-related activities presents both short-term employment opportunities and the growing focus on post-closure land use transitions creates longer-term prospects for regional development," said Dominic.

Dominic Banfield, CSIRO Futures Senior Manager, and lead author of the Enabling Mine Closure and Transitions: Opportunities for Australian Industry report

Seizing the opportunities

Australia can position itself as a global leader in providing innovative solutions that enhance the outcomes of mine closure and transitions.

The report identifies opportunities across four categories of mine closure solutions:

  1. Engagement and partnership: Solutions that enable effective engagement, co-design, and mutually beneficial partnerships to improve social performance and reduce risks.
  2. Waste reduction and recovery: Solutions enabling cost-effective reduction, reuse, and recycling of mine waste to minimise closure liabilities.
  3. Mine rehabilitation: Solutions improving the performance and cost-effectiveness of mine rehabilitation activities.
  4. Land use transitions: Solutions addressing challenges in establishing post-closure land uses to generate lasting economic, social, or environmental value.

Dr Guy Boggs, Chief Executive Officer of CRC TiME underscored the potential to optimise the social, economic, and environmental value stemming from a new mine closure and transition focused industry.

"This report provides the first comprehensive mapping of opportunities for growth in Australia's mine closure solutions industry," said Guy.

"The critical mapping process highlights both the diversity of opportunity as well as the additional social, economic, and environmental value that can arise from innovative solutions."

Collaborative solutions for success

Collaborative solutions play a critical role in the pursuit of successful mine closures and transitions. Kirsty Beckett, Mine Closure Manager at Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) and a pivotal project partner, advocates for businesses to use the report as a valuable guide to navigate this space.

"The mining industry is actively seeking collaborative solutions for successful mine closures, making this report an invaluable guide for allied industries," said Kirsty.

"It aims to provide clarity and help unfamiliar businesses identify areas of expertise that can translate into meaningful contributions to mine closure solutions."

Paving the way forward

Australia is not only facing a transformative opportunity, but also standing at the forefront of a global shift towards sustainable mine closure solutions.

By collectively addressing challenges, the nation has the potential to set a benchmark for positive post-mining legacies on a global scale.

"Looking ahead, we believe Australia can harness its domestic mine challenge to emerge as a global leader in cutting-edge mine closure solutions," states Guy, Chief Executive Officer of CRC TiME.

To delve deeper into the full report, please visit: Enabling Mine Closure and Transitions: Opportunities for Australian Industry.

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