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

Lay Summary 

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 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, with a focus on major mining developments in the Canadian North, to analyse how they have undergone regulatory review or environmental assessment, and consider how they incorporate community engagement, socioeconomic 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.

 

The systematic literature review entailed a targeted search through over 20 databases encompassing environmental studies, policy studies, anthropology, sociology, dissertation and thesis catalogues, and other grey literature. In addition, a database of ‘known’ or familiar literature was compiled by the researchers and reviewed using the same screening protocol as our systematic search. Search strings focused on a range of terms related to public engagement, mining, remediation, and environmental assessment. The search and screening process yielded a total of 14 sources for detailed synthesis and analysis. The lack of common research design among the studies reviewed suggests the topic and field of study is fragmented. Analysis of both the systematic review and ‘known’ literature demonstrates that much of the potentially relevant research does not directly address impact assessment, closure, and community engagement, but rather focuses on one of those three topics, with passing or contextual mentions of the others. The closure plan review entailed a qualitative comparison of closure plans from mines operating in Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Labrador. Instead of examining closure plans from all provinces and territories, these five regions were chosen due to the inconsistent availability of closure plans across Canada. In addition to evaluating the accessibility of these plans for public scrutiny, these closure plans were systematically assessed based on the evidence of public engagement; inclusion and use of community knowledge; acknowledgement of socio-economic impacts of closure; and plans to mitigate impacts. These practices vary widely between closure plans and jurisdictions, but in general public, consultation and engagement of community knowledge and social impacts in closure planning are vague and inconsistent. There does not appear to be a clear relationship between impact assessment processes and closure plans, and there are significant gaps in the policies governing both.

 

Key messages

● mine closure and remediation is often the longest and most complex phase of the mining cycle, yet receives the least attention during project assessment and approval

 

● the long-term, even perpetual nature of post-mining impacts is a major sustainability challenge and contributes to cumulative impacts in extractive regions

 

● the mitigation of social impacts of mine closure and remediation is poorly addressed in closure and remediation policy

 

● community engagement and public scrutiny of closure plans, including during the project assessment phase, is crucial to equitable and effective closure and remediation practice

 

● particular attention is required to the legacies of mining and mine remediation for Indigenous communities in the context of settler colonial relations and more recent practices related to negotiated agreements

 

● future research is required to integrate and enhance knowledge of these issues and to make recommendations for impact assessment and closure policy and practice

 

More information about this project can be found here.

 

Adapted from: https://research.library.mun.ca/14487/

Departments 
Geography
Funding 
Social Sciences And Humanities Research Council - Knowledge Synthesis Grant
Locations 
Yukon
Northwest Territories
Nunavut
Québec
Newfoundland and Labrador
Themes 
Extractive industries
Remediation
Start date 
1 Mar 2020