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13/04/2024
Mining News

Transforming former mining sites: A story of environmental restoration

Minerals and metals are crucial components of the global economy and play a pivotal role in facilitating the transition to sustainable and clean energy sources. However, mining operations inevitably disrupt local environments. To address this, members of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) are committed to closing mine sites responsibly, minimizing environmental impacts, and aiding in the restoration and regeneration of nature in collaboration with local communities.

In the third step of the four-step mitigation hierarchy, known as “restore,” ICMM members strive to ensure that closed mine sites not only pose no threat to local communities but also provide an opportunity for nature to thrive. This commitment includes achieving no net loss of biodiversity across mine sites by closure from a baseline of 2020 or earlier.

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People and Wildlife: A Success Story in Saskatchewan, Canada

The Cluff Lake uranium and gold mining project in Saskatchewan, Canada, concluded in 2002. Orano, the company responsible, engaged extensively with local communities, Indigenous Peoples, including the Métis, and other stakeholders to plan decommissioning efforts. By 2006, the decommissioning work was completed with the aim of ensuring the area’s safety and stability for future generations.

The restoration efforts included treating contaminated water, creating lakes by flooding mined-out pits, and planting over 650,000 trees. Waste rock and tailings were covered with a minimum of one meter of topsoil to facilitate vegetation growth. These areas were shaped and compacted to minimize water flow and prevent the spread of contaminants into the environment.

Nearly two decades later, the site restoration has proven successful. Ownership of the site has been legally transferred to the Province of Saskatchewan, and the land is now utilized for hunting, fishing, and camping activities. Water quality monitoring confirms that it meets agreed standards, ensuring the safety of animals, fish, and plants in the area.

Overcoming Challenges: The Mount Rosser Bauxite Residue Site in Jamaica

Once an 87-acre lake of contaminated water above nine million cubic meters of red mud, the Mount Rosser bauxite residue site in Jamaica posed significant environmental challenges. Despite bauxite mining ending in 1991, Rio Tinto assumed responsibility for the site’s restoration when it acquired the mining company Alcan in 2007.

Traditionally, remediating red mud involved drying it out and fencing it off or importing topsoil from other areas to cover it. However, Rio Tinto opted for an innovative approach, aiming to transform the red mud into viable topsoil. The process involved removing and treating water, followed by trials of adding gypsum to lower soil acidity and introducing native plants, supplemented with chicken manure fertilizer.

Starting with barren land in 2016, today, 100% of the area is covered in self-sustaining vegetation, supporting diverse animal life, including ants and butterflies. The range of vegetation includes both planted varieties and those that have naturally propagated from nearby areas, indicating successful integration with the natural environment.

Conclusion: A Testament to Innovation and Collaboration

The restoration of mine sites is a complex and lengthy process that requires inclusive engagement with local stakeholders. The stories of regeneration highlighted in this article demonstrate how ICMM members have successfully brought nature back to decades-old mining sites through innovation and careful nurturing, providing them with a healthier and more sustainable future.

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