Mining Legacies

Mines are loved by proponents and governments, seen as beacons of prosperity and often fast-tracked through the very assessment, regulation and monitoring procedures that would have improved them. But eventually all mines become orphans, because while humanity is great at digging holes, we have a growing legacy of abandoned, troublesome and downright dangerous sites.

This page includes a report for the UNEP on tailings dams disasters and articles/reports from MPI’s long-term focus on mining legacies. An approach used to more honestly evaluate old and new mines.


Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident

Editors: Roche, C., Thygesen, K., Baker, E.

Preface: Mining companies, communities and governments recognize that mine waste, contaminated water and land pollution damage lives and livelihoods but also threaten the development of the mining sector. For this reason, they are committed to work together to reduce the industry’s footprint.

Despite many good intentions and investments in improved practices, large storage facilities, built to contain mine tailings can leak or collapse. These incidents are even more probable due to climate change effects. When they occur, they can destroy entire communities and livelihoods and remain the biggest environmental disaster threat related to mining.

The mining industry has acknowledged that preventing catastrophic tailings dam incidents with zero fatalities and environmental protection is fundamental and achievable. For decades, companies, industry bodies and regulators have been continually improving best practice guidelines for the construction and management of tailings dams. However, eliminating all catastrophic incidents remains a challenge.

The United Nations Environment Rapid Response Assessment on mine tailings looks at why existing engineering and technical knowhow to build and maintain safe tailings storage facilities is insufficient to meet the target of zero catastrophic incidents. It examines the ways in which the established best practice solutions in international collaborative governance, enhanced regulations, more resource efficient approaches and innovation could help to ensure the elimination of tailings dam failures. It uses case studies from different parts of the world to highlight the efforts of industry to reduce mine waste and stimulate new activities while suggesting how these could be accelerated through regulatory or financial incentives.

It is hoped that this report will encourage targeted action at the policy and technical level to make zero catastrophic incidents become a reality and ensure that economic prosperity is fully compatible with community health and safety.


Ground Truths: Taking Responsibility for Australia’s Mining Legacies

Authors: Roche, C & Judd, S

Intro:This report sets out to explain some of the current and potential impacts of Australia’s mining legacies to Australians. The aim was to bring the reality of mining legacies, often hidden by geographical remoteness or simply by fences, out into the open. Using examples and case studies to illustrate what mining legacies mean for people and place, we reported on research, events and key documents, collectively demonstrating the need for reform of policy, regulation and practice in Australia.

The dichotomy between successful mine closure or enduring mining legacies is clear. Closure is the responsible approach. Successful closure is where the polluter pays for and undertakes effective rehabilitation with criteria set by existing land use, community expectations and government regulation. Mining legacies are the opposite, the growing shame of industry and community where this generation carelessly takes without thought for the planet or future generations. Recent regulatory changes in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, and the findings of the Hazelwood Inquiry all provide further evidence to show that closure reform is clearly needed. The transition to successful mine closure demands coordinated action, a requirement that has been stated frequently and emphatically for more than a decade. The way forward is for states to implement locally specific rules within a national framework; where risks are acknowledged, impacts reduced and closure and management activities covered by adequate and secure financial instruments. Encouraged and guided by these changes, the mining industry can then improve on current practices, address the mistakes of the past and ultimately leave a positive legacy.


Mining Legacies – Underestimating Life-of-Mine Across Time and Space

Authors: Pepper., Roche., C., Mudd, G

Abstract:The Australian mining industries approach to life-of-mine planning has improved considerably in recent decades. It now needs to be matched by, and embedded in, mining governance systems that utilise a comprehensive whole-of-mine-life approach within a isolation. The need for a more comprehensive approach is supported by the many mining legacies, from historic, recent and some operating mine sites around Australia. There are sites that are leaving enduring environmental, community and public health impacts that are yet to be accurately assessed. While a number of these sites in Australia are estimated to be more than 50 000, this is probably an underestimation, with a lack of data and different state-based approaches complicating attempts to quantify mining legacies as a national issue. Qualitative assessments about the extent and nature of mining legacy impacts on nature and communities across Australia are also required if we are to understand and avoid ongoing and future mining legacies.

This paper commences with an exploration of mining legacies as an umbrella term for previously mined, abandoned, orphan, derelict or neglected sites. This is followed by a discussion of the current status of mining legacies as an Australia-wide issue, contrasting the Australian response with overseas examples. Common themes from past workshops are explored recognising that mining legacies are a growing public policy issue and identifying key ingredients for a successful response. Supporting this, and based on national data which re-enforces the need for action, is the changing scale and intensity of mining in Australia that, while lowering costs for mine operators, increases the liability that may eventually fall to the state if mine sites are not rehabilitated effectively. Though a national issue, mining is a state and territory responsibility, so the current approach to mining legacies is then examined state-by-state. Given the widespread application and recent changes to bonds and levies in Western Australia (WA) and the Northern Territory (NT) the merits of both are examined with a recognised need and repeated call for cooperation and coordination at a national and responsibility, industry reputation, regulation and leadership.